Chris Mole and Melissa Trender Revive The Goddess ‘Brigantia’ [Back Pages]
A new project on Kickstarter sees a Pagan Goddess thrown out of time and thrust into a modern day Britain, where her hopes and ideals have fallen apart in the face of a society that has grown careless, xenophobic, and sheltered.
Brigantia, by the creative team of Chris Mole and Melissa Trender, is a deliberately political look at modern day Britain through an unexpected filter, the real-world Pagan Goddess Brigantia. The series is running a Kickstarter campaign that just recently hit its £6,000 goal. ComicsAlliance spoke to Mole and Trender to find out about their backgrounds and why Brigantia is a passion project for them both. It's Godhoods at Dawn, with the soul of a nation on the line...
CA: What’s the basic premise of Brigantia?
Chris Mole: A Pagan goddess from Celtic, pre-Roman times is thrust forwards in time to contemporary Britain and has to try and find a way back to her own time. It's a bit like a British version of Wonder Woman, inspired by the folklore and history of the land beneath our feet.
CA: What was it about this story that made you want to tell it? It also seems this draws a quite clear comparison to current British politics?
CM: For me, this story was a way for me to analyze and work through my own approach to patriotism and how I feel about being British --- I feel very strongly that Britain as a country is made stronger and more unique by the diversity of our culture and the way that we're an island comprised almost entirely of immigrants (the vast majority of the country is descended from the Angles and Saxons, who migrated over from continental Europe, if you go back far enough), and recent political events have only solidified that belief.
I wanted to create a heroic character who represents British history and folklore, but who refutes that toxic idea of "white Britishness" by accepting all those she meets as being British. She might be from Celtic times, when Britain would have been overwhelmingly Caucasian, but when she arrives in contemporary times she immediately understands that the country has been shaped and defined by the contributions of a vast array of different cultures. Besides, she's a goddess --- we're all humans to her; why does skin colour matter?
Melissa Trender: For sure it’s based on current events --- we were writing when this year from hell began, and if anything, what has been happening makes this more than ever an important story to tell. Brigantia’s understanding of what makes a person British is, "Do you live in Britain? Then you’re British," and that’s something both Chris and I also feel very strongly about.
CM: So yeah, there's a strong political underpinning to the story, which we're unapologetic about --- Brigantia is intended to showcase the very best of us, and that includes being a welcoming and enthusiastic part of a multicultural society.
MT: We had a lot of back and forth over the presentation and character design of Veteris as well. He feeds on fear, so in the modern parts of the comic we wanted him to represent something our society fears. Ideas about homelessness and refugees were talked about, but it’s so hard to find that balance between saying, "this character represents something that we fear but shouldn’t," and, "this character is evil and presents as a homeless person, therefore we are saying homeless people are evil."
In the end we took his character in a different direction, and you’ll have to read the comic to find out. Ultimately we want to consciously say something about the current political climate in Britain, and we’re very careful to do that sensitively and respectfully.
CA: How did you first meet one another? Was this story already formulating at that time, or did you break and develop it together?
MT: We first met when I cornered Chris at a house party years back when he was first working with Professor Elemental, and demanded that he let me in on the action. Since then we’ve gelled over working on a couple more projects together, and we think pretty similarly, so when he floated the opportunity to work on a comic together, he had me at "badass pagan goddess."
CM: I'd been thinking about Brigantia for a little while before approaching Mel to draw the comic --- originally she was created as a submission for a short comics anthology, but I quickly realised that there was much more to this world than I could explore in a mere ten pages. When I approached Mel, Brigantia herself was partially formulated, but we were able to work on the story together and really build it out into what it is today.
CA: So what kind of person is Brigantia? What makes her such an interesting character for you both?
MT: One of the things that I love about B is that her divinity is so abstract, it throws into light the humanity of the people around her. One of my favourite themes in superhero/supernatural fiction is showing the real impact of having your life as you know it upended. B as a goddess lets you explore how humanity deals with horrible situations, how people bend, break, or overcome this adversity.
Chris is a great writer, and we’ve got some lovely emotional beats throughout the story, but don’t worry --- it's not quite Buffy Season 6!
CM: She's an inspiring character, but not because she's divine and perfect --- she has a number of character flaws, which I thought were very important to ground her and make her relatable. She has a tendency towards arrogance, and will often charge headfirst into a situation before thinking it through, relying on her martial prowess and divine gifts to carry her through. Her character really developed for me after seeing the amazing cover image that Mel drew quite early on.
