Brian Wood and Mack Chater made their mark as a creative duo with Briggs Land, a brutal crime drama from Dark Horse. Last month the duo reunited for Sword Daughter. We got to sit down with them to talk about the series ahead of the second issue, in stores this week!
Hey guys, thank you for taking some time to talk to us! You guys really knocked it out of the park with Briggs Land!
So what’s the elevator pitch for the series?
BW: Sword Daughter is a father-daughter revenge saga set in Viking times. After their village is burned by the infamous Forty Swords, the only survivors are Dag and his young daughter Elsbeth. They don’t have the best relationship to start with, and both are grieving, but they set off on a (possibly suicidal) quest to hunt down the Forty Swords and kill them all. And as they go, the thing that binds them together are the swords they carry.
Can you tell us a little bit about how the two of you originally got together as a creative team?
BW: I was looking for an artist for Briggs Land, who had both a realistic style and a cinematic eye…Briggs Land is a crime story, almost novelistic, with a massive cast of characters. It’s not for the weak, and Mack’s got a long history in games and in comics that made him the perfect choice. We got along really well, and one of the joys of working in comics is finding that collaborator you can work with not just the once, but over and over and keep developing yourselves as a team as well as individually.
Is Sword Daughter an ongoing or limited series?
BW: like a lot of comics series these days, its both – its ongoing in its numbering and intent, but published in chunks of story with pre-planned breaks.
I’ve heard a lot of people call this a Viking Lone Wolf and Cub in the initial press, but clearly it’s more nuanced than that. Did the story have any other specific inspirations or influences?
BW: For me, I think the original inspiration came from Lone Wolf + Cub, seeing my copies of that book on the shelf and thinking on its parental themes and wanting to do something *like* that. I ran through a few different ways to approach it – I think at one point I was seeing this as a Western – but its when I expanded my thinking in terms of influence and Mack and I both gelled on the Samurai Cinema vibe, that the Viking angle felt the most right.
Can you tell us a little more about our lead characters?
BW: When we first see Dag, the father, we see in in a meditative state, a coma he slipped into following the attack on his village and the death of his wife. For ten years he escaped the aftermath and his grief, while his young daughter Elsbeth was left to fend for herself. Truthfully, she shouldn’t have survived alone like that, but she did, and she’s now about 12 years old, tough, feral, and holding a serious grudge against her absent father. So this is where we start, with this father and his kid and this massive emotional gulf between them, lots of anger and bad feelings and suspicion and grief. It feels impossible that they will ever repair their relationship, and that’s a big narrative thread of this story: how do they do that?
Elsbeth has a… unique way of speaking, but she’s also the story’s narrator. What led to that choice?
BW: So she communicates in two different ways, as a narrator talking in perfect sentences, and as this young girl speaking in ‘emojis’, which is a visual representation of the fact she is non-verbal, having raised herself mostly alone. These two things resolve themselves over time – we’ll learn why she is narrating and all that, but the non-verbal thing is important… its a logical thing but its also both a barrier to how she gets along with her father, as well as something they alone can share.
Can you tell us about some of the other characters- especially the antagonists- that are important to the story?
BW: The bad guys of the story are the Forty Swords, who, at the start, are pretty much faceless villains, monsters, seen first through the eyes of a 2-yo as they sack their village. Over time, they’ll develop.
Mack, what’s your creative process been as you’ve been designing the look of this world?
MC: I’ve collected a lot of reference based on the period, re enactment societies, and there are a few places in the UK that are ‘Viking Recreation sites’ which have a ton of reference available. We’ve tried to avoid any ‘hollywood’ style stuff in the book, so I’ve tried to go down a more authentic approach. Looking at how sword fighting differs based on sword type, etc. Watched a lot of Samurai cinema for pacing as well 🙂
What does your day to day process look like for working on the book?
MC: Well, Iike Brian, I work from home, so I’m up early, make sure my girls get off to school on time, nip to the gym for an hour,then I start work around 9/9:30. Work until around 4 when the girls get home from school, then family time. I sometimes go and do another couple of hours late at night when it’s quiet.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to draw so far?
MC: I think the environmental side of things has been a challenge, as that becomes a very important character in itself. The large, epic vistas we’ve put in to really help sell the tone of the book, have been technically challenging in the sense that they have to reflect the emotional beats of the story as well as look good!
What’s been your favorite thing to draw so far?
MC: Carrying on from the previous question, drawing the environments has been one of the most rewarding aspects of the book. There is something very relaxing, getting lost in drawing a huge open landscape, be it a forest, an ocean, or snow capped mountains.
Brian, what’s Mack’s greatest strength as an artist?
BW: I don’t know how to answer that, so just say one thing, since I think we’re talking about several different skills. His eye for composition and pacing, his gorgeous inking style, the instincts he has as a storyteller, and the experience he brings to the table. He often far more enthusiastic than I am (laughs), and is always so committed to delivering the best work he can.
You’ve worked with a lot of artists in your career. What made him the right artist for Sword Daughter?
BW: Mack’s a powerhouse of an artist. He and I are of a similar age, we have kids around the same age, and we share a lot of common influences. This was all very seamless… I developed a nugget of a story that I knew would resonate with him as it does with me, and he and I developed a whole approach, from story to the type of coloring we wanted, and balloon style ideas for the letterer. Jose Villarrubia and Blambot took those ideas and brought their own, and it all came together.
Mack, what has been your highlight in working with Brian, both on this series and in your past collaborations?
MC: Brian has a really engaging writing style. As soon as I read anything he sends me, I can pretty much ‘see’ it on the page. They are wonderfully descriptive, but also give me enough room to bring my own ideas to the pages.
From the beginning (on Briggs) we’ve really hit it off creatively and personally. And it reallt feels like a collaboration when we work on anything together.
Brian, what is your daily work process like?
BW: I’m a stay at home father, so my work process can vary from day to day, depending on the needs of the family, if the kids are sick, if it’s laundry day, and so on. But generally I bring the kids to school, I go to the gym for an hour, I come home and eat. Then I get a few hours of work time. Then its family time with the kids coming home, with dinner and homework and so on. I generally get some more work time in the evening, but I try and get to sleep between 930-10pm. At least one full weekend day is a dedicated work day for me.
The revenge story is a classic genre in fiction. What made you guys want to set one of these stories in medieval times?
BW: I’ve written a lot of Viking stories in the past, and I’ve put in the work in terms of research. Northlanders is the gold standard for historically-accurate Viking comics, and so I don’t see a need to try and replicate that… I look for new angles to take. My Black Road series is a straight action thriller, and Sword Daughter borrows a lot from Samurai films, that genre, and sort of mashes it up. Looks for the sweet spot.
Do either of you have an unusual ritual when you work?
MC: Just coffee and music. Lots of both.
What comics are you each reading right now?
BW: My downtime reading is almost never comics. Looking at my bedside bookshelf now, I have a few books of nonfiction, research for upcoming projects, history I’m interested in, stuff like that. I have a couple thrillers on deck, the newest Nick Petrie, a Denis Johnson book, and an old first edition copy of One Police Plaza i finally found on eBay.
MC: I tend to read a lot of older comics, ones that I missed growing up, or were before my time. So recently I’ve really been getting into all the old Creepy and Eerie books, as well reading MAD magazine. All those titles were heavily based around the wonderful art, and being a HUGE art snob/nerd, my go to is the art.
Apart from that, I really enjoy Stephen King books, and old pulp noir novels.
Sword Daughter #1 is available now and #2 is available on July 4th in stores and digitally.