Outlander Homepage interviews John on all things scottish.
SALTIRE - Exclusive Interview with Creator - John Ferguson
On Friday, August 7, OHP sat down in an exclusive interview with the creative genius behind the first Scottish Superhero, Saltire.
By D.Elisabeth Aymett
John Ferguson and Saltire
John Ferguson loves to talk all things big, blue and ginger. (We’re verra fond of big gingers here at OHP, but we're still pondering that blue thing…) John’s lovely wife, Clare, assured me the main man would be very forthcoming and he really was! Can’t say enough about how kind and generous John was with his time.
Clare describes John as “a bletherer.” So since this interview went a bit longer than anticipated, but was so thoroughly enjoyable, we’re breaking it into two parts. Don’t want our followers to miss a thing about John’s perspective on Scottish history, mythology and what makes a great superhero. Hope you enjoy reading about our chat as much as we enjoyed having it. (My second favorite answer was how John described Black Jack Randall – you’ll see!)
OHP: It’s wonderful to be speaking with you. It’s fantastic the success you’ve been having.
John: Yes, we’re very busy right now. The next book is coming out this month and we’re just dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. It’s been great and we’ve been really overwhelmed. Our books are now, within Scotland, outselling the X-Men. We always thought we’d be successful but didn’t know we’d be thatsuccessful.
OHP: Well, that’s good kind of problem to have, isn’t it?
John: Yes, now if we could just do that on your side of the water, that would be the next step. If we can get the American market interested in the same way the Scottish market is, that would be massive.
OHP: Well, we’ll do our part to try to help you get there.
John: Fantastic! Just relax and ask away and I’ll try and be honest (this was so sweet because he knew I was nervous).
OHP: So many of us in the States are dying to come and see your lovely country because of the Outlander phenomena. Your novels are deeply rooted in Scottish history and I was wondering when your interest in history started?
John: I’m Scottish born and bred. I call it home. My kids are Scottish (this all said in that wonderful Scottish accent!) I’ve always had a huge interest in Scottish history, but even more interest in Scottish mythology because it is almost unknown. People quite often know a bit of Irish mythology like leprechauns and Banshee and all that kind of stuff but when you mention Scottish mythology they don’t know anything about it. I found that odd because it’s a country that’s very famous worldwide, has a lot of famous elements to it, but nobody knows our mythology.
I’d written a couple of articles about Scottish mythology and that created an interest, or should I say a passion. Then I read an article that said that Scotland couldn’t have its own superhero because it was too boring and too drab. Do you know what the word “dreich” means?
OHP: No, I don’t. (Not to worry, John is good at explaining things.)
John: The word “dreich” means cloudy and rainy and the kind of weather that makes you want to stay inside. That’s what we call dreich. And this article said Scotland is too dreich and boring. And at the end said, “What would you call a Scottish Superhero anyway? Drunk man?” And I found that quite offensive.
In my mind, superheroes are the same as mythological characters. Whether it’s Spiderman, Batman or Superman, they’re all mythological characters like Hercules, Achilles or Beowulf. To me, superheroes and mythological characters are all similar. So we took Scottish mythology and the modern superhero dynamic that is so popular and put them together.
Then we wondered how to create a storyline and thought, don’t reinvent the wheel, just tell the stories of history. Because Scotland has such a rich history, as you know from reading the Outlander story!
OHP: Oh, yes!
John: And Scotland has a very long, fascinating history, going back to the Romans and the Anglo-Saxons, and the Viking invasions, then the English wars of independence. So we’ve had a number of tumultuous battles with these empires. And that makes for great comic books.
OHP: Yes, it does!
John: And you can’t just have the heroes, you have to have the villains – give them a dastardly opponent. And Scotland’s story, as I’m sure you know, is one of being the underdog. We’ve always been fighting for our freedom against these invading powers. And we’ve just wanted them to leave us alone! All these stories have been told from the other side – you get the Roman perspective, the Viking perspective, the English perspective, but never the Scottish perspective. So that’s what we did and that’s why we like Outlander so much because it tells the story of the period in history where the British soldiers were very, emmm . . . unpleasant.
OHP: Unpleasant! Is that how you’d describe Black Jack Randall?? Unpleasant? (laughing)
John: Well, I was being polite. (laughing too)
OHP: You are the king of understatement, sir!
