Punk Rock King Arthur: How ‘The Once And Future Queen’ Updates Mythology [Interview]
Last year, Adam P. Knave, DJ Kirkbride and Nick Brokenshire said farewell to their thirty-issue run with Amelia Cole, but didn't say farewell to each other; they've reunited for The Once And Future Queen from Dark Horse. A modern day retelling of Arthurian legend, it follows Rani Arturus as she goes from chess prodigy to the wielder of Excalibur, all while trying to juggle parental pressure and her crush on the cute English girl who recently moved to town.
Ahead of the release of The Once And Future Queen #1 this week, ComicsAlliance caught up with the trio to talk about Arthurian re-interpretations, transatlantic collaborations and tiddly-winks.
ComicsAlliance: How long have you been planning The Once and Future Queen? Were you already planning to hop onto a new project together before the end of Amelia Cole?
DJ Kirkbride: We loved working together on Amelia Cole, so we’d all hoped to work together again after that wrapped. We’d discussed some ideas as Nick was drawing the fourth arc, but nothing quite came of them, then Adam and I hit on the basic idea that became The Once and Future Queen. We pitched it to Nick, he dug it, and we started getting it all together as he finished drawing the final arc of Amelia Cole. Personally, having a new book to work on with these guys really cushioned the blow of saying goodbye to Amelia for me.
Adam P. Knave: I don’t think the universe could’ve kept us apart, honestly. Funnily, I remember we were all on my patio having drinks and plotting out arcs of Amelia Cole that haven’t happened (but hey who knows) when DJ and I handed Nick the bones of our idea and we were just off like a rocket.
CA: I don’t want to keep comparing the two works, but there’s a sense of worldbuilding in the first issue that feels very reminiscent of Amelia Cole? What was it like taking everything you’d learned over thirty issues and applying it to a fresh start?
Nick Brokenshire: For me, those thirty issues of Amelia Cole were Comics University. I came to drawing comics late so I had to learn a whole bunch of stuff on the fly. All that has gone before has shaped OAFQ for me. World building is something that feels natural to the three of us. I think we’re on the same page for a lot of things and different enough that we bring our own groove. The fact that we’ve been playing in a modern urban fantasy setting for five years has certainly propelled this book quite a bit, I reckon.
DJK: It’s the same for me, and, dare I be so bold as to say, Adam. Before Amelia Cole, we’d co-written several shorts for comic book anthologies, but it was our first ongoing series. We learned a lot over those thirty issues that we’re able to apply right off the bat in issue one for The Once and Future Queen.
APK: Building worlds quickly and smoothly is one of my big storytelling loves. These two make it easy. We all mesh well and it lets the world building flow from loose idea to visual to solid plot and plan super quickly.
CA: With the series being based on Arthurian legend, what type of research did the three of you do to establish the feel and look of the book?
NB: As a young ‘un I read a bunch of Arthurian stuff. Especially after I read Lord Of The Rings. It seemed a natural progression. I even tackled Malory’s Morte D’Arthur which was a bit dry… Also, Boorman’s Excalibur was in my VCR for most of my youth. Bloody fantastic. Weird and sparkly and out of focus grooviness… I believe DJ joined a West Hollywood Arthurian Larping Troupe. He makes a lovely Guinevere.
DJK: I don’t LARP on a lark, so, yeah, if there’s an official troupe, I’m going to go for it. Also, in the interest of brutal honesty, Nick and Adam are clearly, at times obviously painfully and painfully obviously better read than I. We all know bits about Arthurian Legend from all the modern stories it’s inspired. I saw Excalibur and The Sword in the Stone as a kid (the former being a little too adult for me, and the latter being more my speed at the time). As we began this project, I dug into T.H. White’s The Once and Future King and also happened to be reading Camelot 3000. I’m not expert by any means, but given that we are doing our own thing here, I think it’s okay.
APK: I have a stack of books, a good three thousand pages of material on Arthurian legend, chess, cookie recipes, strategy, historical documentation on Weeble Wobbles… some of it actually even applies to this book.
CA: What was it about Arthurian legend that struck you as ripe for a modern retelling?
NB: Well, there are plenty of versions of the story and some of them are pretty good but it’s time to re-contextualize! We live in a world where women and people of colour have a voice, as opposed to the traditional roles they inhabited in times past. It’s time to explore the awesome themes through that prism, no? Also, who doesn’t want to see a punk rock blue haired girl swing Excalibur around? I do! ...Uh, I doesn’t not!
DJK: We all doesn’t not, Nick. We all doesn’t not indeed. The general tale of derring do and adventure works in any time period, but some of the specifics are very interesting when seen through a modern lense, such as how King of England might as well have been King of the world to Arthur and his round table back then, but Rani is destined, according to our Merlin anyway, as the ruler of a much larger King--- I mean, Queendom. How that works in today’s world will be fun to explore when we get there.
