Comic-Con: DC/Vertigo's 'Red Thorn' Explores Scottish Mythology

"I really wanted to write something rooted in the weirder end of Scottish mythology."
DC Entertainment

DC Entertainment's Vertigo returns to its mythical roots with the newly announced Red Thorn, with writer David Baillie and artist Meghan Hetrick introducing lead character Isla, and American audiences, to a Scottish mythology that they might not have known existed… and might not quite believe even after they've discovered it. Baillie teased future events in the series to The Hollywood Reporter.

As a Scot myself — and one from just outside Glasgow, where the series is set, I have to admit I'm very excited about this series. It's something that feels at once very Vertigo and very personal. How did it get started?

One of my favorite things about working on Red Thorn has been seeing how excited people get when they find out it's set in Glasgow. Their eyes just light up. I was visiting the DC offices during New York Comic Con last year, and people were exploding with glee about the series. I think 50 percent of that excitement was because we have Meghan on art duties - she's probably the best new comic artist in the Western world! The other 50 percent was absolutely down to Glasgow. It's weird — even people who have never been there instinctively know it's the darkest, sexiest city in the world.

And you couldn't be more right, this one is very personal for me. I've poured in everything I know about Glasgow, drawn on strands of my personal and family history, and spent the last couple of years studying the weirdness and history of the city.

As to how it came about, the awesome [Vertigo editor] Greg Lockard got in touch with me a couple of years ago, after seeing something I'd written for 2000AD — it turns out his grandfather back in Scotland was a Baillie. Via the incredible power of imaginary nepotism, he was then editor on my first published US work, a story in the CMYK anthology with artist Will Morris. Shortly after that the inimitable Shelly Bond [Vertigo editor-in-chief] asked if I wanted to pitch some ideas for a series and from the enormous stack of notes I sent her she could tell that I really, really wanted to write something a) set in modern day Glasgow and b) rooted in the weirder end of Scottish mythology. She told me to take a run at it, give it everything I had and that's exactly what Red Thorn is.

Will you be drawing on existing Scottish myths, or creating new ones for this series?

It's pretty much all Scottish mythology, peppered with occasional overlapping Irish figures, just because of the cross-pollination that's always gone on between our two green, fertile nations. As well as mining well-known myth and legend, I've created a lot of new characters for the story, being careful to find gaps within existing lore for them to live. For example, the villain of the piece really was worshipped by working class soldiers during the Roman occupation of Britain. Only a few altars dedicated to him have survived - and so I took what we know and went mad with the rest, filling in the gaps and instilling him with everything I needed in my vile, despotic antagonist.

Am I being too hopeful that the contrary nature of the city and those inside it will come across in the series, or are you broadening things out for the American audience?

Our viewpoint character for the first arc is an American girl called Isla, whose maternal grandparents were from the city. That infamous contrariness you mentioned must be in the genes though, because she's definitely very Glaswegian!

Without spoiling anything, I've aimed to capture as much of the city's character as I can in the first storyline, while still lobbing the reader into what is hopefully the sort of rich, complex fantasy world that a Vertigo reader expects and deserves. My plan is for the sheer Glasgow-ness of Red Thorn to push more and more to the fore until it overwhelms our readers, regardless of where they live in the world, leaving them all speaking with a broad Glaswegian accent.

There are multiple moving parts in the series description alone: the Scottish demi-gods and their descendants, the American girl looking for her sister and also her magical power to bring drawings to life. Is it all connected, or are you laying groundwork for as much story ahead of you as possible for a hopefully-lengthy run?

I'm very much hoping for a lengthy run, because Meghan and I have lots of stories we want to tell, but all of the pieces we set up in the first few issues are very much related and part of the same mystery. By the end of our first arc, "Glasgow Kiss," readers will know exactly who everyone is and why they're where they are, doing what they're doing. But by then it'll be too late - they'll be in love with at least one of the characters, hate another one and be unable to stop reading for fear they never find out what happens.

I personally guarantee it.

Red Thorn launches in November.

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