John: Instead of hearing our story from other perspectives, we thought, we can make a great narrative by telling history from our side. I have people tell me that our books read like a legend that might’ve been told hundreds of years ago, like a tradition that’s been passed down from generation to generation. And that’s exactly the feel we were going for, like something that might actually have happened, even though it didn’t, it might have. And we wanted to tell our side of history. That’s why we like Outlander so much because it does the same thing!
OHP: Well, it seems a wonderful way to reach out to younger people and get them interested in Scottish history. Was that a goal of yours?
John: We’ve got the books going into the Scottish education system this year.
John: They’re using the Saltire comic books to get young people reading. You know I’m sure it’s the same in America, particularly young boys have moved away from reading, whether fact or fiction, because of the internet age. They’ve got game consoles now, an Ipad or an Xbox, they’ve moved away from reading and one of the things they want to use to bring that back is the visual appeal of comic books. Because they still have to read a comic book but it has the visual element as well. It’s art.
OHP: It certainly is.
John: So take something exciting like a superhero and ask a ten year old who maybe doesn’t read very much and struggles with literacy and say, “try this”. Give him a superhero who’s from Scotland and the interest level is there. So we’re excited about getting people engaged with Scottish history, with aspects of Scottish mythology, with aspects of learning.
And we’ve got the books being translated into the Scots language and Gaelic. And that’s great for our culture. We’re trying to save these languages. You know Scotland doesn’t have just one language, it has three.
OHP: You have three? I did not know that.
John: People say Gaelic is a dying language but we don’t agree! Gaelic is a vibrant language that just hasn’t been portrayed much. We try to put it into something popular and promote that we have these other languages and it’s worked well so far.
OHP: Well, Ahdamh O’Broin will be absolutely thrilled to hear that!
OHP: I was wondering if you were told Scottish Mythology stories by your parents or grandparents.
John: Well, yes. You know it’s one of our things in Scotland. We are a very, very old country. You live in California. To us, that’s the new world, only about 200 years old, which we see as almost brand new. You guys are all about the future, new concepts and ideas. In Scotland we tend to look more at the past because we have such a long history and because of everything that’s happened to us. Our family traditions are, like, “let me tell you the story of…” and you get these great tales of Scottish mythology. Some of them you may be aware of, like the Loch Ness Monster, which is world famous.
OHP: The Waterhorse!
John: Yeah! And that’s a story that actually comes from the Dark Ages which is 1600 years ago. Most people think it’s a modern thing but it’s a very ancient myth in Scotland as are the tales of dragons in our country. The last dragon was supposedly slain by a farmer in Scotland and died on the banks of the River Tay, just next to where Clare and I live. And that’s the kind of story you get passed down. You know, “here’s a story for you before you go to bed.”, so that’s how I first heard the myths of Scotland and that’s how they’ve been passed down for generations.
OHP: I thought you must’ve heard great stories as a kid growing up.
John: Oh yeah. In Scotland we have fantastic myths. But our myths are quite dark, they’re not all sweetness and light. Our fairies are quite mysterious and dark. You know Disney came along with Tinkerbell and people got the idea that fairies flew around Christmas trees. But our fairies could be quite shady and do bad things as well. You learnt when you got a bit older the versions of Scottish fairy tales that make you realize it really isn’t all sweetness and light and Barbie dolls!
OHP: laughing – I’m not much of a Barbie fan myself. So I notice in the origin story of Saltire, and please tell me how to pronounce his name correctly.
John: Like salt for your food and a tire on your car. Saltire.
OHP: Thanks, I didn’t want to be mispronouncing it. So the leaders of the various areas of Scotland come and they’re consumed in the creation process of Saltire. He absorbs the life from them and that is the sacrifice that forms this character. What inspired you about the various characteristics of those leaders?
John: Well, I’m quite well travelled throughout Scotland and have many experiences of the different people from the regions. It’s the same kind of thing as in America. You know if you meet someone from Texas, they’re very different than the people from New York or Washington, or California. So it’s the same in Scotland, people vary in the different areas of the country.
You’ll get very different people in Glasgow than from Edinburgh, who differ from those on the Islands or in the Highlands. The people of Glasgow are known for being quite cheeky and funny, outgoing and everything is a joke with them. Where people from the Islands tend to be a bit reserved and keep themselves to themselves. People from the Highlands also tend to be quieter and like the solitude of the mountains and the peace.
