A Coffee with… Pat Mills at the London Book Fair! Part 2

CA - LBF 16 - PM2 We were lucky enough to catch 2000 AD creator Pat Mills for a coffee at the London Book Fair and got to chat about so much great stuff we had to split it into three articles! If you want the first it’s here… Otherwise read onwards on what we chatted on Slaine, Celtic consciousness and myth, and comics and Scotland!

 

SLAINE!

We’d just been chatting on ethical concerns and subversive writing. With no diversion from this we move on to what is undoubtedly my favourite of Pat’s comics and characters: Slaine.

CA - LBF - PM - Slaine 2 For those who don’t know Slaine is an uber-violent strip chronicling the adventures of a Celtic hero, being based on Ireland’s Cuchulainn. He’s a tribal warrior who, aside from being about the deadliest fighter you can imagine, can go into a “warp-spasm” – interpreted by Pat as drawing the primal energy of the Earth into his body to warp into a near-unbeatable monstrous form. CA - LBF - PM - Slaine - Warp Spasm - Simon Bisley
After 7 years of Slaine the story reached a whole new plateau with Slaine the King, then again with the absolutely stunning airbrush art of Simon Bisley in the Horned God – so much so that either could have been entirely apt conclusions to Slaine’s saga. Yet clearly Pat had a much longer term view for his character.

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“It’s about Celtic Consciousness and Celtic Myths” Pat tells me and it takes a few moments for me to get his meaning beyond the obvious. Later conversation confirms the reasonable assumption that Pat certainly has contact with the modern Celtic / neo-Pagan scene, but the Celtic Consciousness Pat speaks of is a wider set of ideas and ideals that would find purchase with most of us. It’s a criticism of institutional religion – or any institution or belief system – where imposed doctrine constrains the human spirit in an unhealthy manner. It’s also the conflict of life as personified by the Earth with ecological corruption, very much representing the spiritual struggle and vice versa.

Well I think I’ve got the Celtic Consciousness part right, and quite clearly Slaine is based in Celtic Myth. But Pat’s actually answering my vaguely worded question quite correctly. To us in our teens when Slaine took on the mantle of the Horned God, it was the culmination of 7 patient years of escalation. But Slaine is fuelled by Celtic Myth and his longevity for Pat relates to the wealth of myth for him to explore with his character – and there’s plenty more he has in store to play with.

The latest Slaine arc which began with The Brutania Chronicles is something of a reboot, a separation and new beginning for the Celtic barbarian as Simon Davis took over art duties with a distinctly more sombre tone. As I hear in the subsequent panel Pat very much takes on an artist’s strengths and preferences in his scripting, but Simon has retained the sadness in his depiction even in moments of comedy – not that Pat seems to mind. And there are some instances of humour that couldn’t be rendered dry if you tried, especially the character and naivety of the essentially brutal giants. CG - TT - Jan - Slaine Brutania Chronicles V2

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The overarching theme of The Brutania Chronicles is, as Pat puts it, ‘who your father is’. The villains of the piece are Slaine classics, Drune Lords – basically insidious anti-druids, not unlike Terry Brooks’s Dagda Mor which shares some of the originating mythos. Slough Gododin, the foul leader of this latest bunch, is the son of another Slaine saw an end to much earlier in his career. And sure, he might be in the mood for a little revenge but his desire to subjugate the human spirit is his defining character and motivation. Pat’s equipped him with the insight of a modern psychoanalyst with which to torment Slaine in addition to his corrupt magic, colleagues and minions, having decided it’s time to put Slaine under the microscope: “He’s been a wanderer and a bum for so much of his life he must have had a complicated childhood”.

The next volume has just begun in 2000 AD and will conclude with the fourth volume. The next story, Pat tells me, is going to be totally different, moving away from the character’s inner psyche – we just have to hope Slaine survives till then I guess. But on the subject of Gaelic heroes…

 

SCOTLAND AND COMICS

Having recently watched Future Shocks – the film biography of 2000 AD – it became apparent to me just how much the comic is shared between English and Scottish creators (mainstay and fellow original creator John Wagner, Alan Grant, much later Grant Morrison then Mark Millar and plenty of others I’m sure). It’s something I wanted to ask Pat about and he’s got a clear view on the subject. Scottish comics culture, he explains, is “genetically different”: it lacks the snobbishness toward the medium experienced in England and has a lot of energy – drawn from its particular political situation as much as anything else. Being an aficionado of Celtic culture, it’s occurred to Pat that this underlying feature is true of the key characters in the British comics industry, himself being of Irish heritage. LE - Aug - Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD

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I wonder also, on the Celtic side and referring back to Pat’s notion of a Celtic consciousness, if there might not be something else in his mind. Because the Celts were ultimately lost (historically anyway) beneath the forces of Rome in what became England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, to Christianity. Then the latter were subjugated in the ages that followed by the English, though always retained a distinct national identity that might well be described as Celtic.

CA - LBF - PM - Slaine KMA So there’s a sense of injustice, of being the underdog, perhaps a greater sense of a ‘working class’ ethic and investing less in flawed notions of respectability – and perhaps less prone to assumptions of a medium being for a certain age group. There’s a broadly accepted religion within a national identity next to an awareness of (in many cases) hypocrisy and emotional repression. I’ll add, partly because Pat noted a very strong anti-war tradition in Scotland, that it might be the Celtic mind’s desire for expression in a civilised fashion that has given 2000 AD such a distinct flavour of uber-violence: be peaceful, subvert subtly, but splash it out in panels and pages of action and gore – because you can and why shouldn’t you?

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In a more tangible and historical sense Pat also believes it has a lot to do with chapbooks, a style of media that dates from the 17th Century, many more examples of which have been archived in Scotland than England. It seems this appreciation extended into an openness to the comic format: there’s a real love of comic books in Scotland.

 

Read Part 3 of A Coffee with Pat Mills here: On the Fall and Rise of 2000 AD, and Simon Bisley and maverick artists!