The real-life pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read have found a welcome port in comic book thanks to writer Stephanie Phillips and artist Craig Cermak with their creator-owned title A Man Among Ye. Scheduled to debut May 13 through Image Comics/Top Cow, A Man Among Ye focuses on two women in a man’s world – during a time where female pirates were thought to be bad luck. But these women quickly prove that they may be the only people capable of saving the pirate way of life.
Phillips and Cermak spoke with Newsarama ahead of their May debut, discussing the research that went into portraying real life pirates, how the Top Cow Talent Search helped craft A Man Among Ye, and if Phillips has plans to touch upon Anne Bonne and Mary Read’s speculated queer relationship.
Newsarama: Stephanie, you were part of the Top Cow Talent Search how do you feel like that experience helped you with this title?
Stephanie Phillips: The Talent Hunt really offered a great way to get feedback on my writing and connect with professionals in the industry. It’s a really amazing opportunity that Top Cow offers to potential creators, and I’m really fortunate to have had the experience.
Nrama: Why did you want to create a story with female pirates? Have you always been interested in this genre?
Phillips: I’ve always been interested in women “behaving poorly.” I love writing about women who have helped to shape history who may not necessarily have their own chapter in a textbook. At its core, the story of Anne Bonny is extremely fun, and that’s the kind of spirit we wanted to bring to this book.
Nrama: Why do you think Anne Bonny and Mary Read’s story fits so well for the comics book medium?
Phillips: It’s a visually appealing setting to have ships and pirate regalia. Just thinking about the costumes and the locations makes the story a really good one for a visual medium. I also think that comics are really built from pulpy, action adventure comics, and pirates really fit that bill.
Nrama: There are many people who believed that Anne Bonny and Mary Read had a romantic relationship. Is this something you’ll explore in your comic?
Phillips: This is something we have explored and discussed as a creative team, certainly. The insinuation for that relationship is present, but not necessarily visible. This is partly due to a decision to make Mary slightly younger at the start of their adventure.
However, Anne’s sexuality is on the table. She’s very open about her bisexuality.
Nrama: Are you going to dive into their upbringing/how they became pirates or go straight into the action?
Phillips: These items are mentioned by the characters or shown in flashbacks, but the story opens with the two women meeting. We will definitely get more of Mary’s backstory, since she is used as a point of entry into the world of pirates (Anne’s world, really).
Nrama: How did you two connect for this story?
Phillips: I’ve known Craig for a while and have actively been looking for a project to work with him on. We’ve discussed a few pitches together, and then Top Cow mentioned that they would like to work on this story with me. I think I texted Craig and asked his feelings on pirates, and we went from there.
Craig Cermak: Steph and I had been planning on working on a different project when she needed an artist for this one and approached me to join the crew. It worked out perfect!
Nrama: Tell us a bit about your collaboration process.
Phillips: I think the benefit of working with Craig is that we already had a really positive relationship coming into the project. We talk about the story a lot, which makes the entire book really cohesive. Craig knows how the entire story is turning out, and we discuss collaboratively what’s working on what needs revisions.
Cermak: I get the scripts and go through them, and usually bombard Steph with notes and comments as I get cracking on the layouts. Been a very smooth, easy going process, and Steph’s been incredibly receptive to any ideas I might have, whether it’s changing up the amount of panels on a page or adding in little details.
Nrama: Craig, what’s been your favorite aspect of drawing this pirate world?
Cermak: I’d say it’s the grimy, scruffy looks of various pirates. Drawing drunken buffoonery is a delight.
Nrama: How did you come up with the designs for the characters?
Cermak: I started off with Steph’s concise descriptions and combined it with my own researching of what pirates wore in the early 1700s. I took some liberties, as most modern pirate tales do - Bless Howard Pyle for his impact on our visual thinking of pirates that are historically not quite accurate but they damn do they look good!
I wanted Anne to stand out the most, of course, so I went with a black, grey, and red color scheme. John was described as dapper and handsome, and his nickname of “Calico Jack” naturally played a large role in cooking up his outfit. Mary’s more subdued, and easily blends in with British Navy officers.
Nrama: What type of research went into exploring these historical figures?
Phillips: I read a lot about this era of piracy. There isn’t very much that exists about Anne Bonny as historical record, but there are certainly a lot of legends and myths. I’ve read lots of those. They’re fascinating. The story we’re creating is really playing with those stories about Anne Bonny as this kind of larger-than-life figure with red hair and a bad temper. A Man Among Ye is not entirely historical record, but a homage to the many accounts of this headstrong, cut-throat pirate that have inspired the many depictions of her across different mediums and genres.
Cermak: I did a fair amount of reading on John, Anne, and Mary, though mostly broad stroke stuff. I focused more on visual research for pirates, their clothes and ships, and the 1700s in general. I’ve collected a lot of reference to try to make the world feel believable enough while also whipping up my own take on things. Liberties will be taken!
Nrama: What attracted you to Anne Bonny and Mary Read’s story?
Phillips: I think I was attracted to some of the same elements that attracted many people into piracy in the first place – freedom and adventure. Anne Bonny wasn’t always accepted by male members of the crew, but she literally fought to make a space for herself in that world. I love the bond between two women as they try to carve out that space together, and that’s the story that Craig and I are telling in this book.
Cermak: It wasn’t something I was super familiar with until Steph presented me with this tale, but, visually speaking, when I saw “beautiful, long-red-haired, fierce lady pirate” it was hard to not be all in. And then reading of Anne and Mary’s adventuring, their uniqueness, and learning Steph’s take on their dynamic - it’s a lot to enjoy and appreciate.