A Pirate's Life For Me: Dynamite's BLACKBEARD

Cassaday Cover to #1

Did you hear? Pirates are back! Whether it’s on the frontpage of newspapers to the movie screen, pirates have experienced a resurgence. And pirates have docked in the world of comics on several occasions, from Terry & The Pirates to the Black Freighter story in Watchmen all the way to recent additions such as El Cazador and Sea of Red. But in a new upcoming series, comics are going back to the roots of the pirate myth to find the facts while keeping it as swashbuckling as you’d expect from a pirate tale.

This October, Dynamite Entertainment will begin publishing Blackbeard: The Legend of the Pyrate King. Blair Witch Project alums Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale join comics writers Robert Place Napton and Jamie Nash to tell the story of the legendary pirate – from cradle to watery grave.

Blackbeard has become one of the most infamous pirates of all time. Born in the late 17th century, he came to prominence in the early 1800s in the Caribbean Sea and the western Atlantic – leading that time to be called the Golden Age of Piracy. History books have in many ways romanticized his life’s story, and often turned his adventures and antics in to a caricature of the original documented facts of his life.

With such a storied life as his, the question as to what comes first for the Blackbeard comic series is a good one, so we asked Napton.

“The first issue begins in 1713 and we see an adult Edward Teach, who has been at sea for many years already,” said Napton. “Through the course of the first issue we learn about the events that shaped his early life and what got him to where he is today.”

“It’s all set against a fierce outward threat against the ship – so it’s a tense, dramatic introduction into the world of Edward Teach.  And as much as this is a character story, it is a great epic – with plenty of scope and pirate action.  We’ll see the steps Teach takes toward becoming Blackbeard.  It didn’t happen overnight, it was a persona created over time, so this comic will show you how it happened, with a few twists and turns that we’ve brought to the table.  Teach’s early background isn’t clear in a historical sense, so there’s room for interpretation and I think we’ve come up with a pretty fresh approach.  Throughout the series you’ll see the important people in his life – Captain Hornigold, Israel Hands, Black Caesar – the creation of his persona, the building up of his floating fortress, ‘Queen Anne’s Revenge.’ And he eventually had an arch-rival in a man named Maynard, who’ll you see eventually – so the comic plans to cover a lot of territory.”

The commonly known stories associated with the pirate Blackbeard are a mixture of truth and fiction, so getting to the real Blackbeard – real name Edward Teach—has been difficult for writers for centuries.

Interior art from Blackbeard #1

“The myth of Blackbeard,” said Robert Place Napton, ”was really solidified with the book "A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates " written in 1724, not long after his death, and included the history of Blackbeard.  It’s still in print, and is considered a bible on pirate lore, though a lot of the content was later disputed as apocryphal seemingly embellished heavily by the author, but this book really helped cement the legend of Blackbeard.”

But who was Blackbeard? Yes, he was a pirate – and in many ways he lended much to the pirate archetype you know today – but who was he as a man?

“The book written in 1724 was really the first biography on Blackbeard and cemented his legend and more importantly his persona,” explained Napton. “ For example, it is said he would put burning strands of rope in his hair to frighten his enemies, armed with multiple weapons for hand to hand combat when he stormed a ship—with his immense Blackbeard and hair – he had a ferocious look – not the guy you want to see coming over the bow of your ship, leading that charge.  His ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, is said to have been armed with 40 guns – a custom made floating fortress – so all of this creates this epic persona.”

But Napton and the others aren’t telling the story of the legendary Blackbeard, but getting deeper to find the true Edward Teach and how he came to be, says Napton.

“The approach we’ve taken in the comic is to go behind the persona, to really show the steps of how Edward Teach became Blackbeard the legend -- drawing on our sense of him as a person and delving into the forces that shaped his personality.  This isn’t your father or grandfather’s Blackbeard – there’s a lot of meat on the bone of our Edward Teach that hasn’t been explored before, so I think the comic will answer the question of who he was.  There’s this anti-hero quality to him that is very appealing – the guy who gets to live by his own code, do what he wants to do, who is seemingly free of restraint – those are always appealing characters and Blackbeard is no exception.  But there was another side to him—he was looking for a life on his own terms -- it is said he showed a great deal of leniency on bystanders – he didn’t kill just to kill – he had a code of conduct, it might not make sense to us, but it made sense to him.  There was justice among pirates – articles that guarded their share of the take – contracts they were all held to – to them their system was a just one.  And Blackbeard was the superstar – there were pirates who had as great a success but none had his notoriety or fame.  He was truly the Pyrate King.”

