Kapow! Granuaile storms into life
Sometimes the best ideas are so obvious, it’s astounding no one has thought of them before. Granuaile’s life as a comic-book story? Of course! It’s perfect – brimming with swashbuckling adventure, historical drama, power-play intrigues and compelling heroes and villains.
So thought comic-book writer Dave Hendrick and cartoonist Luca Pizzari, who have just launched their graphic novel ‘Granuaile: Queen of Storms’ onto the high seas.
The book’s blurb sets the scene…
“It is a time of invasion, it is a time of adventure. In the sixteenth century, Granuaile, warrior and leader, was the terror of the North Atlantic and the most feared woman in Ireland, controlling huge parts of the west coast in defiance of the British Empire. Heading a large army and a fleet of ships, she lived by trading and raiding and demanding tribute from all who sailed through her territory.
“Headstrong and rebellious Granuaile knew the true nature of leadership. She defied the old ways to sail in and eventually lead her father’s fleet even though she was a woman, and finally confronted Elizabeth Tudor herself. Follow the astounding and sometimes tragic tale of Ireland’s own Queen of Storms brought to stunning life in this beautiful graphic novel.”
Dublin native Dave Hendrick’s previous comic works include ‘The Symptoms’ and ‘Short Sharp Schlocks’. He is currently working on a number of projects, including a Pearl Jam comic-book anthology and other graphic novels. ?
His partner for ‘Granuaile: Queen of Storms’, Luca Pizzari is a freelance cartoonist living and working in London. Pizzari fell in love with the images created by comic-book artists the Kubert brothers when he was nine and decided he wanted to make comic books for a living straight away. He’s been drawing ever since.
Here, Hendrick talks to The Mayo News about their graphic novel and the process behind its creation.
CM When did you first hear the story of Granuaile?
DH I can’t really pinpoint when I first heard of her, so probably way, way back in my early childhood. Irish folklore and history were, as it is for a lot of kids growing up, a big part of my childhood. My parents were always encouraging my siblings and myself to read and one of the easiest ways to accomplish this – and I know from experience with my own two boys – is to introduce the idea of adventurous history. This is something kids really latch onto and get swept up in.
I think I first properly heard her story as it’s popularly known on a trip to Westport as a very young child, and she’s hung around the edges of my subconscious ever since.
CM Why did it strike you as a good subject for a graphic novel?
DH What’s there not to like about it? Pirates, rebellion, romance, an incredible woman at the centre of it who faces off with the most powerful female monarch in the history of the world. It’s a story made for telling and retelling and with the right artist which thankfully I had there’s huge opportunity to tell a pretty visually stunning tale.
CM Granuaile is most well known as The Pirate Queen – Where did the ‘Queen of Storms’ come from, and why did you decide not to use her well-known title?
DH The subtitle was my own invention. I wanted to acknowledge her position as head of the clan of Umaill and give her an almost legendary status. The Pirate Queen title just seemed so synonymous with her that it felt a bit played out, so ‘Queen of Storms’ was born. It has an elemental feel to it, and so much of the clan’s life was linked to the seasons and the sea that I wanted to pay homage to her position as both a natural and practical leader.
CM Is the entire span of her life covered? What parts of her life do you focus on?
DH We tried to hit all the key notes along the way in a non-linear narrative, so we take her from pirate, back to childhood, to motherhood, to soldier and to diplomat. So we get a broad understanding of her life.
CM What age group or who is the book targeting?
DH Pretty much everyone, with a caveat regarding a couple of gruesome scenes (I don’t want to be responsible for a rash of sleepless nights amongst the younger children of Mayo), but we tried to tell the story in an accessible but intelligent manner that should suit most.
CM Were the historical facts surrounding Grace O’Malley exciting enough, or did you feel the need to dramatise to tell a gripping story? Could the book be used as an educational tool or is it purely entertainment?
