Striking Pirate Colors: Shepherd on SLG's Captain Blood

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Pirates are back in the news today – from fictional swashbucklers like Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean to the real-life pirates off the Somali coastline. They may not know it, but there are deep historical roots to piracy – some being blood-thirsty, some being romanticized…and some both.

This June, SLG Publishing will debut the new miniseries Captain Blood, which will tell the tale of one of the most famous pirates in literary history. The miniseries is an adaptation of the 1922 Rafael Sabatini novel of the same name, chronicling a 17th century English doctor who’s captured, caged and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor on the island of Barbados. Not content to be a prisoner all his life, the young Peter Blood rebels and turns to piracy – with famous results.

Dead Eyes Open writer Matthew Shepherd joins artist Mike Shoykhet on this rollicking adventure printed in a unique one-color sepia tone. The writer has invited us on deck to talk more.

Newsarama: It's good to talk to you again, Matthew. How would you describe the upcoming Captain Blood miniseries as a whole, without spoiling it?

Matthew Shepherd: I'm not sure I can really "spoil" an 87-year-old novel, but Captain Blood is an as-faithful-as-we-could-manage adaptation of Sabatini's book: the story of a proud man of immense skills, a victim of injustice, and finally an odd sort of freedom fighter. It's about as far away from "Yarr Pirates!" as you can get -- Blood is an educated, highly intelligent and fastidious man, more likely to barter than fight, and preferring strong tea to dark rum. His evolution in the book is largely about coming to terms with his own weaknesses as much as exploiting his strengths, and coming to realize that for all his skill and intelligence, he's also a slave to emotion like all of us.

NRAMA: What initially got you into doing this adaptation of Rafael Sabatini’s book, Captain Blood: The Legacy?

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MS: As much as I'd like to take credit for it, it was Dan Vado's idea. He thought I'd be a good fit for the book -- I've done a bit of work published by SLG in the past, and I don't know why he chose me exactly, but I'd flatter myself to think it's because I've got a reasonably good grasp of structure and synthesis. Captain Blood turned out to be a tricky book to adapt, and I'm glad we managed to pull it off.

NRAMA: Captain Blood sounds like the name of a very bad man – but is he?

MS: He's a complicated man, and no one understands him but his woman, fellow freebooters, military contemporaries and British colonial officials. More seriously, he's a kind of 17th-century Buckaroo Banzai (I'm dating myself, I think) -- a doctor, military genius, sailor, pirate, and amazingly snappy dresser. The one thing he's not great with is matters of the heart, which later in the series almost destroys his career in piracy and his crew. There's also a strong strain of smartest-guy-in-the-room syndrome: Blood's brilliant, and kind in his way, but also phenomenally arrogant.

NRAMA: In the preview SLG has provided, Blood shows some remarkable tactical ability – is he ex-military, or did he learn it from somewhere else?

MS: Ex-military -- and ex-naval, from a few different nations' forces, having retired to take up the healing arts. Not, as fate would have it, for long.

NRAMA: How many issues is Captain Blood?

MS: Five! Which is kind of an odd number for the industry. We were pushing for four, initially, but ran into the adaptation bane of just having too much great material in the book to fit it in four issues. Fans of the book will see that some of the story has been rearranged to drive the action forward -- we start the series about one-quarter into the book, and load the massive amount of early expository information into a flashback sequence. But tricks like that can only get you so far, and even with omitting a huge chunk of parenthetical adventures in the last quarter of the book, five issues was my absolute minimum to do the novel justice.

NRAMA: How’d you come to work with artist Mike Shoyket?

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MS: Dan again! Mike was fresh off Tron (finishing up, I believe) when Dan put us in touch. We had a lot of the same general ideas: both loved the novel, both agreed to avoid the Errol Flynn movie at all costs, very similar ideas in terms of direction and how to approach the characters. He's a fantastic artist -- my God, I've never seen more beautiful ships -- and a pleasure to work with.

NRAMA: And lastly, let's look to the future.

After the success of Sabatini’s original novel, he wrote two sequels. If this goes well, do you plan on adapting those as well?

MS: It's definitely an option, but my personal interest would range more towards extending the comic forward in time with new stories -- the follow-up novels were insert stories that occurred within the original timeframe, and focused largely on spectacular naval battles. Complex naval battles are hell to adapt to comic-book form, so an endless series of them would become mired in massive word balloons about tactics and wind speed. There are also so many fantastic and potentially recurring characters in the original novel that it begs for those story threads to be carried forward... hopefully in a way that wouldn't have Mr. Sabatini spinning in his grave.

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