Interview: Lindsay, Zawadski & Cunniffe Are ETERNAL

Comic book storytelling is most successful and eternal when it becomes a collaboration between all the makers involved. It’s like a memorable dish where all the ingredients have been measured, mixed, and melded together just right. The new one shot Eternal by writer Ryan K. Lindsay, artist Eric Zawadski, and colorist Dee Cunniffe is a perfect example of flawless artistic collaboration.

Eternal tells the story of lone colony of Viking shield maidens and their leader Vif who exacts revenge on their enemies. It’s a hauntingly beautiful and visceral story that will stick with you long after you have read it and draw you back in to read it many times more. It is clear that Lindsay, Zawadski and Cunniffe have worked hard together as one mind to bring this tale to life. I spoke with the team to learn more about the inspiration and source of some of the ideas found in their story.

Chris Campbell: What was the inspiration for this story? Why a story about shield maidens?

Ryan K. Lindsay: I think it was the initial mash up of shieldmaidens in a ghost story that caught my attention, that was the spark. Why shieldmaidens? Because they’re absolutely metal. Because we’ve seen male Vikings plenty of times before. Because Vif was the first character to pop into my head.

CC: Can you tell me about the choice of names for the characters. Is there any reason why you chose those particular names?

RKL: There’s nothing loaded behind their names – I went scrolling through Norwegian names online and kept clicking and swiping until something fit. I didn’t want names I’d seen before, I wanted something different. Vif felt like punctuation, much like the character, and Bjarte feels slimy as it rolls the tongue and jaw, so it fit really well for me.

CC: Did you come across any point of reference in your research for this story. In my brief research I saw that gender roles were extremely important in their society. Did you come across any stories of Viking women acting on their own without men?

RKL: There’s a bit of noise out there about shieldmaidens, and as I was writing this a story circulated about a village of them found, and then it was debunked, and then it becomes a huge point of contention. I decided to veer away from too much of that fact because ours is a ghost story, I feel we’re allowed to veer away from the truth as needed – so if a scholar wanted to take me to task for portrayals of women in Viking times/locations, I’d argue that showing them in those situations in power through narrative is far more important.

Is it clear I’m just trying to mask my lack of research? Ha, nah, I looked into it enough to know that the best way to do this was to mysteriously have the men exit before the story starts, and then not spend time explaining that when it’s not central to the story any longer, all that matters is that they are gone.

CC: Eternal is very bleak in it’s outlook on life. Even Vif’s son is inconsolable and wants to go to Valhalla together with his family. Is this in anyway related to the world we live in now? Is the message that you are conveying that we are headed to the end and it is better to go out fighting?

RKL: The theme I wanted to tackle was that certainty of legacy. Can we choose how we go out? And can the choices of others impact on us too much and strip our choice away? I wasn’t consciously making a comment about the world as it is today, as much as I’m commenting on the way family roles, and new generations, have been directed for decades and decades. I’m commenting on how family is the most important thing we have. 

CC: The sword is a focal point throughout the story. Can you talk a little about the importance of the sword in the story.

RKL: It’s the one thing left behind by the father, it’s this physical representation of the legacy he leaves behind, and what the son wishes to escape, but the family becomes tied to right up to the very bitter end. It could represent inevitability. It could represent male violence. It could represent death, and how that’s all this father has left behind for his family.

The one thing I will say is, it does represent the cycle of trauma, and the inevitability of that cycle, and it offers a choice. It might be thematic, but it’s still inert – swords don’t kill people, people with swords kill people.

CC: What is your writing process. Do you visualize the story first and then write or does it flow as you write. How does your mind work, as far as writing.

I make copious notes about a story in a notebook. I break narrative flow, page flow, character truths. I get it all straight and square, and then I map the story one final time digitally. Only once it’s good enough do I start in on the script. Most of the narrative blocks are in place in the planning, which can take some time. The script is where the nuance comes alive, and I see if the characters can stay on the tightrope I’ve laid out for them.

CC: Any plans for another chapter to this story. Though Vif and her family’s story may be have been completed, what about the community of shield maidens? What do they do now? (Please write this story!)

RKL: At this time, there are no plans for anything more with these shieldmaidens, no. That doesn’t mean we don’t have ideas for how…something else could push this story forward, though :]

CC: What resources did you use to research color palettes for Eternal?

Dee Cunniffe: Once I have a really good read of the script, taking note of settings, characters and any important plot elements that will need to be researched. This was a great opportunity to do a deep dive into Viking stories in all forms of media. A day rereading Northlanders, a couple of episodes of Vikings and Norsemen, the 13th warrior, Beowulf, Pathfinder, Outlander and of course Eric the Viking.

I spent a bit of time researching the kind of clothes Vikings and Picts would have worn and made a folder of lots of ref lifted from google. As expected there were lots of brown textiles, leather, furs and I threw a bit of woad blue in there too. Lagertha from Vikings essentially became my base model for Vif – Joan Bergin and the costume department for Vikings had done so much great research already. Google image search is your friend for researching reference!

CC: Why did you choose solid colors for this book and use shades in only a few places.