APK: There are reasons the original myth has kept circulating and is brought back over and over again. It resonates. The idea of a leader who unifies, who is smart, and kind, is something we all wish for. But too often these myths are left where they started, or simply paved over some. We wanted to actually update it and deal with the ramifications and problems.
CA: With the three of you being a transatlantic creative team, did that factor into the split-settings of Portland and Cornwall?
APK: Where we live --- well DJ, is in LA, but still --- was actually part of the story growth! Nick was over here in Portland and noticed that since the two areas are very similar in terms of latitude they have many areas that look a lot alike (tep/rain/etc all match up) and that spurred on some of the story itself and reasonings behind it.
NB: I have a very deep connection with the mountains and forests of Scotland where I grew up. It contains a lot of magic that influences me even today. Also, my family have strong links with Cornwall. There are more Brokenshire gravestones in Cornwall than anywhere in the world. When I visited Oregon, there was some magic going on in those mountains for sure. Any place where nature is strongly felt gets to me on a gut level. Having these two locations as our backdrop feels right to me.
It is a lesser known fact that Adam’s middle name is Pendragon. And those of you who know their lore will instantly recognize that name. The Pendragons migrated from Wales down to Cornwall where the great Uther sired the boy Arthur. Uther’s brother, Donnie, opened a small cake shop in what is now called St Austell. Donnie is Adam’s distant ancestor. Not a lot of people know that.
DJK: Being able to take the look and feel of these real world areas adds a nice contrast to all the fantastical elements in the story. Also, it’s nice to finally know what the “P” in “Adam P. Knave” stands for, so thanks for that, Nick. I always assumed it was “Ptiberius,” the “P” being silent.
APK: I always thought it stood for Ptiberius with a silent P as well, so you learn something new about yourself all the time.
NB: Moving on…
APK: No, no I am legally changing it to Pendragon now.
DJK: I think it’s is above the law at this point.
CA: Rani is destined to be a queen, and is a chess prodigy, is that a parallel that’s going to continue beyond the first issue? Did you spend much time studying the game to get in her head any better?
NB: I spent many hours studying the chess board. It turns out that some of the squares are white and some are of a darker colour. Perhaps black. Sometimes red. Incredibly there are a total of 204 squares on a chessboard. I didn’t even know numbers went that high.
APK: We studied! I grew up playing chess down in Washington Sq. Park and at chess shops with my dad, personally. But there is a stack of chess strategy and such books near me right now. As well as other reference. The chess thing wasn’t a throwaway, though it may not always be explicit and said out loud it affects, directly, how Rani thinks.
DJK: I’m waiting for us to introduce an Uno prodigy so I can help out a little bit more in that kind of area. I mean, I know the general rules of chess, but Adam’s comparatively the expert here in our co-writing team.
NB: I’m a tiddly-winks prodigy.
APK: Oh god, Nick. I remember my grandmother’s place in Brooklyn, she had in a closet, Tiddly-winks. The only game in her house. And as a little kid I would play it, by myself, endlessly, because I hated it there. Tiddly-winks flashbacks!
NB: It’s a game invented to drain the will to live from small children.
DJK: I just started wondering what it’d be like if The Prodigy had made a late 90s electronica song about tiddly-winks. I bet it’d be awesome.
CA: While the first issue mostly takes place from Rani’s perspective, we do get a look-in on love-interest Gwen on several occasions. How was the decision made to split the perspective between the two?
DJK: I don’t know if we discussed it. Adam, who has a much better memory than I do, can confirm or deny, but it’s my recollection that that element came naturally. We also give Lance a page or so of narration. It’s mostly Rani, but several of the lead characters have their POV kind of moments throughout.
APK: Yeah it wasn’t planned so much as organically made sense. You’ll see narration from a few people as the book goes on.
CA: What teases can you have us for the future issues of The Once And Future Queen?
DJK: The action gets bigger! The drama gets more dramatic! Issue #1 really hits the ground running, not nearly as decompressed as the generally en vogue style of the moment, but we’ve still a lot of story to tell in the remaining four issues of this first (hopefully) mini-series.
We’ve concentrated on getting a little deeper into the characters and their interpersonal relationships beyond the exciting plot than we did with Amelia Cole, telling a more mature and layered story in those respects. It’s been challenging and fun. Also, swords and axes are nasty weapons, so expect some shocking action courtesy of the great Nick of Brokenshire!
APK: Really. Big. Weapons. Also romance! And sneaky-sneaky-things. Also things with engines!
NB: Ahh! The romawnce (the Chris De Burgh pronunciation)! Tons of major punch ups. That Gwen is tasty with her fists, let me tell you. Spooky creatures and yes, murder! I’m quite sure there is some murdering going on.
Once And Future Queen #1 goes on sale Wednesday 1 March from Dark Horse Comics.