Parillo cover to #1

While some legends only become legendary after their passing, Blackbeard was famous – or shall I say, infamous – during his lifetime.

“But Blackbeard was infamous in his own time,” explained Naption. “It's amazing to think about -- given the myth that surrounds him -- but there was a time when Blackbeard was loose at sea, successfully plundering, making a big name for himself.  And incredibly his career really constituted about only two years, 1716-1718, so the historical Blackbeard made his name for centuries after only about two years of activity, which is pretty incredible if you think about it.  He is reputed to have gone heads up with British Warships or “Man-O-War” as they are called – his antagonism with the powers that be is part of his legend and really took his reputation to another level, culminating with the end of his life which I won’t spoil here for people who aren’t aware of it because it’s material we plan to get to in the comic eventually.  His life had three acts to be sure, so it’s ripe for adaptation.”

While this is firmly set as a pirate adventure book, the writers are trying to remain as historically accurate as possible. In working up to the comic which begins in October, a lot of research was done to make it true to life – much of which was done in the initial draft of the screenplay, but more was added as the story transformed to a comic book series.

“Well, the screenplay itself was already this massive work,” explained Napton,” so we had a lot of groundwork done already which Jamie did a lot of leg work on, so this would have been challenging to had to have start from scratch, but because the script had already gone through a couple of drafts we were a lot further along when we started the comic.  For research, we have a secret weapon in a guy named Steve Fussell who is someone that Ed and Gregg had worked with on development of the script and this gentleman is truly a pirate historian – he could and should write a book on the subject, so run everything past Steve and he gives us a very educated hand, so we’re bringing a level of historical accuracy in terms of clothing, weapons, even buildings – we check everything to make sure we are in bounds.”

This historical accuracy extends not only to the story, but also to art courtesy of Mario Guevara. “We’re giving Mario room to come up with his artistic look but everything he does is the result of processing the reference Steve has come up with, so I think we’re arguably going to be one of the most historically accurate pirate comics,” said Napton. “But ultimately it’s in servicing the story – we tell the story we want to tell and then make sure it makes sense historically, but we let the story dictate the flow and then nudge things to make sure we are on point with the time period.”

For adapting the life of Edward “Blackbeard” Teach, comics veteran Napton is working with three writers from the realm of movies – screenwriter Eduardo Sanchez (Blair Witch Project), producer Gregg Hale (Blair Witch Project) and screenwriter Jamie Nash. The latter three had been working on Blackbeard initially has a film for Hale & Sanchez’ production house Haxan, but due to the story’s immense scope decided it would do best as a comic. “It’s not a comic just to make a movie,” explained Napton,” they wanted to do a great comic for its own sake because they had invested so much time, love, and passion, so they wanted to see it realized free of a the constraints of a film budget.  Which is the great beauty of the comic’s medium, one is much freer than the process of making of film due to the costs.”

Eduardo was friends with Napton, who got involved to help them navigate the comics industry. Napton, who has spent years in comics with recent credits including Battlestar Galactica Origins: Adama and the adaptation of Terry Brook’s Shannara books, took the project to Dynamite first based on his previous relationship with them on BSG. “I had been working with Nick, Joe, and Juan at Dynamite on Battlestar and as I’ve said many times, I was really amazed by the team and effort put into the Lone Ranger, so the stuff we were developing seemed like a natural fit, and I guess I was right because they really wanted to move on Blackbeard so that’s how it all came together.”

The collaboration between the quartet is give and take on all sides, based on the original screenplay that started it all.

“Creatively, the four of us, me, Ed, Gregg, and Jamie really weigh in on everything together and come to consensus and it is always about making the best comic possible,” said Napton. “They had created this amazing foundation with the Blackbeard screenplay we dissect and pick that apart as our template, adding and subtracting where necessary.  It’s been a really fun process, creatively speaking.  The great thing is these guys are all filmmakers but the visual sensibility for making comics really isn’t so different, so they really got into the particulars of what makes comics work and they get it.  We are all really passionate about this comic – this is a story and comic we really love.”

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