“2000 AD” and writer Pat Mills celebrate 30 years of Slaine, the Celtic warrior-king prone to warp spasms, this September with “The Book of Scars” beginning in “2000 AD” prog 1849. “Book of Scars” reteams Mills with an all-star lineup of former “Slaine” artists including Simon Bisley, Mick McMahon, Clint Langley and Glen Fabry.
“Slaine” debuted in 1983’s “2000 AD” prog 330 and is probably best known for 1989’s “Slaine: The Horned God,” a story which brought international attention and acclaim to a young Simon Bisley for his painted artwork. “Slaine” also underwent a surge in popularity in recent years for a series of stories with artist Clint Langley.
Mills, who is also the co-creator of “ABC Warriors,” “Nemesis” and “2000 AD” itself, recently chatted about 30 years of “Slaine” with Comic Book Resources, delving into details about “Book of Scars'” all-star artist reunion, revealing “Slaine’s” connection to his ex-wife, the likelihood of a “Slaine” film and much more.
CBR News: Pat, 2013 is “Slaine’s” 30th anniversary. What’s it been like to live with “Slaine” in your head for three decades? Where do you rank it among your creations?
Pat Mills: Well, I obviously love the character. I’d rank him pretty high, probably just after “Charley’s War” and maybe joint second with “Marshal Law.” Primarily because he’s saying something about Ireland and Britain’s legendary and heroic past and how it affects us today.
But also because — uniquely — it’s a story where I very much dictated the style as initially rendered by my ex-wife Angela Kincaid. Normally there’s a gap between the writer’s perception and the artist’s creation. But if I had been able to draw, which I can’t, this would be how I would want the character and the serial to look.
This is why the first episode, despite its flaws and rawness, was number one, beating “Judge Dredd” for the first time in its history. This astonishing achievement by Angela and I, I was told recently, is still regarded with some hostility by some fans who clearly do not represent the majority of readers.
This split between fandom and mainstream “2000 AD” readership on “Slaine” was to continue for nearly a decade — with 80% of the readership liking artists like Bellardinelli and 20% disliking it. Hence why Titan Books never published his work. But the success of the Rebellion editions of his “Slaine” work proves unequivocally that — for some time — the tail wagged the dog.
That gives you some idea of the pressures on the character and on me as writer. I think it was only with the arrival of Glenn Fabry and Simon Bisley that there was a long period where the character was just amazing and was appealing to everybody and I could breathe a sigh of relief.
Dermot Power’s work was excellent, too, then another rough patch followed and it was only with Clint Langley that “Slaine” was restored to the glory of the Bisley years. For me, that was a great time because Clint really put his soul into the character and took it to a new level and I could relax and not worry about the art and just concentrate on the story.
So you can see from this brief outline that it was an emotional roller coaster of a story and there were casualties along the way.
But what’s really impressive is the readers’ loyalty and tolerance — more tolerant than me on occasion — through some of these difficult times. So I’d like to use this opportunity to thank them all for their tremendous support.
Why do you think “Slaine,” like you mentioned, caused such antagonism among some fans when it first began?
Different expectations on both sides. Ultimately, because I was using as my role model “Conquering Armies” — recently republished as “Armies” — which has a European, illustrative look. It’s a beautiful book, but — arguably — its figure work is a little stiff compared to the looser Anglo-American comic look and thus some fans didn’t like it. I drove that look through despite some resistance because it suited the story I wanted to write. Thus I turned down two excellent artists whose style didn’t suit my “Conquering Armies” role model. It’s paid off in the long run — certainly through Glenn Fabry, Simon Bisley, Dermot Power and Clint Langley — who all have a European sensibility but are not remotely stiff. But in the short run it created some discord between professionals and fans who wouldn’t accept Bellardinelli’s work because of the anatomy, even though everything else was fantastic and 80% of the readers who loved his work.
That conflict subsequently turned into a civil war between readers with “Sky Chariots.” Mike’s work was superb, and is now rightly seen as a classic, but it was taking “Slaine” in a different, very rugged art direction and readers had by now settled into the “Conquering Armies”/Bellardinelli approach and the majority — at that time — didn’t take the rugged look on board. Fans however raved about it as cutting edge brilliance, a view Angela shared. She loved it, too, and I took my cue from her. However, the “illustrative” approach remained the most popular with the majority of readers although it has taken the Rebellion reprints for their “mainstream” preferences to be finally acknowledged.
In the end I gave in and acceded to fans’ wishes for a new artist who was acceptable to both sides, but it was a painful process for everyone and there were casualties. Not for nothing is the “Slaine” anniversary collection called “The Book of Scars!”
So where did we last leave Slaine?
He was in Fomorian occupied Albion. I wanted to do a series of “Slaine” stories with Ukko where they are a comedy duo. They are in “Slaine the Wanderer.”
Then “Slaine: Book of Scars” consolidates his past and present before the next saga by Simon Davis looks to his future.
What does the “The Book of Scars” have in store for Slaine?