Before that point, Brigantia had existed in my head, but the cover really solidified who she is --- proud and powerful. We wanted to be very careful that she didn't fall into the stereotype of the "Strong Female Character," though --- I feel very strongly about the importance of empowering heroines (and trans characters) in comics, so it was important to avoid writing a character who suffers from those tropes.
Strength isn't just being able to beat up everybody that you face --- it's also being able to deal emotionally with the hardships that life throws at you, and to keep yourself centred when everything seems to be going wrong (or in Brigantia's case, when you've been yanked out of your own time and dumped in a world where nobody really knows who you are and where the powers you took for granted are gone).
CA: You make note of her Pagan origins on your Kickstarter page --- is that a part of the character that was particularly important to you?
CM: It was very important, yeah --- we didn't want to just create a character out of nothing when Britain has such a rich heritage of mythology and folklore to draw on, and we also wanted to in some small way reclaim that ancient mythology, to tell a story relevant to our modern world.
The goddess Brigantia is worshipped by a good number of Pagans, so I didn't want to just take the name and create a character which bears no resemblance to the deity they worship --- I'm not Pagan myself, but my partner is, and I knew that it'd be quite disrespectful to those people who believe in her.
Interestingly, when I talked to my partner about my ideas for Brigantia, it turns out that the way I'd sketched out her character was already very close to the way that she's viewed by a lot of her believers --- call it serendipity!
CA: It seems like this is a project you're both really invested in. What's it been like working together?
MT: Chris and I have worked together for years, and I think Brigantia has really benefited from this, because it really has been a collaborative work. Chris always runs the scripts by me, and I’m more than happy to offer my thoughts about tweaks, or how I would view a character a little differently, and similarly Chris gets to have a look at all my rough character designs and pages.
CM: It's absolutely been 100% collaborative --- Brigantia wouldn't exist without Mel's input, and the conversations we've had about the character have completely shaped the way that I write her and the way that the story has developed. I've always preferred to work closely with artists rather than just handing them a finished script and expecting absolute adherence to it --- comics are a team effort, and if an artist doesn't like what I've written, that's going to show through in the way it's drawn!
Thankfully Mel was quite happy with the first drafts of the Brigantia scripts and we've just needed to refine them to ensure the story is as good as we can make it.
CA: Why bring Brigantia to Kickstarter?
CM: I'm a big fan of Kickstarter as a platform --- I've backed a number of projects, and previously used it to raise the funds for my band's last album, and it was an amazing (but stressful!) experience. In the current economic climate, I think it's a great way to get projects off the ground, especially for creators like ourselves who don't have established professional relationships with publishers or the like --- Kickstarter allows us to pitch Brigantia to a wide audience, and if enough people like it and want to see it happen, we'll be able to put it together.
It's a great place for comics which might sit outside "mainstream norms," as there's definitely an audience for comics with more POC/LGBTQ characters, which isn't currently being completely served by the major publishers. I also like the way that backers get to have a degree of ownership in the comic --- not only do they get to read the story, they get the positive feeling of knowing that they helped it happen. It also seems pretty appropriate considering the way that Brigantia's powers work in the story --- the more people believe in her, the more powerful she is. The Kickstarter is our attempt to get people to believe in Brigantia and help her be the goddess we know she is!
CA: What stage are you at with this new Kickstarter project? How much have you already completed?
CM: In terms of the artwork, we currently only have the five-page preview that's included on the campaign completed, because Mel's a full-time illustrator and has been fitting Brigantia in around her other (paid) projects. However, the script for issue #1 is completely finished, and has been checked and double-checked, so once we hit the funding goal Mel will be putting aside other work and focusing solely on Brigantia. We're ready to go as soon as we know the budget is in place.
CA: What’s your estimated delivery on the final comic?
CM: We're targeting a delivery date of April 2017 for the final comic --- that's obviously contingent on everything running smoothly without any major setbacks, but my experience as a writer/editor on previous comic anthologies (which involved working with a lot of different artists) should be invaluable in making sure that we're on target.
We're committed to keeping our backers in the loop at every step of the process --- there's nothing worse than backing a Kickstarter which overruns its target and hearing nothing about where your money has gone, so we'll definitely be making sure that doesn't happen!
Brigantia's Kickstarter will run until 3 November 2016, seeking a funding target of £6,000. To find out more, head to the Kickstarter page here!