Writer's Commentary for Dynamite's Blood Queen #1 by Troy Brownfield
Greetings and welcome! The fact that you've chosen to spend your time reading this writer's commentary reveals you as either a person of excellent taste and character or someone that has too much time on their hands at work. Either way, I hope you enjoy it. My name is Troy Brownfield, and I'm the writer of Blood Queen. The rest of the team is artist Fritz Casas, colorist Kirsty Swan (with Mark Roberts on pages 1-9), letterer Marshall Dillon and editor Molly Mahan. The two main covers are by Jay Anacleto and Ale Garza. Now, let's get to it, shall we?
Pages 1 and 2 – One of the keys that we discussed in the creation of the series, along with the notion of Elizabeth Bathory as a starting point, was the aspect of how one becomes a "wicked queen" archetype. From that moment, I knew we had to open with "Once Upon A Time". I categorize the book as "dark fantasy", and I really wanted the first two pages to set a horror tone. This book can have high fantasy moments, but it can veer just as quickly into terror. Page 2 also sets up what will become a familiar effect, the symbols that appear in the air in and around most uses of blood magic.
Page 3 – The title of the first arc is "Reign in Blood", after the Slayer album. As I was enumerating the different influences that went into my ideas for the book, I mentioned metal early on. I told Molly Mahan that I wanted to call the first arc "Reign in Blood", and then went on to say that I want to name every arc after a Slayer album. I thought she'd think I was insane. Instead, she encourages me and sends me videos of cellists doing thrash classics. I knew we'd get along fine; she's awesome. This page also introduces Sir Ferenc, who is named for an important person in the life of the actual Elizabeth Bathory. He's acting on the orders of King Trevian, ruler of Varrano, which is our primary setting. Many of the names that I use in the story are drawn from Bathory's tale or Hungarian history. Others come from different inspirations; the ruling family of Azimuth is mostly named after the family of Ronnie James Dio.
Page 4 – The Daughters of the Line are the women of the royal houses in the various kingdoms surrounding Varanno. The kings belong to a Council that you'll learn more about in #3. As part of a decades old system, the young women of the royal courts spend two weeks a season with the witch elder Winnifred to learn herbal and nature spellcraft. Within the patriarchy, these are seen as fine and helpful things to teach the women. There's more to it than that, and reasons in the story why certain things are restricted, but that comes later. Ferenc is there to seek help for Laura, the infant daughter of King Trevian and Queen Elanor.
Page 5 – And here's where we meet our Elizabeth. A word first on her scene companion. In the script, I simply called her Young Lady. When I brought her back in issue #2, I named her Sara. So, though she goes unnamed here, that's Sara, and she gets more important. As for meeting Elizabeth, I wanted her introduction to be a little different. There's this idea that she's swimming and nude, and Sara is looking down on her, but it's clear from the dialogue that Elizabeth is in control of the scene. I want to convey this strength of personality that Elizabeth has even when she seems to be completely vulnerable. Elizabeth is fairly young, around 20, but the Daughters view her as a person to respect because she's the Elder's right hand. They know that she's intelligent and strong in magic and would regard her in part as teacher. Or at least a pretty cool T.A.
Page 6 – Honestly, I just like the idea of an old lady whacking a knight in armor with a stick. That's probably Python sneaking in.
Page 7 – Elder Winnifred acknowledges that Elizabeth is growing as a healer and might be better or faster to cure the infant. But . . .
Page 8 – There was already a plan to send Elizabeth to court. What are they up to? But before that, let's just take a minute and talk about how Fritz Casas is the man. His first sketches for each of these characters utterly nailed what I had in mind. I was gobsmacked when Molly sent them to me. He starts off strong in this issue, in my opinion, but he elevates it with each subsequent installment. He absolutely gets where I'm coming from.
Page 9 – A few things here. Elizabeth is worldly and witty, but Ferenc has some, to borrow a basketball term and mangle it, court savvy; he doesn't want her to say the wrong thing. From her end, Elizabeth is a flirt because she enjoys it, but she also enjoys the idea that it can put some people off-balance. And people that are off their game are easier to lead.
Page 10 – Castle Varrano, home of King Trevian. (It's only a model).
Page 11 – Elizabeth turns it up a notch with Ferenc. You'll see as we go along that he struggles with his interpretation of his duty versus the things that he actually wants. And that's not just Elizabeth.
Page 12 & 13 – Royalty Role Call. Here we see King Trevian and Queen Elanor for the first time, along with the king's advisor Jon Hunter, the wizard Vespasian, and the apprentice Annaud. I'm hinting here at the antipathy that Vespasian, at least, and maybe other wizards, have for some of the witches. He first spins this as calling out the Elder for defiance, then quickly turns it to "she can't be better than me, and I haven't figured out the illness yet". Someone's feeling threatened, I think. Vespasian also has some issues with Jon Hunter, who fancies himself a bit of a dabbler in magic and science; early on, I was thinking of associations with other famous royal Elizabeths, and I thought of John Dee. He, and a fairytale character to be named later, directly inspired Jon Hunter.
Page 14 – Elizabeth, Master Diagnostician.
Page 15 & 16 – One thing I wanted to play with in terms of how Elizabeth and Jon Hunter interact is that it's at a slightly different level than her and Ferenc. There's a little more subtlety, a little more of the two of them looking at one another as sort of intellectual equals. She's prodding him, in a way, but he's aware and amused by it. Ferenc isn't dumb by any means, but he's more of a physical reactor, the kind of guy to punch his way to a solution. Hunter sort of smirks at the world and isn't totally surprised by much. I have a lot of fun writing Elizabeth and Hunter together as we move along.
Page 17 – This is the "oh shit, what's she doing?!" moment. It skates right up to that taboo line that Stephen King talks about in "Danse Macabre", particularly the second panel where she produces the knife and says "I'm going to end your suffering." It sure as hell looks like she's about to do the baby in. I wanted that sort of hair-raising moment of misdirection. You might recall that Wicked Queens sort of have this track record with babies. Also: terrific use of color by Kirsty Swan.
Page 18 – By now, a couple of things should be clear. Banned blood magic caused the baby's illness, and Elizabeth used banned blood magic to cure it. The previous page wasn't an attack or a curse; it was treatment. And now that the baby has rebounded and Elizabeth feels free to share her suspicion (but not how she achieved her cure), it only takes Jon Hunter seconds to identify a suspect.
Page 19 – Paying off the balsam that Elizabeth gathered in the earlier scene. Also: Jon Hunter, Man of Chivalrous Action! Plus bonus points to Marshall Dillon for the cool symbols. I bedevil him with lots of little notes about runes and stuff; he makes those things look great.
Page 20 & 21 – Ferenc, Jon Hunter and Elizabeth combine to take down Annaud. The sword-through-the-mouth was just a little nod to the horror element. And of course, "Games of Thrones" ended up doing that in an episode a couple of weeks before the book came out, but months after we did it. Such is life. The final panel on Page 21 is actually a clue to something for those paying close attention to Page 2.
Page 22 – And now, the tease. What kind of help does Elizabeth need? What's her mission? What's the big surprise on the final page of issue #2? You should probably keep reading.
Backmatter Page – Prince Dracula? That book sounds badass. You should probably read that, too.
I hope you enjoyed the issue and the commentary. Feel free to post questions, unstinting praise for Casas and company, five favorite metal albums, etc. I'll be happy to talk to you! Hit me here, or reach out on Twitter @TroyBrownfield or @DynamiteComics #BloodQueen.
For more on Blood Queen #1, click here.