Poetic Justice: Joshua Ortega talks "Beowulf"

Tue, August 23rd, 2005 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

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Cover To "Beowulf #7"

Sure, DC Comics' Hawkman may have lived a thousand years, but does anyone write poems about him? The characters in Vertigo's "Fables" are legendary, but can all of them kick butt like a Schwarzenegger movie hero? No? Well, for the best of both worlds, there's a new hero in town- Beowulf. Coming this fall from Speakeasy Comics, writer Joshua Ortega takes over the writing reins of "Beowulf" and for readers new to it all, he explained the basics of the series.

"'Beowulf' is an ongoing series that follows the modern-day adventures of the legendary hero of the epic poem," Ortega told CBR News. "In Speakeasy's version of the character, Beowulf didn't die after becoming king, and has instead evolved into something of an immortal character who has walked the Earth for thousands of years. You could almost say he's like Thor meets Cain. Wulf's a bad-ass with a lot of wisdom and history behind him.

"The series blends elements of fantasy, horror, and superhero action, and features a number of other interesting characters including Nicky Conrad, Wulf's friend and possible love interest, and Gauchere, his major nemesis who's in the process of going through some unexpected changes that will make him even darker and more deadly than before.

While one might compare Beowulf to Thor or Hawkman, Ortega feels the character is unique enough to stand on his own two feet without simply being a "riff" on a different character. "Wulf is over a thousand years old and he's the hero. Usually the ancient guys are the villains for some reason, or a secondary charcter. Living a thousand years without going nuts or turning evil gives him a very unique perspective.

"Creatively, there's a great degree of freedom at play when writing for Speakeasy. That makes for some excellent storytelling possibilities for the writer, and some great storylines for the reader!"

As it often happens in comics, the successful sale of one of Ortega's projects led to meeting the publisher of his next project and his Beowulf tale was born. "Adam Fortier (President of Speakeasy Comics) and I first met back in L.A. through Francis Manapul, my co-creator and artist on the new ongoing series from Top Cow, 'The Necromancer.' Adam and I hit it off right away, and I liked what they were doing at Speakeasy. For such a new company, they were making some big moves and doing it in the right way. We talked about doing something together in the future, saw each other again in New York at Book Expo America, and had a good conversation over dinner at an Italian spot with $12 Manhattans...yikes!

"I also had a chance to meet Chris Stone (EIC at Speakeasy) in NY, we hit it off as well, and when I got back to Seattle, Adam called me up about doing an upcoming arc for 'Beowulf.' I checked out the first few issues, liked what they had in mind for the future,

saw lots of potential where we could take the series, and everything fell into place from there..."

Working with a character from an "epic poem," one might be torn between living up to preconceived notions and going forward, but in the case of this series, Ortega had no conflict. "No constraints at all, it really only adds to the fun. Brian Augustyn ('Flash'), the writer on the first 6-issues of 'Beowulf,' didn't deal with the historical origins of the character that much, so it's allowed me an incredible amount of flexibility as far as Wulf's

past and origin goes."

Ortega was also a fan of Augustyn's run on "Beowulf," noting that he especially liked the layers added to and explored in Wulf. "The high concept is what I enjoyed the most, the idea that Beowulf from the epic poem is still walking the Earth and there is magic to be found around every corner...

"As far as furthering aspects from the first arc, it would play into the above...I'd like to explore some his past, and really examine the perspective that a thousand-year old man would have. For one thing, it would be really hard to pull any wool over his eyes, since he's seen so much in his lifetime. Also, I'd like to play with the idea of cycles, and the way history has a tendency to repeat itself. He'd be able to perceive those patterns well since he had witnessed so many events in his long lifetime."

After his arc, Ortega will pass the reins over to a certain fan favorite writer but isn't ruling out a return. "Right now, I'm scheduled to write Issues #7-12, then Mike Carey ('Hellblazer,' 'Lucifer') will be following my run starting with #13. How's that for a one-two punch? Fans of supernatural action and horror are really in for a treat with 'Beowulf,' that's for sure.

"As far as my future involvement, you never know. Between 'The Necromancer' ongoing series and a few other projects I have in the works, my schedule has gotten pretty packed, so the 6-issue arc works perfectly for me. However, I am creating some interesting villains for the series in my run, so who knows, it could be fun to revisit them in the future!"

Though the creative teams rotate frequently on "Beowulf," Ortega assures fans that there is a larger plan and that all the stories are leading to a specific story. "There have been a lot of hints dropped in the first few issues about the sudden emergence of superpowers

in the 'Beowulf' universe as being part of a prophecy or something that was foretold. In that sense, yes, there is a big picture at play in the series, however, while I will be adding to this big picture, my focus will be on telling very compelling, intriguing stories that

can also stand on their own."

Talking to Ortega, it becomes obvious that he's going for an epic story, but he's not going to reveal too much else about his run. "The initial two-parter, 'Altered States,' will be a very controversial storyline that deals with everything from political corruption to the War on Drugs to drug addiction to freedom of expression.

"I don't want to reveal too much about the story specifics, but I can say that will be a wild, hallucinogenic ride through modern-day America. Expect to be disturbed and surprised, and you'll probably laugh quite a bit along the way."

No comic book is complete without the visuals and on that same note, "Beowulf" isn't complete without new penciller Atilla Adorjany, taking over for exiting artist Dub. "The main penciller on my run of 'Beowulf' will be Atilla Adorjany, a very talented artist from Canada. He'll be joined in the first two issues by Jim Mahfoud and Andy Lee, two other talented artists who will draw some of the more 'tripped-out' parts of the first storyline.

It's a great concept, and credit to Adam and Chris for coming up with the idea to use different artists to enhance the storytelling. 'Beowulf #7' is definitely going to be a unique book, so it should generate a lot of good buzz!"

The comic book marketplace is full of "events" this year, which some believe may be squeezing smaller publishers out of the marketplace, and Ortega says there's a simple solution to combat such an effect. "Writing a good story, first and foremost. That's what

a lot of event books lack. They're often constrained by events in other books, and you can tell the writer isn't telling the story they want to tell.

"'Beowulf' is no-holds-barred storytelling. Honestly, Speakeasy has really let me take this one all the way and tell the story that I want to tell. Great example, I recently asked Adam about a controversial aspect of the story, 'Hey Adam, can I put this in Issue #7?'

Adam laughed and said, 'Sure, what do we care? We're Canadian!' I thought, all right, this is going to be fun!"

And finally, if you're unsure about checking out "Beowulf," Ortega has a list of reasons to persuade you to pick up issue #7:

"Five reasons:

"1. An intruiging, controversial storyline.

"2. Great art by three talented pencillers.

"3. #7 is the jumping-on point for a whole new direction for the series.

"4. A big, talking bear.

"5. It's cheaper than drugs."

 
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