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DF Interview: Dan Abnett illuminates his new Dark Ages
By Byron Brewer
The medieval world is locked in war. As a godless mercenary company slogs across Europe in search of sustenance and coin, they encounter a demonic force born not of hell, but of somewhere else entirely.
Dark Horse Comics reteams the creators that brought readers Vertigo’s The New Deadwardians, Dan Abnett and I.N.J. Culbard, to deliver medieval sci-fi action in … Dark Ages!
To get to the bottom of this ongoing book, Dynamic Forces jumped in the office Wayback Machine and discussed the comic book with Abnett, a seven-time New York Times best-selling novelist and cosmic comics chronicler par excellance.
Dynamic Forces: Dan, how does it feel to reunite with your old pal, I.N.J. Culbard, from New Deadwardians?
Dan Abnett: It’s great! Before we finished New Deadwardians, we were already talking about working together again. Ian brings so much to the table. He’s not just a great artist, he also writes, so when I send him a script he has a way of interpreting it that’s unlike many other artists. When we’re working on a project we have long conversations about the storytelling and the elements that should appear on the page. Ian’s research is always spot on and he contributes a huge amount to the process. He’s a pleasure to work with.
DF: Tell us a little bit about how Dark Ages came to be, winding up at Dark Horse.
Dan Abnett: All the things Ian and I do together (and there are more things in the pipeline) are very different from each other. They each have their own distinct flavor. That’s part of the fun. They’re also what’s commonly known as mash-ups. So we draw together elements that might not seem to be likely bedfelllows. For example the elevator pitch for New Deadwardians was Downton Abbey meets The Walking Dead. Running ideas and scenarios led me to the idea for Dark Ages and as I explored it and extrapolated it I began to get very excited about its potential. For Dark Ages, Ian and I talk in terms of Kingdom of Heaven meets Starship Troopers.
I’d worked for Dark Horse in the ‘90s on projects like Hypersonic and Lords of Misrule, and when I took it took them they liked it. It was really as simple as that.
DF: Monsters AND the Middle Ages? Tell us a little bit about what readers will be seeing in the world of Dark Ages.
Dan Abnett: It’s about grounding the comic in a real, historic context and then spinning out from there, just as I did in New Deadwardians. Dark Ages is set at the beginning of the Hundred Years War. A band of mercenaries is traveling across Europe, and we open with them. The context is set, the time period and their belief system. When all hell breaks loose, the reader understands that the band is facing alien monsters. The mercenaries’ only reference is religious, so they feel as if this is the end of times and that they’re facing demons.
DF: What can you tell us about the aliens, these “demons”? Is this an invasion?
Dan Abnett: The mercenaries in the context of the story obviously have no reference for aliens or an alien invasion, but the reader will certainly have those sensibilities. There’s that dichotomy and it’s an interesting one to write. They’re monstrous creatures and a very real and present threat.
DF: Do you enjoy taking factual historical eras and then spinning them on their ear like Deadwardians and Dark Ages?
Dan Abnett: Absolutely. I write a lot of tie-in fiction, both in comics and writing novels for various franchises -- from my latest Guardians of the Galaxy novel, Rocket Racoon and Groot Steal the Galaxy, to Warhammer and Warhammer 40K to Doctor Who, Primeval, and later in the year you’ll see Tomb Raider: Ten Thousand Immortals. So I work in a great many imagined worlds. It doesn’t matter what world I work in, there’s always research to be done. Working in a historic setting isn’t very different, and it offers its own scope for a concept and for themes and ideas.
DF: Tell us about some of the characters we will be meeting in Dark Ages.
Dan Abnett: They’re men, in all their guises: strong, able, jaded, complex, superstitious, religious, pragmatic, brutal, courageous, overwhelmed. Some of them will surprise the reader. Some will be loved, some less so, and some will certainly be relatable. I don’t think time and the historic setting do anything to change that.
DF: A storyline like this allows for a lot of examination of the human condition. Will we be seeing some of this analysis/subtext as man and monster face off?
Dan Abnett: I think that’s inevitable, but I hope the book is also fun and entertaining. It’s action-packed, too. Let’s not forget that this is an age-old tale of man meets monster. I think the reader will also get some pleasure from being “in the know”, watching the characters struggle with beings that are alien to them that they interpret in a different way from the way the reader sees them.
DF: Why is I.N.G. Culbard a good fit for this book?
Dan Abnett: In so many ways. He “gets” this kind of idea and interprets my full scripts brilliantly on the page. He also researches very well, so that all the period stuff works in his drawing. Clothes, armor, weapons ... those sorts of things seem to come effortlessly to him. His monsters are damned fine, too.
DF: Dan, finally, elephant in the room: What did you think of the Guardians of the Galaxy film? Truth.
Dan Abnett: I loved it! I was lucky enough to be invited by James Gunn for a couple of set visits during the making of the movie, so I had some idea of what to expect, and my expectations were high! I went to the London premiere with my wife and daughter, and had one of the best cinema experiences I’ve had in a long time. We laughed and cried along with the rest of the very enthusiastic audience. I felt flattered and honored that James kept so much of the spirit of what I’d done in my run on the comic, and I’m thrilled that it’s been such a success for him.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Dan Abnett for taking time out of his cosmically busy schedule to answer our questions. Dark Ages #2 hits stores September 10th!
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