So we thought we needed to have a representation of the different areas. We wanted people to be aware that Scotland has always had a clan culture and the clans have these different personalities. But whenever Scotland has been in trouble, they always band together for the greater good. And that wasn’t just me making it up for the character of Saltire, it has always been the way of Scotland.
OHP: I was trying to read a good bit about Scottish history this week to prepare for talking to you.
John: (laughing) It’s quite vast, isn’t it? That’s a subject that really takes a couple of decades to read through! I’m still not finished.
OHP: So here’s my super question for you. If you could choose just three battles in Scottish history where Saltire could come and make a difference and change the outcome of battle, which would be your top three?
John: Oh, goodness. What a good question. (Significant pause from John where you can tell he’s really thinking about this….)
Well, you know my go-to answer is the obvious number one, has to be Culloden, which really sticks in everybody’s craw, as we say here in Scotland. So we’ll stick that one in there as the obvious one.
Emmm, now what else? I think I would say the battle of Falkirk, which was the great battle between Edward I, Longshanks who was known as the Hammer of Scots and William Wallace, that great battle. You know the movie Braveheart, if you’ve ever seen that movie.
OHP: I did.
John: So you know that was very sad and everybody dies. So that would’ve been a nice battle to stick Saltire in the middle, I think that would be quite cool.
So, that’s two of the top three battles where John would have his superhero Saltire come and change the outcome of battle and history. What do you think number three is? I’ll tell you, his answer was quite surprising to me.
John talks about how Scotland might be different if Saltire could’ve changed the outcome of Culloden – like Jamie and Claire will try to do in Season 2 of Outlander. His take on it is very interesting! Come back and check out our blog next week to see that answer and read more of our interesting chat with John. Promise you’ll enjoy it!
Nerd Nation interview
Video Interview with John on OneOfUs.net
John Ferguson creator of the Saltire series answers a few frequently asked questions about his work.
Question One - Is this just an idea at the moment?
Answer - No, the first full colour graphic novel "Saltire - Invasion" is finished with an upcoming release through Diamondsteel Comics. Oh, and it's awesome!
Question Two - Is this tartan cringe?
Answer - No way. This is dramatic and dynamic story telling with Scotland and superheroes at its core. And like I say, it's awesome.
Question Three - Does Saltire have superpowers?
Answer - He is a being that exists for a purpose. That purpose requires immense power. In a word, yes.
Question Four - How would you describe the Saltire story?
Answer - Saltire brings Scottish myth and legend into a gritty reality, a darker edged superhero within epic story lines.
Question Five - Where are the Saltire stories set?
Answer - They are set in Scotland, using many of the landmarks within the country's iconic geography. Artists, Gary Welsh and Tone Julskjaer have captured the beauty and isolation of the landscape with stunning results.
Question Six - When are the Saltire stories set?
Answer - Saltire is infinite. He could appear in the modern day, ancient history, the recent past, or even in the future.
Question Seven - Is Saltire really Scotland's first superhero?
Answer - Well, it's a bit of a talking point really. There are a few comedic Scottish characters from a variety of genres but in terms of an actual lead character within a traditional action comic we believe Saltire is the first. Captain Britain was educated in Edinburgh but was English. The Fantastic Four had a guest character called Caledonia but she actually came from another planet and was based in the USA. Marvel's Gargoyles were of Scottish descent but again were based in the USA. Loads of comic books written by Scottish authors, but not Scottish stories or characters. Batman did have a single comic set in Scotland - tartan, bagpipes, kilts, haggis, the lot (did someone say tartan cringe?). So we are sticking with our assertion, Saltire is Scotland's first comic book superhero.
Interview on Brain Splatter
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Brain Splatter Exclusive: Interview with Saltire Creator John Ferguson
The other day I was afforded the opportunity to review Saltire, the story of Scotland's first original superhero, over at Superhero Movie News. I really enjoyed the books so I reached out to John Ferguson via Clare Ferguson and was fortunate enough to get a chance to ask a few questions about the character, the book and the process of developing an independent comic in a market dominated by big names. Both John and Clare were very generous and accommodating and I'm very grateful for their time and the opportunity to ask some questions about a very cool project!
Comic Book Brain Splatter: You've conceptualized and written an independent comic book. Could you tell the readers about the process of it...sort of the story behind the scenes from the inception of your idea to the finished product? I think it's probably quite a bit more difficult than people imagine.