DH There’s a dearth of actual documented history on Grace O’Malley that is both a blessing and a curse for any writer tackling her story. On the one hand, you almost have to take licence with it to fill in the blanks, which allows you to flex your creative muscles, but on the other hand, you’re slightly rudderless in the initial stages of plotting, as there’s very few lights to guide you.
I’d like to think we’ve a decent balance of factual history and gripping entertainment in there to carry it off. There’s certainly enough factual information to consider the piece educational, and in researching her life I learned a thing or two that I hadn’t known – or rather, thought I’d known, but like so many familiar stories that have been with us since childhood, we tend to lose the detail as we age, and it’s only when we go back to the sources that we surprise ourselves with the actual history.
CM How closely did you work with Luca Pizzari on the styling and appearance of Granuaile and the other characters? Is the end result what you had pictured in your mind’s eye?
DH Luca and myself worked pretty closely in the initial stages. It would be impossible to create something of quality if we hadn’t. All told from initial pitch to publication, the process took about two years and the first six months of that was spent pulling the character models together, ensuring we were as accurate as we could be and as far away from the Johnny Depp/Pirates of the Caribbean look as we could get. So in the end we had a cast of characters that we were absolutely happy with.
CM Can you tell us a little about the process of creating a graphic novel. What comes first, the writing or the images, for example?
DH For me the process begins with the character, whether it’s original or historical, it’s all about building the character’s personality from the inside out. So I start with who I think the story’s about, what makes them tick, then it’s about looking externally out at their world and what factors there are within it that develop the characters values.
With a historical character, that world is real, so it’s slightly different to, say, developing a punk-rock zombie-killing singer, as certain events actually happened and were recorded and the locations were all real.
So once I’ve got the principal cast nailed it’s down to work on writing the script. I write full script, as pretty much most comic-book writers do these days. Full script means breaking the story down into its constituent pages, then panels which all carry instructions on the characters, the locations, the action within the panel and that’s followed by dialogue. It’s similar to a screen play in a lot of ways, where the actions of the characters, the angle of the shots are described prior to the dialogue appearing.
Once that’s finished, it goes off to the artist who interprets it – as comics are (or should be) a wholly collaborative medium, the artist takes the panel descriptions on board but can often make amendments if it’s to the benefit of the piece.
With our book, Luca produced thumbnail layouts of the entire book to act as a guide to him and to check with me and our editor Helen Carr at O’Brien Press to ensure we were happy with the visual flow. Once approved, he set about pencilling the actual pages, then he inked them. So in essence, he drew the book three times before his pages were done.
This is then handed off to the colourist, and we struck gold with Dee Cunniffe, who’s one of the finest in the business. He added the colour to the pages, which were then handed off to Pete Marry, our letterer who digitally inserts the speech bubbles and captions and all of the actual dialogue onto the page. I then sat down with him and went through it a good few times to ensure the flow was there. That’s the last chance we have to make any changes to clunky dialogue or flow. It’s almost our dress rehearsal before the opening night. Once I signed off on that it went back to the editor for final checks and that was it. Sounds easy doesn’t it!
CM Finally, would you see Granuaile as a good role model for children/young people? Why?
DH Well, there’s the rub, she was quite the character. In every sense a leader and a strong one at that, she certainly saw her fair share of hardship and sacrificed much of her own life in order to ensure the wellbeing of her people, so from that perspective I would agree that she can be an inspiration to others.
She was also, and we can’t deny this, quite simply a pirate, and she headed up what was seen at the time as an illegal army that demanded taxes from anyone brave enough to venture into her waters or onto her lands. Not acquiescing to her was not, as many poor souls discovered, the healthiest of options, so I think we have to be careful in what aspects of her life we hold up as good examples. But what’s a hero without a dark side anyway?
‘Granuaile: Queen of Storms’, by Dave Hendrick and Luca Pizzari, is published by O’Brien Press. It available in bookshops nationwide and at www.obrien.ie. €12.99.