Celtic Goddess BRIGANTIA Gets New Life In Comic Books

"Brigantia" art
Credit: Melissa Trender
Credit: Melissa Trender

What happens to a god when their followers no longer remember them? That's explored in the upcoming miniseries Brigantia by Christopher Mole and Melissa Trender.

Mixing European mythology with female empowerment stories like Wonder Woman, Brigantia follows a goddess who is tricked by her brother Veteris into being transported to modern times. In the Iron Age Brigantia was worshipped by English people, but in digital times she's forgotten. But its up to her and an unlikely ally to break Veteris' plans and return home.

Mole and Trender are in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for Brigantia, looking to raise $7,332 in support and pre-orders to fund the creation and publication of the first issue. Newsarama spoke with the duo about this modern mythological story and where it came from.

Credit: Melissa Trender

Newsarama: Chris, Melissa, can you describe Brigantia for us?

Chris Mole: Brigantia is a Pagan goddess who was originally worshipped by a tribe located in northern Britain; our version of this goddess is a fierce, proud warrior (inspired by characters like Wonder Woman) who has been lured into the present day where her powers are greatly diminished. She's one of three sisters (in Celtic mythology, Brigantia is the warrior aspect of a three-fold goddess – the other aspects are Brigid (the healer) and Bride (the blacksmith). We've chosen to split these aspects into distinct characters and focussed on Brigantia, but her sisters make an appearance later in the story!) Despite basing her on a mythological figure, we've given Brigantia some very human characteristics to make her relatable – she tends towards arrogance and doesn't think situations through before jumping into them, relying on her power and martial skill to carry her through.

Nrama: Melissa, what made Brigantia a project you wanted to do?

Melissa Trender: I’m a huge nerd, and my nerdiness knows no limits. Brigantia fills in a little intersection between a couple of really important areas of interest for me: comics, history, and feminism. Because we knew and trusted each other as creatives by the time we started to work on Brigantia, I had a lot more input on the story than I’m usually used to as an artist. Both myself and Chris are all about diversity in comics and that interesting and emotional stories belong to everyone regardless of gender identity, so I knew this was going to be great fun working on.

Credit: Melissa Trender

Nrama: What time period exactly is Brigantia coming from?

Mole: She's from Iron Age times – there are no written records of the tribe that worshipped her (the Brigantes) before the Roman invasion of Britain, so we don't know how far back they might go, but they faded from prominence around 150-200 A.D.

Nrama: How does being in this time period where most people don't believe in her, and even more don't know her name, affect her?

Mole: It affects her pretty strongly – she retains some of the natural advantages of being a divine being (so she's naturally resilient and possessed of great athleticism and strength) but her inability to use the divine powers that she had always taken for granted is a great shock to her. She's disorientated by the modern world – going from mud huts to a packed, crowded city like London is deeply confusing and she reacts like a hunted animal, blaming herself for her failure to stop Veteris. It's her meeting with the historian Pravin, one of very few people who still know about and believe in her, that really helps her come to terms with the world – he's able to explain where she is and help her understand how the world has changed.

Credit: Melissa Trender

Nrama: And what's her conflict in this six-issue series?

Mole: The gods and goddesses of Brigantia's pantheon observe the cycle of the seasons (highlighted by Pagan festivals at four points of the year – Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain). Brigantia's brother Veteris has had a vision of their future (our present) in which the country is ravaged by human machinery; the rivers spoiled and the forests razed as the population continues to increase. He is driven mad by the visions and vows to end the natural cycle and bring about the destruction of humanity. Brigantia confronts him, and Veteris lures her into a hellmouth leading into the Underworld- down there, where his power is greater, he tricks her into a one-way portal leading to the modern era.

The conflict of this six-issue series is therefore Brigantia's struggle to come to terms with existing in a time period where very few people know who she is, where she no longer has the power that she was accustomed to, and where Veteris has spent centuries tightening his grip – Veteris himself has lost sight of his goal to end humanity, seduced by the taste of fear and the power that it gives him, and has resorted to slowly turning the population against itself to build up his own strength. As the story progresses past the first issue, we see more of Veteris' machinations – without wanting to give anything away, we see the forces that Veteris arrays against Brigantia to stop her, the consequences of Brigantia's long absence from the Otherworld (the divine realm where she makes her home), and her slow ascent back to becoming a powerful goddess in her own right.

Credit: Melissa Trender

Nrama: Chris has said he did a lot of research on pagan history for this. On the art side, what kind of research have you done - or plan to do?

Credit: Melissa Trender

Trender: Brigantia #1 is going to be set mostly in London, my hometown. I’m really keen to anchor the art to the very real and very beautiful architecture of this city, so when I can I’ve been taking lots of long walks, filling my camera with reference photos, and trying not to be thrown out of tube stations for suspicious behaviour.

Nrama: I'm not familiar with your work before this - can you tell us about yourself?

Trender: I’m a queer freelance artist living in London. I started drawing when I was 11 and reading comics when I was 14. Sandman was my first and I think that really helped set the tone for my tastes ever since. From then I’ve gone through the gauntlet of art school and started working on building up my comic portfolio in my spare time between jobs.

Nrama: Style-wise, your artwork is quite refreshing. What do you attribute your visual aesthetic to in the layouts, rendering, and color?

Trender: I think a lot of artists feel their style is an amalgamation of a whole bunch of things they adore. My trouble is that I love simplicity (Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona, Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan) as much as I love hyperrealism (Frank Quitely, Glyn Dillion’s Nao Of Brown) so I sometimes feel myself torn between the two, not fitting into either box. I love playing with the format of the comic, a lot of my small press work I can push further (comics you have to turn upside down, stories that visually loop back on themselves, etc.) and whilst I can’t necessarily go as far with the more classical style of Brigantia I hope some of that playfulness does come through.