John Ferguson: The idea came from an article i read some years ago that suggested Scotland was an impossible place for a superhero to frequent due to it’s lack of coolness. This inspired me to prove this attitude wrong. Superheroes are all based in modern mythology so where better to form a new character than a country famous for its myths and legends that also happens to be the oldest country in the western world. There’s a lot of scope there.
Working on the scripts, creating the characters and their world is the fun part. I took quite a while reviewing the concept from every angle and edited over and over until it had a realism to it.
Then comes the difficult part. Finding an artist or team of artists that can complete a project is quite an undertaking. Luckily, after a couple of false starts, the idea of a competition with a cash prize and the paying job of creating the first Saltire book, brought an excellent creative team to the project.
Being patient with the process is the main thing, it takes a while.
CBBS: One thing that stuck out to me while reviewing Saltire was how entirely symbolic the hero was to the nation of Scotland. The name, the colors, etc. Could you talk a bit about the genesis of the character's look and give your take on the symbolism of the character?
JF: Scottish people are often jovially referred to as being blue because of the paleness of our skin. We’re also quite hairy and ginger with a fairly fiery temperament, so the building blocks were essentially your average Scotsman. His cross scar tissue and markings are quite iconic and come from his connection to the Stone of Destiny, Scotland’s national stone. The markings actually say “Saltire” in an ancient Caledonian script. In the upcoming books we discover the flag of Scotland is named after and based on Saltire, not the other way around.
CBBS: I read a quote from you in which you touched on Saltire's immortality and how that would enable you to set the character in anytime in history (past, present and future). I think that's a wonderful idea and obviously frees you up to tell any number of stories. Without giving too much away, what plans do you have for the settings in future books?
JF: Yes, this is the exciting part. Scotland’s historical records were destroyed twice (13th and 17th century) which opens up the past to a lot of “what ifs?” How did Scotland defeat the Romans, Saxons, Vikings, English who all attempted to invade? And the future, with even more scope than the past, with populations exploding and scarcity of essential commodities makes places with a lot of fresh water, food and energy reserves (see Scotland) quite desirable to unscrupulous villains.
CBBS: Speaking of the past, I love how you included the infamous Ninth Legion and retold the construction of Hadrian's Wall. Could you explain your thoughts on why you chose that time period as the one in which you began your story?
JF: It’s one of the earliest parts of Scotland’s history that is known universally. Typically told from the perspective of the Romans it immediately tells you this is a pseudo history and it’s not your usual, “poor wee Romans being gallantly outnumbered by the pesky savages who are standing in the way of progress” but exists from the Scottish perspective, where people are defending their right to live freely. I think the story of freedom is one that resonates with everyone, wherever you are from and whatever your perspective. It’s also nice to bring in something so visually memorable as Hadrian’s Wall to define Saltire’s line in the sand for future stories.
CBBS: The majority of my audience is in the US. I felt each of the guardians and the immortal protectors were probably much more deeply tied to Scotland than I realized, though I was able to see into some of it. Could you expand a bit on some of the mythology of your nation that you've put into the first two books?
JF: You’re right. Scotland has a distinct highlands in the north and lowlands in the south. Within each lies a stone footprint carved out of the natural rock, in reality they became the coronation point of kings, but they are of much more ancient origin and legend suggests they connect to the Otherworld and the Fae.
The unicorn is the ancient heraldic symbol of Scotland, and the last dragon is said to have been slain in Scotland with it’s connection to the Loch Ness monster dating back to the Dark Ages. The ancient belief system of Scotland was very similar to Taoism so the yin yang, dark and light is very deliberate. The individual guardians are very representative of each region of Scotland, both visually and, as will become apparent in books to come, in personality and beliefs.
CBBS: Have you clearly defined what powers Saltire will have or are you open to developing them as you go?
JF: Saltire’s powers are fairly defined, he’s existed for thousands of years (you know how old people get set in their ways), but he will develop his ideology, particularly in the futuristic stories where he is quite isolated. The big development will be unveiling his weaknesses in the next book. Even Superman has Kryptonite!
CBBS: Will Saltire be decapitating anymore deities?
JF: Deities, demi-gods, supernatural beings and just plain dastardly villains. There’s some fairly iconic bad guys coming up in Saltire’s future.