Gods and Metal: An Interview with Chris Mole of BRIGANTIA
We sat down with musician and writer Chris Mole to discuss his latest project Brigantia, his upcoming Kickstarter, and how playing metal music and writing comics intertwine.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Chris, thanks so much for talking to us! Before we get into things, tell everyone a little bit about yourself and what kind of things you do.
CHRIS MOLE: I'm a writer and musician from the sunny hills of Sheffield, in the UK. I've been writing comics since around 2011 – I started with some sci-fi shorts for a UK small press anthology called The Psychedelic Journal, then moved into self-publishing alongside chap-hop superstar Professor Elemental. We put out five issues/anthologies featuring my writing and stuffed with incredible artists and covers by luminaries such as Mike Hawthorne, Charlie Adlard and Brian Kesinger, and I've since started working on more of my own projects.
CBY: You’re not only a comic creator, you’re a heavy metal musician too. How did your music influence your work in comics?
CM: Music and comics have usually been two fairly separate streams in my life. I was born half-deaf (and wear hearing aids to mitigate that), but I've always loved music. I started by playing the tuba in my primary school (age 5-11) brass band, then graduated to the electric guitar when I reached high school (which is also around the time I sacrificed my soul on the altar of heavy metal)!
That said, I do find similarities between music and comics, the primary one being the importance of collaboration. I think it's fair to say that my years of experience of being in bands helped me develop an ability to collaborate creatively with others, and to tamp down my own ego in favour of creating a better-finished product. If I try and force a 5-minute guitar solo into a song, it's not necessarily going to make it a better song; in the same vein, 5 pages of wordy monologue in a comic script will give the artist very little to work with and probably make for a worse comic overall! It's all about picking your spots to shine in service of a greater end result.
I said "usually" above – part of why I enjoyed making The Black Rubric so much was because I got to smash together my two worlds (extreme metal and comics) and draw on both of my major disciplines to create something fun! That comic was definitely a love letter to black metal and an attempt to write something which really brought that genre of music into the comic medium.
CBY: One of your major projects right now is Brigantia, which is the story of a Celtic goddess thrust into modern times. The story is clearly very rooted in that ancient culture, what drew you to telling a story in that space?
CM: It actually came from my musical endeavours – from 2006 to 2016, I founded and played guitar for a progressive folk metal band called Northern Oak. We were heavily inspired by nature, folklore and mythology, so as part of that I started doing some reading about ancient religions and myth in the British Isles, specifically around the area in which I live (this probably ties into my academic interests – I studied medieval history at University to an MA level, so I had access to a great library)!
At the same time, we were touring with a band called Eibon la Furies who mentioned the name "Brigantia" in one of their songs. It stood out to me, so I did some research and discovered that she was the patron goddess of the Brigantes tribe, whose territory encompassed all of modern-day Yorkshire (where I live)! I really felt compelled to tell a story about Brigantia and to create a sort of "superhero" version of her, in the vein of Wonder Woman, one of my favourite characters.
There's a lot about pre-Roman Britain that we don't know, so I've tried to treat the goddess (who is still worshipped by pagans today) with respect and craft a version of her who could exist even if the story doesn't claim to be 100% historically accurate. One thing that's been very helpful with that has been having a pagan consultant, Limnaia Areia, on board – they've been a sounding board for my ideas and been able to help me get the pagan elements of the story just right.
CBY: So far in Brigantia we’ve gotten to see two gods: Brigantia, of course, and Veteris, the main villain of the series. Can you tell us if we’re going to see any other gods show up, or are these the only two who’ve managed to survive to the present day?
CM: Without wishing to spoil anything, you'll absolutely see other gods and goddesses as the story develops. One of the big challenges of the story has been researching English paganism. Due to our history (a lot of immigration and integration – the Angles, the Saxons, the Danes), we don't have the kind of historical record of pagan gods that you see in places like Greece (with the Olympian pantheon) or, closer to home, Ireland and the Tuatha de Dannan.
