In an exclusive interview with Villain Media, Ryan K. Lindsay talks about how “The Shieldmaiden Ghost Story” came about for Eternal (Black Mask Studios). This special extra-sized graphic novella captures the haunting realization of how vulnerable you can make yourself while trying to protect everything around you.
As we mentioned in our review, a group of shieldmaidens protect their village against a tide of men who think they can take their land from them. Vif takes her band of women of viking to quell the advances of a loitering mystical scumbag, Bjarte. But some battles rage on inside us long after the field is empty; some opponents though won’t stay down.
With Eternal out in stores now, Lindsay discusses his creative process, his collaboration with Eric Zawadzki and Dee Cunniffe, and his upcoming projects.
Villain Media: Tell me how “The Shieldmaiden Ghost Story” came about?
Ryan K Lindsay: A few years back, I felt like I wasn’t getting traction with miniseries pitches, and I didn’t have enough actual work to prove to editors that I could close and they should greenlight me, so I took it into my own hands and wrote half a dozen one-shots. Some have subsequently been made [Eir, Stain the Seas Scarlet, Ink Island] and some are still percolating at their own speed.
One that took a while was Eternal, because I waited for Eric Zawadzki, my co-pilot and artist, to finish The Dregs. By the time that was done, and he was ready to plunge into it, Black Mask Studios had come to the table and we were able to make this book something else indeed – extending page count, page size, giving our beautiful story a proper spine.
VM: What did your collaboration with Eric Zawadzki bring out of each other?
RKL: Oh, man, Eric brings out so much in our work together! He’s a really story driven guy, he thinks about every piece on the board, and he wants his moments to be earned. So he dives into the script before drawing and comes up with great questions that always make things tighter. It’s an awesome process because once we then start, we’re definitely on the same page and we hit the ground running.
I also find that Eric understands how my scripts work as ‘suggestions’ and he can go off script with panel count and page layout, and in this beast even page count to best tell the story. The initial script was 22 pages and he expanded it to double that because he recognized the themes needed space to breathe. And if he was happy to illustrate twice as many pages, i was happy to let him run with it.
VM: Vif is strong and fierce, yet there is a vulnerability to her maternal instincts. What interested you about Vif and her relationship with Grimr?
RKL: The concept of family as responsibility and love and the present and the past and the future, and the legacy we take in, what we take out, and how we all change is something I think runs through a lot of my work. And is very present in this story.
Vif is a real character. She’s not just a barbarian, and not just a mother; she’s not just violent, and not caring. She’s like the rest of us — she’s all of those things, and all of them every day. We all have vulnerability, and we all have it stabbed in different ways on different days.
Vif’s relationship with Grimr is an important one. It’s the backbone of the whole story, because in that bond we look at who she really is, who she needs to be, and what she’s able to do. The world she constructs for and around Grimr is an examination of what we are able to achieve in our lives, and whether it’s ever for the total good, or if it’s just the most amount of good we can ever manage, while not ever getting a proper break to get ahead of things.
VM: I noticed the amazing detail to the shieldmaidens’ costumes and the landscapes. Did you and Eric Zawadzki do a lot of historical research?
RKL: I’m a lazy writer, and did little to no visual research. However, Eric is a beast and he accessed all sorts of resource material to get a whole lot of this book right. But he also admits that sometimes he just went for what felt right, looked cool, or worked for the story.
VM: It is such an amazing scene to see Vif in action and slashing her sword. The entire action sequences are captured in red by colorist Dee Cunniffe. How did this idea come about?
RKL: Dee is a mastermind, and the smartest contribution I ever make to his workflow is to get out of his way completely. He knows how to use colors for emotion, intent, and impact. I believe the whole red pages were a collaborative result of him and Eric working out an initial battleplan, and then they ran with it.
VM: You have incredible pages of action with no dialogue whatsoever. Are those dialogue-free pages easier to write or the more challenging?
RKL: Ha! They were really easy to write because most of them are just Eric cutting loose. I didn’t script a lot of that choreography, and sometimes didn’t even script those pages at all. Eric wanted to level us his fluidity on the page, and he really really did.
The easiest thing to then do is not clutter it up with dialogue or internal musings, and just get out of the way.
VM: In this critic’s opinion, I was struck by how the anti-war message was coming from Vif and her tribe of female warriors. It’s saying a lot especially during the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Did this message come from our societal issues or is it coincidental?
RKL: This was written years ago, so it’s definitely not specifically tied to those movements. But for me, the meaning of those movements started many years ago and most definitely informed the tone of this book.
There’s a moment where Vif arrives at Bjarte’s stronghold and a general tells her not to react emotionally and she just cuts him down because it’s such a bullshit argument and I wanted that reaction on the page.
I’m glad the world is moving towards a better place in regards to a lot of this systemic problematic garbage, and if this narrative can help shine a light on things, or help make someone think, then that’s just about the best thing I could imagine.
VM: What are you working on now?
RKL: I’m scripting two different creator owned books which are unannounced. I’m planning my next Kickstarter campaign. I’m mapping out a hardcover release of another book of mine. I’m adding extra material for another collection of something special, and I’m trying to write some fun proces material on the side just to keep my brain sharp and continue to learn better craft techniques.
Eternal is out in stores now.
– By Jorge Solis