And welcome to the writer commentary for Red Sonja, the Long Walk to Oblivion. I’m your host, Erik Burnham.
It’s funny; there’s not a lot of walking in the issue, but it sounds cool. When it comes to titles for comic books starring pulp adventure heroines, you gotta go with what sounds freaking awesome.
I think Proust said that.
Anyway, this issue takes place before, during, and just after the opening scene from Amy Chu’s Red Sonja #0, wherein Sonja and her archenemy Kulan Gath are transported to modern day New York City.
So “get Sonja to Meru” was my directive. And also find a reason for her enemy to be waiting there. At the time I was asked to do this, I didn’t even know who would be drawing the comic. I found out about halfway through it would be the legendary Tom Mandrake — in fact, if you’ve read the book, you can probably guess the exact scene where I learned who was going to be illustrating. If not, I’ll point it out!
Let’s start with the cover by Moritat. I always like seeing Sonja in a big honkin’ fur cape. Partly because it looks epic, partly because I worry she’ll be cold. I shouldn’t be; she’s got enough fuel in those skeletons for a great bonfire.
Kidding aside, this is an epic “don’t mess with me” shot, and I dig it.
Meet Ram. Ram’s going to be hiring Sonja on behalf of the people of Meru.
Doing research into the (not-Howard) story that featured Meru, its Hyborian location matches Nepal, so I asked for the Meruvians to look Nepalese. I think I even asked for Ram to resemble Tenzing Norgay, which is a delightful name to type and speak. Go ahead, try it, see if I’m wrong.
The big fella is basically called Ogre in the script.
Ogre is about to learn how bad an idea it is to bother a woman who wants to be left alone with her beer. Especially when that woman is skilled with a blade.
Don’t call her wench, basically, would be a good start.
When I asked a friend who has written pulp adventure before for advice, he suggested I start with a fight at an inn, and it would write itself from there.
I subverted his advice a little, not showing the actual fight. But I am a sucker for humor, and this was too good of an opportunity for a visual gag.
Squick. “Is that a nose?”
Sonja’s answer to that question — actually, more her general attitude to being bothered while drinking — comes from quietly listening to the revenge fantasies some of the ladies I know have concocted for anyone who dares approach them while their headphones are on. It’s nothing as tame as what we show here.
A little bit more of the history of Meru sprinkled in — seven cities, prophesied doom — you can find so much on the internet these days.
It should be noted that Ram believes his mission is genuine: he was told Sonja was destined to slay the demon and to bring her back, and that’s what he’s gonna do.
But there’s more to it, as we’ll see in the next scene…
Yes, Shamballah was the name of Meru’s capital. I went back and forth on including it.
Here it is, Kulan Gath’s entrance, and… the scene where I learned Tom would be drawing the book. “Let’s have something awful happen to the uppity seer.”
Gath does nasty things with magic, exsanguinating the poor schmuck… and the High Priest isn’t fazed a bit.
It is an elaborate revenge. But raising a demon and then sending word that it was Sonja’s destiny to kill it? Well, that’s playing to a warrior’s ego, right there. And if Gath wanted revenge, why chase her when he could bring her to him?
Another idea that I didn’t make too plain in the script is that there is enough magic in the area — from the way the cities are set up — that Gath is able to draw some extra magic power. So, basically, a good place to spring a trap. It still plays as is, but I think I should’ve made that point a bit more overt.
Look, I’m proud I sorted out the sound effects for a horse taking an arrow to the neck and gasping, okay? I take my victories where I find them.
OGRE’S BACK! And he brought backup!
…And Sonja cut a fired arrow in two while it sped at her. Completely over-the-top, but I love stuff like that.
One fella is smart enough to get out of dodge, at least.
And yes, I was having probably too much fun writing Ogre’s post-injury speech.
Sonja’s not called the She-Devil for nothing.
This was just a mess of ass-kicking fun. I know Sonja has to fight a demon later, and it felt like it was important to show just how GOOD she was somewhere in the story first. I know most of the audience already knows, but it was a dot that I felt should be connected anyway.
Plus, it’s pulp fantasy adventure. Brawls are always welcome.
Sonja has a plan!
I wanted there to be a distance to travel, and I wanted there to be a way for them to travel it quickly. If there can be demons in Hyboria, dammit, there could be dragons.
Or at least a wyvern.
Yes, Sonja keeps a flint in her boot for just such an occasion. You never know when you’ll need fire. Sure, it probably chafes a little, but she’s not the type to cry about it.
A largely quiet sequence… it didn’t need any captions, though, and they were trying to be sneaky. So… why muddle that up with prose? These are the lessons one learns.
It occurs to me now I should’ve had a howl from the wyvern before it made for the sky.
But I love the image of Sonja flying on this thing like… well, like a bat out of hell.
I know this is going to sound weird, possibly, because the finished versions — inks and colors — look great, but this sequence had so much extra energy in Tom’s pencils (just by virtue of the extra sketchwork that he cleaned up post-inking) that I wish we could’ve used that. Would’ve stuck out like a sore thumb, yes, and the inks are so much sharper, true, but I loved the movement the loose pencils showed.
It’s a little like winning and then complaining about the score, isn’t it? A win is a win! And these pages are a win.
The High Priest’s line — while it made sense when I wrote it (as THE holy city of Meru — or the holiest city in the land) reads here like the holy city NAMED Meru.
Hindsight nips me again.
My brain didn’t catch the other way it could be interpreted. That said, it’s not so big an error that I’ll be kicking myself.
(That’s a lie. I’ll totally be kicking myself.)
Here we have dialogue – and a charging Sonja – syncing up directly with the first page of Amy’s Red Sonja #0.
I added one small line of Sonja dialogue to better sync up with Gath’s introduction from #0, but otherwise — well, aside from Ram’s narration — we’re still playing in the same scene!
Tom’s layout almost mirrors the layout from #0’s splash page. I kind of like that.
And here’s where we part ways with Sonja. In issue #0 we discover that she has been instantaneously transported to the modern day…
But this annual isn’t done yet….. we still have to find out if Meru has been saved!
Well, there’s only two pages left and the lead is now centuries into the future, so the answer is yes, Meru has been saved. There’s some closure: Gath is gone, Sonja is gone, the demon has been… well, if not killed, at least removed from this plane of existence for a time.
The High Priest’s dialogue which carries over to the last page, I like framing the future as “an afterlife” for Sonja. It’s not, sure, but I still like it.
Last page. Again, Tom’s black and white page packed a lot of power. (Not to undermine Mohan’s colors, which have been on point this entire issue!) It’s just made the snow stand out that much more against the buildings.
That said, what a shot. Borrowing from Red Sonja #2, our warrior is chilling (ah, literally) in Central Park with a stolen jacket and a lot of questions.
It’s my hope that this image makes anyone who missed Red Sonja #0 go WHOA! And rush back to that, and the ongoing. If I did my job at all right, this will funnel those stragglers back over and into one hell of a ride.
…A hell of a ride. That’s what writing this was for me. I’d never done this specific genre before, and it was a blast getting a chance to dip my toe in the pond.