You might remember that a while ago I attended Glasgow Comic-Con, having been lucky enough to get a press pass to cover the event. It was there that I picked up Saltire, a graphic novel about a bright blue, ginger-haired guardian of Scotland. I went on to review Saltire and was quite pleased with it, saying that, “Saltire has an impressive future ahead of it, I feel. At the moment it’s exciting and fun, filled with some cool action sequences and visuals, plus it has a fascinating lore.”
As a Scottish lad myself the book was also something of a source of pride, which is why I’m incredibly proud to present this small interview with John Ferguson, the man who created Saltire. We tackle invading England, why Saltire doesn’t wear a kilt, and bringing a Scottish hero to the page.
Baden: We’ll start with the basics; where did the idea for Saltire come from?
John Ferguson: I’m a big fan of Scottish mythology and I read an article that suggested Scotland couldn’t have it’s own superhero because it was too boring and drab. I thought I could prove this theory wrong.
B: More importantly, as the embodiment of Scotland why doesn’t Saltire wear a kilt?
J: It’s a question I get a lot from Americans! I wanted Saltire to embody all aspects of Scotland’s ancient cultures, the Picts, the Gaels, not just the fairly modern Highland dress. It was also a visual decision as the artists and I didn’t want the eternal question, “What’s up his kilt?”.
B: What’s the process of actually coming up with a character, plot and world, and then turning it into a book?
J: The best characters are still the archetypes. Simple, iconic, standing for a simple purpose. For me, the plot was a matter of taking the best of Scottish history and mixing it with the best of it’s mythology until it became cohesive. Creating the world is probably the most fun part, trying to give it a realism and making sure all the dots join up. Once I felt these elements were in place I was happy to publish it and be fairly confident in it.
B: Since Saltire is immortal that provides a lot if material throughout Scottish history to mine for plots, but will we ever see him closer to the present?
J: I don’t think so, although never say never. Scotland as a country is such a political hot potato at the moment that I don’t want the character to get involved and lose sight of the series we want to produce.
B: But more importantly, will he ever lead an invasion of England? After all, he wants a free Scotland 😛
Haha! No, that will never happen. Scotland is democratic and, particularly recently, got what it voted for.
B: With the vote of independence Scottish patriotism is at an all time high. Has that helped Saltire?
J: Oh definitely. Young people feel a lot more Scottish now than when I was growing up so with the upsurge in all things Caledonian, and also in all things superhero, it definitely helped us with Saltire’s profile.
B: Scotland has a rich mythology that blends with its history, and Saltire obviously takes advantage of this. How do you pick and choose what aspects of Scottish history and mythology to utilize?
J: Good question. There’s such scope. I usually start in one place in time and end up blending it to the point where it’s unrecognisable from any actual events. And I kinda like it that way, keeps it fresh and different.
B: Have you personally always been interested in Scotland’s history?
J: Yes, I love history and folklore. I like comic books, particularly superheroes, because they are modern mythology.
B: Scotland can claim to have two of the best known Scottish comic writers in the business in the form of Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, yet Scottish heroes have been almost non-existent, with Saltire, I believe, being the first serious one. Why do you think that is?
J: I think up until recently Scotland has only been comfortable with parodying itself. Supergran was about as far as we could go. Grant did write a comic strip in Glasgow, called Captain Clyde, when he was a young aspiring comic kid, and Mark did talk of a Scottish superhero movie about ten years ago but Scotland’s been a hard sell internationally for a long time.
B: Kickstarter has become the primary method of new writers getting their creations, but you skipped that entirely. Did you ever consider it?
J: No. I don’t think Kickstarters are retail friendly (you sell the product direct to the customer so shops won’t support that) and we wanted to compete and sell in the mainstream marketplace. There’s also a suggestion with a Kickstarter that you don’t believe in your own creation’s commercial appeal. I think it has it’s place for Small Press and for bigger projects who want to go direct to fans but for me, it’s just not the right place to build a brand or a franchise.
B: Clearly Saltire is doing well since there’s plans to keep going with the series. Where you expecting anything like the success you’ve had with the book?
J: The art team created something that could compete on the shelves with Marvel and DC and the book was nominated quite early in it’s life for “Best British Comic” so my expectations were blown away pretty soon after we launched.
B: We’ve gone through quite a number of Guardians already. Any plans to maybe keep a few of them alive and let us see a bit more of who they are?
J: Yes, moving forward, the series will be a little more character based. We don’t want to move too far away from what brought us the success but the first book introduced the world, now we need to delve a bit deeper.
B: Speaking of which at the moment Saltire is, and I’ll be blunt, in my opinion lacking a little bit of personality. Is this deliberate because he’s a magical creation and you plan on making him more human, for lack of a better word, as time goes on?
J: Yes, exactly. Personality is borne of upbringing and relationships. The character is deliberately stoic but it will change.
B: Brilliantly the first Saltire book has been translated to Gaelic, a fantastic achievement that must make you pretty proud. But was there ever some doubt about the plan, since as beloved as Gaelic is there are, relatively speaking, a fairly small percentage of people who speak and read the language?
J: We had the book translated into Scots language and Gaelic editions which was great. To see Saltire in the three languages of the country was something we wanted to achieve. Gaelic, we wanted to support because of it’s current resurgence within education and I think it’s important to hang on to as much culture as possible, particularly with a language that was outlawed.
B: You also intend on producing Gaelic versions of future Saltire stories. Was being able to translate your work into Gaelic always a goal you envisioned?
J: Yes it was. I think to give Saltire a legendary and historic element is one thing but language adds authenticity.
J: Yes it was. As a childhood comic book fan I was more impressed by the industry award nominations but this was a lovely recognition, particularly for the translation team who worked so hard.
B: I’ll start wrapping up with this; can you give us a sneak peek at what’s to come? What’s in Store for the immortal guardian of Scotland?
J: Sure thing. We have a lot of stuff going on with Saltire moving into other mediums outside of comics and graphic novels but in terms of the series, we’re taking the story to the turn of the first millennium and the Viking period. Island politics and a mix of Caledonian and Norse mythology (don’t worry, no Thor or Loki).
B: Finally, tell us why Saltire is worth reading.