Nrama: How did you two come up with the idea to do a 'fish out of water' story with a goddess in modern times?

Credit: Melissa Trender

Mole: The original concept for Brigantia was that of a specifically British superheroine – I felt that we don't really have very many which fit into the mould of a “traditional superhero,” like a Superman or a Wonder Woman. I wanted to try and create a superhero who has the same kind of inspiring, hopeful properties as those characters but is rooted firmly in British mythology, in the ancient stories of the land beneath our feet. We could have done a period piece set in the Iron Age, but I wanted Brigantia to be able to make a statement about our world today – those are the moments that I love the most with characters like Wonder Woman, the moments where Diana can show us how to be the very best version of ourselves and be a force for gender equality.

So it made perfect sense to pull Brigantia out of her own time and drop her into the modern age, where she could be a reaction to the way that modern Britain works – she could embrace the positive aspects (the way that Britain is a melting pot full of wonderful and diverse cultures, and that's what makes it great) while refuting the negative aspects (increasing xenophobic sentiments and a parochial outlook on the world) which have come to the forefront in recent years. We wanted to show how nonsensical a divine being would consider those negative ideas to be – she's a goddess and we're all just humans to her, why does it matter what colour skin we have?

Nrama: How did you and Chris connect to do this book together?

Trender: Chris and I have been working together for years now- we first met at a house-warming party. My partner mentioned off-hand that one of the people in the room wrote comics for Professor Elemental and after having Chris pointed out to me, I approached him and very politely informed him that I liked Professor Elemental very much and would he consider working with me.

Mole: True story – the very first time I met Melissa, she told me that she wanted to cut off my skin and wear it. I was a little taken aback, to say the least! She had started seeing a friend of mine from Sheffield University after he moved down to London, and they were visiting us in Sheffield. She showed me some of her work and I was blown away and immediately asked if she wanted to do a story for Professor Elemental, because I knew she was a big fan of the Prof – she agreed and did an amazing job on the first 'Scarlet Woman' story that we put together, in issue #2. She then did an even better job on her next story for Professor Elemental, so when I started thinking about Brigantia around that time, Melissa was the first (and honestly, only) artist that I considered speaking to about it – she's not only a pleasure to work with, she's also a lovely person and we've become great friends. I knew she'd do Brigantia justice, and I absolutely love how the character has come to life in her hands – she's really nailed the look of Brigantia and made her feel real for me. I hope this campaign shows people how great Melissa is as an artist and she gets a lot of exposure from it (although not too much, she still needs to draw the rest of these issues for me!)

Credit: Melissa Trender

Nrama: We've all heard about Kickstarters that reached funding, but didn't fulfill their promises. What are you doing to prevent that here?

Mole: This is where my previous experience as a writer/editor comes into play – for the past five years I've been the driving force behind Professor Elemental Comics, an anthology comic full of short stories featuring chap-hop superstar Professor Elemental (he's quite well-known through his Youtube videos!) As a result of that experience, I have every confidence that we'll be able to handle the demands of getting the story completed and ready for print – the script is completely written and we've gone over it a number of times to make it as good as it can be, so Melissa will be ready to start work on that as soon as we hit our target. She's also committed to this project to the exclusion of all others over the next 6 months, and I know how passionate she is about bringing Brigantia to life so I'll be doing everything I can to help her with that work.

Primarily, though, we've tried to focus on just telling a great story – if we manage to exceed our funding target and can consider stretch goals, we'll be concentrating on goals that are achievable and that we can produce without damaging our commitment to the story itself. I think the main issue with Kickstarters that don't fulfill their promises is that they lose sight of the original vision in favour of adding in lots of other stuff – we want to tell Brigantia's story and not get bogged down with anything away from that.

Credit: Melissa Trender

Nrama: You have already written the first six issues, so I presume if this Kickstarter is successful you'll be going full-time as project manager/editor. How important was it for you to have the script complete before day 1 of the Kickstarter?

Mole: It was very important – I wanted to be sure that we could be completely confident in the story that we're telling, and that meant myself and Melissa going over the script with a fine tooth comb. We also got some feedback from people with experience in the industry (Becky Cloonan offered some very helpful advice on how to refine our pitch) and a few friends whose opinions we trust. We've both gone through it numerous times to make sure that we're hitting all the points that we want to hit – humanity, emotion and great action sequences. It actually isn't just the first six issues that have been written – I've become so invested in Brigantia and the story that we want to tell that I sort of got carried away and plotted out an entire second arc to follow up the initial six issues! It'll be a long time before we get there, but I was very enthusiastic about being able to introduce more characters and more locations – for us, this is a huge and fleshed-out world which we're incredibly excited about, and I really can't wait for people to see what sort of stuff we've got in the works.

Nrama: The first issue is planned to be released in April 2017. That's six months away - how much is completed now, and how are you making sure you can hit that date?

Mole: As it stands, the five pages that have been done for the preview on the Kickstarter campaign are the only pages that have been completed – as Melissa isn't currently getting paid for this and is fitting it in around her other projects, she's been able to fit in planning and sketches but not had the chance to start working on any pages. Once we hit our funding target, she's clearing the decks so that she can work full-time on Brigantia and really get it done. I've worked with her before on several stories (one which was six pages long and one which was 12 pages) and I know how much she cares about this story and these characters, so I have complete confidence in her ability to produce some beautiful pages and get the story finished well before we're due to release.

Twitter activity