Image Comics' Lady Pendragon mixed Arthurian mythology with religion, swordplay and 1990s-style art, and along the way it changed the life of its creator, writer Matt Hawkins -- but not how you'd think.
On January 13, Image will release a collection of the sword-wielding heroine's first stories as Lady Pendragon Vol. 1. Newsarama talked with Hawkins about this new collection coming on the 20th anniversary of the character's debut.
Although best known now for writing tech-savvy titles like IXth Generation, Think Tank, Tithe and Symmestry, Hawkins explains how the mythical and religious themes he discovered while working on this series changed him.
Newsarama: In January, Image is reprinting the first volume’s worth of stories of Lady Pendragon for the series’ 20th Anniversary. Matt, why do you think Lady Pendragon is still viable 20 years later when so many other books from the 1990s have fallen to the wayside?
Matt Hawkins: Well this is less a relaunch of a character and more a reprinting of old material so I'm not sure of the character's current viability...although Stjepan Sejic is using the character in his Switch book. I do think Lady Pendragon is somewhat timeless. All characters that are woven into the Arthurian legends have a bit of a timeless feel. I went back and reread all of the books I wrote for this and was surprised at how well it held up. I was expecting it to suck, heh.
Nrama: Re-reading Lady Pendragon here now in 2015, I see a lot of comparisons to be made between it and what Witchblade became later on in its life, with legends, mythology, legacy, etc. How do you think Lady Pendragon fits in the Top Cow mythological family?
Hawkins: I really don't consider it a Top Cow character, or in any way involved with the main universe. From a story and mythological point-of-view I may have helped skew some of the later Witchblade stories in that direction as the editor/publisher on the title for the past 18 years. I like mythology. I enjoy spectacle and prefer the mythological tie-ins to super-heroes. It's very similar to what I've been doing with Aphrodite IX and IXth Generation. I could see Lady Pendragon actually fitting more into that world than the Witchblade one. I've always loved the idea of magic being simply another form of science. When I first came up with Lady Pendragon I tied it into that magic and science were opposites and only one could really be "prevalent" at a time.
Nrama: Lady Pendragon dealt with some heady issues of religion through the lens of Arthurian myth, and from following you online that concern and interest in religion has only become more nuanced for you. How do you look back at this work from the late 1990s, and how would you do it different now?
Hawkins: Man that's a hard question to answer. I've been fairy public about how the research and writing of Lady Pendragon ultimately led to my quitting Christianity and becoming an atheist. This is going to sound like a cop-out but I don't think I could write this book today. I've tried on several occasions to sit down and figure out a way to rebuild it or reimagine it. Part of the problem is the research. From 1995-1998 all I read was Arthurian stuff. I was researching everything I could find and talking to history professors. In 1998 I went to Glastonbury in England and met with a bunch of people who took me on tours of the area and gave me insight. Flash forward 20 years and I've forgotten 99% of all that. I feel like I'm a vastly better writer today but I don't know that I could ever get myself back into that deeply ingrained of a mindset. For one, I'm writing too many titles now for that to even be possible. Never say never, but man I really don't see a new series coming out anytime soon. Don't be shocked if six months from now I don't change my mind, I simply have yet to find a new way into it.
Nrama: Can you talk more about your intense interest in King Arthur in the 1990s?
Hawkins: As I mentioned above I really was. I can't say that I am anymore. It all started with the movie Excalibur by John Boorman. I loved that film. When I launched Lady Pendragon initially it was intended to only take place in the Dark Ages and was a riff on that storyline, but the sword was never returned to the Lady in the Lake. I uncovered somewhere in research that the Catholic Church would often clean up battlefields, retrieve the remains and consecrate the bodies. At the end of several versions of the Arthurian story, including Boorman's Excalibur, Guinevere was a nun after the affair with Lancelot. So if she went with the church to clean up the field and retrieve the bodies, and the sword was still there, it might just call out to her. And that was the beginning and our story was off!
Nrama: Although you wrote Lady Pendragon, you didn't start writing full-time up until recently. Was that a story you had bottled up for some time, back then?
Hawkins: Yeah I wrote the initial one shot in 1996 and it was published by Maximum Press at the time. It was intended as a four-issue mini-series but became a one-shot. I loved the Mists of Avalon as well and that focused more on the female side of the legends. So I took my love of the stories with that in mind and came up with Lady Pendragon. Her costume was actually something I came up with by cutting out a bunch of different things from classic paintings.
Nrama: You’re writing almost full-time now, but Lady Pendragon doesn’t really fit what you’re doing now. Can you talk about that?
Hawkins: I was a vastly different person back then. That's the best way I can describe it. I am fortunate that I get to (for the most part) write what I want. So my passions ebb and flow and change over time. I was really into the Arthurian mythology in my mid-20s. It and Lady Pendragon changed my life. In 1997 when Awesome Entertainment went under I seriously considered going back to get my doctorate and trying to get into research science (which was always my intent). I thought why not give the comic thing a shot and Larry Marder, the Image publisher at the time, really encouraged me. So I convinced John Stinsman to join me for the ride (he was also doing a book at Awesome) and we gave Lady Pendragon a shot. We did the book for almost two years before I got sucked into the Top Cow world.
Nrama: Last question -- Lady Pendragon returned a few years ago in a one-shot as part of Top Cow’s Pilot Season – with a Drew Struzan cover, no less. I know you said before you don’t see a new series coming out anytime soon. But with this conversation, and with the book coming out in January, any second thoughts?
Hawkins: As discussed above, I really don't know. I'm torn on whether I'd be interested in getting another writer to do a relaunch of it or not. Right now I am working on the three books I'm working on and I have two others that I'm doing that have yet to be announced. That's going to keep me busy for at least the next two years. After that, who knows.