DC: I approach all books differently – different color choices, different rendering styles, different brushes – sometimes it can be a bit of a brain melt trying to remember how I treated one book if I‘ve just come off another. The art style very much determines how I approach a book – if the lines are loose it means my rendering can be loose. If the inks are bold and tight I can go for a more flat style or a cut and grad. It’s really a case of finding a sympathetic style of coloring that adds to the inks in each case.

I wanted to approach the colors on this in a different way to how how I colored The Dregs, which I had previously collaborated on with Eric. I usually set myself some rules to try and adhere to on a new book, but I always break these rules within a few pages! Seeing as this book was a bande desinee I wanted to treat it a similar style to Asterix or Tin Tin, but in a sympathetic blend with Eric’s art.

I decided on minimal rendering, no grads and no texture overlays. I find myself using textures as a crutch so it’s always nice to try and work without them. Of course I broke the no texture rule in every page by adding a watercolor overlay to the sky! And then I broke the minimal rendering rule on any page with strong lighting or fire!

CC: What was your favorite page or panel to color?

DC: There’s a wonderful sunset panel midway through the book that Eric sent me reference for. It was actually the first panel of the book I colored as I wanted to get a feel for the art and this helped set my vision for the book.

CC: There is a beauty and yet coldness to the final pages of the story. Can you talk to us about your choice of colors for the final panels?

DC: I spotted an Icelandic word the other day: skammdegisskuggar- shadows of the short days; metaphorically, the darkness that can be cast into both land & spirit by deep winter – which I think perfectly encapsulates the feeling I was trying to achieve with Vif’s journey into the Underworld. I really wanted to relay a completely different feeling to the rest of the book – a cold otherworldliness.

CC: The costumes of the characters and their weapons and ships all seem to be very authentically designed. Where did you get visual references for Eternal?

Eric Zawadski: After scouring google and pinterest, I realized that I needed better reference than was available online. So I went to the Vancouver public library and took advantage of their huge collection of reference books and photocopiers. I wish I could say everything in Eternal is 100% accurate, but I didn’t afford myself enough reading time prior to the project and in some cases I chose what I considered a cool look over authenticity.

CC: These are the best action scenes I have seen rendered in comics. The reader can easily see the characters move as if animated in these scenes. What are some key elements to creating this effect of animation.

EZ: A lot of that comes down to reading a lot of Frank Quietly around the time I was set to start drawing this project. He puts so much thought into every movement in his action scenes. It’s clear that he devotes a lot of time to figuring things out. So I decided to spend more time than usual on that particular fight scene. I really wanted it to feel animated. Those pages took three times as long as any of the other pages.

CC: What did you use as references for the battle scenes; especially the very visceral hits?

EZ: I watched some YouTube videos on sword fights and watched a little bit of the VIKINGS History Channel TV show. But everytime I would copy a pose from reference, the scene would feel stiff and lifeless. So , for the most part, I found myself just making it up as a went. I doubt the scene would hold up to much scrutiny if a historian analyzed it. My main goal was to have it read well. I really wanted the reader to feel the action.

CC: What was your favorite panel to draw?

EZ: I really enjoyed working through the ‘hallway fight’ the most. But it just took so much time. It was the first bunch of pages I did and I quickly found myself falling behind schedule. As a result, I think I ended up compromising quite a bit on some of the later pages. But at least I had Dee. There were pages that I found depressing to look at. But after Dee worked his magic, it was a little easier. So much of the book was saved by Dee.

CC: The panels that are inside the Celtic knots are beautifully done. What is the intended message behind this choice besides just looking pretty? Also, tell us about the importance of panel layout in your work. Each page of panels is very different than the rest and not just in size and layout but shape and thickness or absence of border. What goes into the process of deciding how to design the panels.

EZ: I think there’s so much potential with border designs when it comes to comics. The borders that the characters exist in can say so much about them and their world. I created the celtic knot borders initially as an esthetic challenge (and, boy was it!), but I also wanted it to mean something. The fact that it’s ‘pretty’ was significant to the two characters that inhabit the only panels the feature the knots. I wanted the borders to represent the relationship between mother and son. The design gets simpler and then disappears after (*SPOILERS*) one of them dies, making the world a little less pretty. That was why I decided to recreate the first knot page later on in the story, but this time with regular panel borders. I wanted readers to feel the difference in her world.

CC: There are a number of pages that are black after a particularly dark part of the story. Why have more than one page of blackness?

EZ: That was done purely for the sake of the print copy and page turns. I wanted a full black two page spread to be visible as you turned the page. If there was only one black page, it would be easy to skim right by it towards the page with actual content and not really feel what was intended. I think our eyes naturally bypass the nothingness and look for content. But if you’re confronted with a 2 spread with no content, there’s a less likely chance you’ll skim over it. It’s also my way of controlling the pacing in a medium where it’s always a challenge to do so.

CC: The detail that you put into the art seem very important:, the way Vif has tied her sword to her hand, Vif’s intricately woven hair, etc. What goes into the thought process of choosing which things to give more detail than others.

Some of it is just what I think looks cool and some of it has story significance. Me and Ryan discussed revealing the significance of the sword tied to her hand. Ryan eventually convinced me that we don’t need to tell the reader what it means. And I think that’s in the spirit of this book, which relies on silence quite a bit.

Be sure to catch the oversized 64 page Eternal when it is released January 31, 2018 from Black Mask Studios.

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