“Slaine’s” 30th Birthday collection isÂ “The Book of Scars.”Â Because Slaine is the Scarred Man and every scar tells a story.
The Guledig has warped time so that Slaine once again meets his greatest enemies and faces his greatest challenges. Only this time they will be ready for him.Â
“The Guledig” by Clint Langley in color.
“The Wickerman and the Bride of Crom” by Clint in black and white after Bellardinelli.
“Sky Chariots” by Mike McMahon in black and white.
“El Women and Elfric” by Glenn Fabry in black and white.
“Slough Feg and Crom Cruach” by Simon Bisley in color.
“Moloch” by Clint in color.
Six connected stories, six to nine pages each. With all the “Slaine” covers gathered in one collection. So we get to see those classic stories once again with a new twist, as we ask ourselves… “What if…?”
What was it like to work with all your classic “Slaine” artists again for “Book of Scars?”
Simon Bisley rang me up and suggested the basic idea for his story and we had a lot of fun talking it over.
All the stories were written with the artists in mind. So Mike’s magnum opus on “Slaine” was “Sky Chariots,” so I wrote a classic scene from that saga. Similarly, Glenn’s El Women and Elfric were amazing so they’re back.
In your mind, what is the definitive “Slaine” story?
Difficult one! Because you say “definitive,” rather than popular, so with that in mind, I’d say… Firstly, “Episode One” because all the key ingredients are in there which thus makes it definitive.
But then I’d have to add Glenn’s “Slaine the King,” Bisley’s “Horned God” and — where do I stop?
I think it’s fair to say the six stories in “Book of Scars” are definitive.
Why is there such lasting appeal for “Slaine?”
Great artists, comedy duo, love of Celtic mythology, a hero we can all identify, punk elements, a bad guy trying to be a good guy, a hero in search of himself.
To which I would add of equal importance — a handsome human hero, which was often missing in “2000 AD” when heroes were masked, robots or aliens — and which dates back to “Episode One.” It’s easy to take that for granted, but you wouldn’t believe the grief I put Angela and all the other artists through getting him right. Yes, you probably would!
Those would be the obvious elements, but I think there’s something else, too. It’s a sense that this is how we want our Irish and British legendary heroes to be and we want to dramatize their lives in our own cold, rainy, windswept islands — not Greek (Hercules), not American (Conan), and not Roman (Spartacus). And not in a fantasy land somewhere else (any number of fantasy novels). Or literary (e.g. a direct and sometimes boring retelling of Celtic myth).
The reason we love Robin Hood and King Arthur is the reason I think readers love Slaine. And he was — genuinely — the first High King of Ireland, so there’s as much — or as little — historical basis for him as the others.
Will Slaine ever be able to shake the troll-ish Ukko out of his life? Do these two just belong with each other?
Ukko comes and goes. Currently, he drops out in the planned story with Simon Davis. Although Slaine will refer to him. Saying something like, “I’ve just been to visit a friend who owns a tavern. Well, he’s not really a friend he’s someone I used to know…”
Some stories tend not to suit Ukko — who has a tendency to twist them in a certain direction. He certainly adds some great humor — my favorite scene in “Book of Scars” is where Ukko is discussing various editions of “The Horned God” made from different animal skins.
I think Slaine is bigger as a story than Ukko, but I think he will always pop up from time to time. Look at it this way, we’ve all got “friends” who we think we’ve got shot of, but they never quite go away, do they?!
What did you think of the popular “Slaine” fan film made a few years ago?
Absolute genius! I love it!
When will we see an actual “Slaine” film?
Certainly at least one well-known film director who grew up reading “2000 AD” has said he’d love to do “Slaine,” but such a movie has to go through the Hollywood machine which is a bit of a meat grinder. Or an independent which is an equal descent into Hell.
I regularly get film inquiries about “Accident Man” and “Marshal Law;” and I believe there have been enquiries about “ABC Warriors” but never, to my knowledge, “Slaine.”
But inquiries doesn’t even take us to the outermost circle of the development inferno.
Maybe producers can’t get their heads past “Conan” and aren’t interested in anything more challenging or subtle. After all, there’s never been an “Elric” film either.
Are there any plans to celebrate anniversaries on your other classic creations like “Nemesis” or “ABC Warriors?”
[“Panel Borders” podcast host] Alex Fitch told me it was the 35th anniversary of “ABC Warriors” this year (dating from “Robusters”). I think we let that one slip past. And “Nemesis.” Whoops! Although we do have the special color editions of “Nemesis” this year.
Finally, do you think Slaine can ever find peace? Does he even want to?
I think if he ever does, I’ll be out of a job. It’s in the nature of humans to constantly strive for new objectives. Sometimes I come across people who don’t — young or retired fogeys or Stepford Wives — and are entirely satisfied with their lives and that to me feels like a living death. Actually it feels fake; they’re just pretending.
“Slaine: The Book of Scars” debuts in “2000 AD” prog 1849, out September 11 from Rebellion.
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