With that said, there are some common Celtic roots between Britain and Ireland so I've tried to integrate Brigantia into an imagined pantheon with some of the more famous Irish gods. An obvious example is Brigid, who will be showing up in issue #3 of the comic. It seems clear (to me, anyway!) that Brigid was part of a triad with Brigantia and another – a triple goddess, with each aspect reflecting different attributes (warrior, healer, artisan, for example). You might be familiar with this in a less divine form as the "maiden, mother, and crone" in witchcraft. The idea of a tripartite divinity occurs throughout Celtic paganism and that's something I've really tried to weave into Brigantia's story.
CBY: You’ve credited creators like Kieron Gillen and Gail Simone as inspirations for you. Can you talk a bit about how these writers have influenced your work?
CM: Kieron is an inspiration for me primarily because of the meticulous approach he takes to his writing and his work. His comics fit together like satisfying puzzle boxes, with everything clicking into place. The Wicked and the Divine was also a particularly big influence on Brigantia with the way that he and Jamie McKelvie approached modern depictions of divine beings...it's such a fresh and enjoyable take. Gail Simone is an inspiration for me as someone with a natural grasp of storytelling and dialogue. She's so good at writing complex female characters (rather than just strong ones), which is something I've tried to embrace in my own work. Her personal story (as a former hairdresser who's gone on to write Wonder Woman, Batgirl, and tons of other amazing characters) is also inspiring, in the sense that there's no one right way to get into making comics!
CBY: Since music is such a large part of your life, I have to ask: If you could pick an unofficial “theme song” for Brigantia, what would you choose?
CM: Ooh, tough one! There are a lot of tracks that I listen to in order to get in the right headspace for writing Brigantia ("Thuja Magus Imperium" by Wolves in the Throne Room is one example), and we wrote a song with Northern Oak (called "Nerthus") which serves as her theme music on the Kickstarter campaigns I've run for the series. In terms of her theme song though, I'd nominate "Fangless" by Sleater-Kinney. It's about a woman who's been beaten down but not defeated, reclaiming power against her oppressor and continuing to fight on. Given how Brigantia is diminished in the first few issues of the series by the machinations of Veteris, it seems appropriate. Plus, Sleater-Kinney are a fantastic band!
"It's all about picking your spots to shine in service of a greater end result."
CBY: The story of Brigantia is clearly just getting started. What do you have planned for this series in the future?
CM: The plan is for a 6-issue story. I have some ideas and notes for a story arc that could easily follow on from that, but I also want to have a defined endpoint so that the story doesn't just taper off. Issue #3 will be hitting Kickstarter in a few months (June 2021) and we're doing something a little different from the previous two issues; instead of a standalone issue #3 being released as another 36-page floppy, my plan is to combine the first three issues of the series together into a collected Volume 1 (containing issues 1, 2 and 3 along with a substantial pin-up gallery featuring a host of artists I'm extremely excited about and a ton of process content). Because our issues are longer than a standard DC/Marvel issue, it'll be 128 pages – roughly the same length as a Marvel collected trade.
There's a cliffhanger in the story at the end of issue #3 that I think lends itself well to being at the end of the first volume, and we'll be able to use any profits from the KS/later sales to fund the next 3 issues of the arc. It's a bit of a gamble, and I'm hoping that our backers who've supported and funded issues #1 and #2 will be willing to buy the trade in order to read the new issue. We'll be running an early bird tier which those backers will have advance notice for, to help them get in at a discounted level. Fingers crossed it works out!
CBY: Thanks again for being here Chris, it’s been great talking to you! Before we end the interview, can you let everyone know where people can find you online and check out your work?
CM: Thanks for taking the time! Sure - I'm on Twitter (@ChrisManji), and have info on my various projects on my website. I have a webstore set up through there and I'm also on Gumroad, Comixology, and BuySmallPress so there's no shortage of places to buy my stuff from!