Landry Walker has been waiting a long time to tell a specific story. “I’ve [wanted] to tell a straight medieval historical drama for 20 years and have been watching the shelves carefully out of fear that someone would beat me to the punch.”
“I’ve [wanted] to tell a straight medieval historical drama for 20 years and have been watching the shelves carefully out of fear that someone would beat me to the punch.”
Good thing that Walker, who previously helmed the innovative superhero subversion Danger Club, found a kindred spirit in artist Justin Greenwood (The Fuse, Stumptown). Last week, the pair released the first issue of The Last Siege, a tale of power and survival in the Middle Ages. Much of Greenwood’s previous work has dealt with the present day or the future, but in The Last Siege, he’s focused on the (mostly) real world as it existed 1,000 years ago: “There are no dragons, no magic in this world. It’s a comic about what desperate people do when pushed to their limits during a time when might makes right and winner takes all. Survival is the instinct that everyone shares, regardless of all other specifics.”
The comic concerns the fallout of a brutal five-year war in which “the lords of West have fallen to a cruel king—a warlord from across the sea.” In an effort to consolidate his power, the warlord has sent a gang of knights to lay claim to the remaining kingdoms, all of which quickly fall in line in an effort to prevent more bloodshed—save one: a kingdom without a king. Although no living ruler presides, this kingdom’s departed monarch was not without progeny. He left behind a single child: an heiress, the Lady Cathryn. And being a young woman in that volatile position and in that time period is not without its perils. On either side of her father’s castle walls are men who want to exploit her and her power, with little regard for her safety or comfort.
Surrounding a young girl with dangerous men was a deliberate narrative mechanic according to Walker. “Her finding her path within this framework is more interesting to me than watching a male character of the same age find their path. The hurdles are different,” he says. Because Lady Cathryn is a woman of high station, she has a literal economic value to enemies and so-called allies alike. Her marriage, voluntary or not, would give any would-be conqueror a legitimate claim to her father’s throne. Luckily for Cathryn, a mysterious Easterner arrives to derail the warlord’s plans to usurp her, revealing himself to be much more than a wayward traveler. And so begins the battle for supremacy of the last free kingdom in the West.
Where exactly is this “West?” And when is this struggle for power occurring? The answer relies on a bit of historical wiggle room. “Landry came to me with an intention of keeping the story clearly fixed in a certain time period, but trying not to be so married to it that we couldn’t play a bit and find our best version of it,” Greenwood says.
“A direct historical retelling of a specific event and time is a hazardous road, as anachronisms become world breaking very fast,” Walker adds.
That’s not to say that the events that unfold between the covers of The Last Siege don’t have a basis in history. The concept’s seed can be traced back to the very real Battle of Hastings in England during the year 1066, in which the Norman-French leader William conquered England. Walker says that he “drew particular inspiration from the tale of Hereward Wake, a leader who stood against King William after returning home to find his land overrun.” (Wake’s exploits are possibly an influence on the legend of Robin Hood, another rebel from that corner of the world.)
Walker and Greenwood have done their homework, and their attention to detail is apparent from the very beginning of their story, but neither of them are precious about history as written or their own ideas about how to spin facts into fiction. For example, Greenwood’s hunt for historical references revealed a particular hairstyle that wouldn’t cut it for the story he was trying to tell. “I found [a lot] of men rocking full-on bowl cuts, but that’s not necessarily the most interesting thing for a cast of hard cases.”
Much like their flexibility on the precise details of the 11th century, their collaboration is also adaptable, relying on a confidence that each party will bring their talents to bear in ways that are beneficial to not only one another (and the rest of the creative team) but also eventually to the readers of The Last Siege.
“I always say that the artist is on the front lines of the comic,” Walker says. “I can write whatever I want to write, but they have to execute it. So I have to be fluid and let the process unfold, trusting my collaborator—it’s why I prefer to work with friends when possible. I knew going in I could trust Justin to deliver solid work, regardless of whether it was the same as I had envisioned.”
Greenwood is well aware of the kind of liberty to improvise and innovate that Walker is describing. “There is something in the structure of the way Landry writes this book that makes it all feel up for grabs, and it instinctually gives me an additional freedom to find my own storytelling rhythm and focus as I’m working.”
The Last Siege tells a specific kind of story. It belongs to a genre that is perhaps not as glaring as a superhero book, nor as surreal as a high-flying science fiction adventure. There are no dragons in The Last Siege, nor is their magic (ditto for bowl cuts). At least not on the pages. The real magic comes from the places many readers aren’t privy to; it occurs at the intersection between meticulous research and creative freedom. It occurs when two creators vibrate on the same wavelength. It happens, or accumulates rather, in the long 20-year wait to bring something to life and waiting—hoping—that no one beats you to the punch.