We chat to Robert Curley, Stephen Downey and Malachy Coney about Atomic Dinner’s Noe: The Savage Boy.
JB: We see Noe in Baltimore, a harbour village near cork in 1631, this is an interesting setting – was the reason for this to tie directly with the Barbary Corsairs?
Robert: The story is based on actual events of the time when Barbary pirates came to Baltimore and kidnapped the entire village. Its a fascinating story well worth investigation a case of truth being stranger than fiction.
Mal: The truth is at times a bitter pill and the truth of history can feel like an overdose.
JB: How much research did you carry out for this comic about the Corsairs and what did you learn?
Robert: There was a lot of research involved, lots of visits to Costa coffee for hours of reading and note taking. I always find it amazing how much rich history we have and just how interesting our past is, how we consider ourselves cut of from the world in times gone by when the truth is the total opposite. It also sadness me that we learn very little of so many interesting people from our past when studying history in school.
SD: I spent many hours researching websites, images and even the odd book on the Corsairs of the time. They have a wonderful look to them, and adding all the elements together to create our own characters was a lot of fun. The ships were a particularly difficult aspect to nail down. It is said that Murat’s crew had a specific variation of polacre with both lanteen and fore-an-aft rig. Difficult to find reference for, but I managed to cobble reference together from the bits that I found.
Mal: The research was a joy. Irish history was not taught in most Northern Irish schools. The effects of our shared histories was still occurring all around us and they were bloody.
JB: Is there any historical character that you based Noe on or historical occurrence?
Robert: The idea came to me after reading about Baltimore, it just seemed like such a great setting to place a fictional character, later on when we get to the Barbary cost readers will get an idea of just how fantastic this place was, sort of a real life Mos Eisley.
SD: I was able to find some reference in the form of children’s painted portraits of the time and use that as a starting point for Noe and his sister. Again, no one reference point was used, but as their was naturally no photography at the time, they were invaluable for gaining an understanding of the fashion and style of the time, making the characters seem authentic.
JB: As a reader, I was thinking about the correlation to St Patrick, a person who was also abducted by Pirates, was this something you considered?
Robert: No not at all but the name Noe does come from Noah and refers to the saving of ones people which just suited the story and I really liked how it looked and sounded, so you were on the right path.
Mal: Saint Patrick never occurred to me. As rooted in a terrible reality as the story was I did not want it to be the story of anyone but Noe. Besides Saint Patrick comes with a certain amount of religious baggage of his own. Patrick story has otherwordly forces at play in aspects. Noe does not. Back in the day ransomed Christain hostages were a tremendous source of income for pirates. How times change.
JB: Noe’s father seems like a well grounded character, and is not of the Christian faith despite his understanding of it, were Celtic religions strong at that time in Ireland?
Robert: Before Christan’s we were a pagan culture believing in the power and beauty of nature, over time we were convinced to go along with the Christan faith through different levels and methods of persuasion but I imagine our original believes lingered especially around this time in our history.
Mal: Noe’s father is a man who knows himself and understands the times his family live in.
JB: Was the reflection of modern doubts about Christianity being played out in this comic a purposeful theme?
Robert: Religion plays a big part in our society but in the story this is not a reflection of modern doubts . In the plot and notes I sent to Mal I would have mentioned Noes fathers view on religion and them being passed on to Noe. Its a story of beliefs both in religion and in one self and how in my own opinion its belief in one self and not of one god or another which is important in life, we are all responsible for our own actions in this world.
Mal: I think this has a lot to do with why our relationships with Christian based faith systems are such turbulent ones. Conflict seems rooted in our DNA at times. That juxstaposed with a great capacity for compassion creates a fearsome aspect.
JB: The mention of ‘Jihad’ brought the story into sharp contract with the modern conflicts that are occurring, was this really a Jihad and why this term?
Robert: Again no reflection on modern society, it was in fact a Jihad. Morat who was the pirate king of Algiers had befriended an English secret agent who convinced him to help England in their war against Spain, part of the deal was a knighthood for Morat and a move to high society in England but when the war with Spain ended there was no need for his help so all bets were off. Morat took great exception to this and swore revenge. Ireland was considered part of the English kingdom and so was seen as a target. Missions of this kind were also common where people were kidnapped and sold of as slaves. Christan slaves were a common feature of Algerian life in the 1630’s.
Mal: I envisioned Murat as a man not afraid to speak his mind, to call a spade a spade and not to be above using one. A man who sees only hypocrisy in any form of moral sophistry or self-serving word play. He was a pirate king. A self made prince. His actions not crippled by notions of morality. A Macchivelian prince in intent and purpose. A terrifying man of his times. What happened in Cork all those years ago is historical fact. The actual events of the night in 1631 are for anyone to investigate If they so choose. What we have choose to suggest happened next is entirely fictional speculation on our part. We have attempted to come up with a storyline that is compelling in storytelling terms on how it articulates those events. It is quite old fashioned. I hope in the way Victor Hugo or Robert Louis Stevenson might be considered old fashioned. A story about courage in the face of cruelty. The beauty of the human soul and the ugliness that can take root there.
JB: The method of betrayal, a whole village wiped off the earth, is quite harsh and dastardly, will betrayal feature throughout, and is there any chance of revenge?
Robert: The story is not so much about revenge but personal growth and how we all face tragic events in our life, how we decide to deal with those events shape what type of person we become. I thinks its important to remember these events in Baltimore happened so its not a case of abusing history for modern bias or for the sake of fiction.
SD: The series may not be a out revenge, but I’m looking forward to drawing some characters get their comeuppance.
JB: There are three of you involved in the comic, could you tell us how you go about producing the comic, and what part each of you play?
Robert: For my part I came up with the main character Noe and the original plot which I then sent to Mal and Stephen, Mal is such a good writer he broke the ideas down and came back with a very tight and focused script. Stephen is always a joy to work with and he will send on the art at each stage of progression before moving on.
SD: The process from script to art was halfway between the old ‘Marvel’ style and the modern comic script. Mal paced the comic in two-page couplets and broke down for me what should happen over each set of pages along with the dialogue. It was my job to then break down those scenes into individual panels, which have me a lot of freedom to play with pacing, and emphasise the great story beats with interesting visuals.
JB: The artistic process, are there thumbnails, or do the writers do sketches, or is it a very heavily descriptive script?
Robert: I do do sketch’s when writing scripts but purely for my own direction. Stephen will send on rough thumb nails to begin with.
Mal: I shyed away from heavily descriptive scripts favouring a series of couplets, of two page events and leading dialogue. Stephen and myself communicate so easily it was not necessary to hamstring his fluidity with a long winded script dense in detail. He is so receptive I almost act scenes when describing them.
JB: This comic seems very deep with information for the first of a three issue arc, is it purely an origin story, and if so, what plans are there ?
Robert: Its an origin story but will point us in the direction for future adventures for our young hero. I see Noe as an adventure comic along the lines of Sindbad or Tarzan but with a more realistic foundation.
SD: I think this series will make a great story in itself, but I’m certainly eager to draw the further adventures of Noe.
Mal: Oh I like that. We should be so lucky. Every now and then a character comes along who captures the imagination of a chunk of the masses. I do not know if it I possible to create an iconic character like that. It is a bit like trying to catch lightning in a thimble. It just sort of happens. Part serendipity part timing. And there is nothing accidental about the story of Noe.
Robert, Stephen and Malachy will be signing in FP Belfast this Saturday 9th February from 1-3 pm.
We would like to thank Robert, Stephen and Malachy for taking the time to chat to us.