A Legendary Tale
♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer Scott Braden gives us his latest in his series of features on comic stories or series that never happened. This week it’s the turn of John Ridgway’s Helven …
John Ridgway’s Helven
From giving Hellblazer its distinctive look to depicting Judge Dredd without his helmet, from chronicling the high science fiction of Babylon 5 to portraying the marvelous frenzy of the Incredible Hulk, John Ridgway has spent the last several decades thrilling fans with his comic book adventure stories. But his “Lost Tale,”Helven – a fantasy that is a step above most comics stories – had the makings of a four-color masterpiece.
But what was Helven? And, when was the project first pitched to Karen Berger of Vertigo fame?
“I talked to Karen Berger in my early days on Hellblazer in 1988 and sent her a brief outline,” explained Ridgway. “I had found that Hellblazer was not what I thought it was going to be. There were no horror comics at that time and no titles ‘For Mature Readers.’ I thought the comic would be along the lines of the Dracula comics Marvel had been turning out – really Gothic adventures. Instead, I had found that John Constantine inhabited a seedy, dark world which allowed me to draw little of the type of scenery I love – forests of twisty branches and roots, mountains, crags and characters whom I would be happy to meet in real life.
“The basic idea behind Helven was that all the legends and myths of Britain had been real – King Arthur, Robin Hood, all the fairy lore had existed. The world of Men had been connected through gateways to other realms – the realm of the elves, the realm of the giants, the realm of the dragons, etc. – each realm with its own magic. Then, one day, a new gateway had opened into the realm of the demons. The demons sought to change our world to the poisonous conditions of their own. They had been unstoppable until the wizard/druids of the world of Men created a spell that unraveled our reality and substituted a new reality – a reality where magic does not exist – the reality we know today. The wizards had, however, left a safeguard – the lay-lines – to detect if magic ever should arise again in our world.
“On the island of Lewis, off the coast of Scotland, a research station is attempting to create a means of instantaneous transportation. Instead, they open a doorway into the demon world and a demon comes through – science had accomplished what magic no-longer could. A ring of stones on Lewis activates the ley-lines. At the same time, a series of events occur – a dragon is seen in the sky. Camelot appears for a moment. A fairy-tale castle is seen for an instant at Tintagel, the birthplace of King Arthur. A giant stalks across the Yorkshire Dales.
“In southern England, a young woman is attacked by a biker. She is rescued by an elf, who is injured by the biker’s steel knife. She helps the elf to a magical castle. When she leaves the castle 10 years have passed. Her parents think it is some cruel joke. Her brother, who is now older than her, thinks she may have been abducted by aliens and has been travelling through space at near-light velocities and so has not aged. Because he believes she truly is his sister, he sees the elf as his sister sees the elf – pointy ears and strange dress.
“A series of adventures follow as the girls, her brother, and the elf investigate strange occurrences and finds, i.e. the discovery of the bones of a new type of dinosaur in the slate quarries at Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales. The trio sees the bones as the skeleton of a dragon (the national symbol of Wales is the Red Dragon). Each episode also details the progress of the demon on Lewis as he slowly takes over the Government (told in flashbacks).”
Who did Ridgway land as the writer for his project? Who did he really want to write it?
“I never found a writer for the series and other work intervened,” said Ridgway. “The only suitable writer I know of is Steve Parkhouse (who I had worked with on Doctor Who). Unfortunately Steve gave up writing and concentrated on drawing comics. There are many British comics writers I know of but none I feel who could handle the subject matter as I would want it done – and they are all too interested in their own projects. Jamie Delano (who I was working with at the time on Hellblazer) didn’t want to write the series as, he said, he was too busy. Les Lilley turned in pages that didn’t match what I wanted to do and he upset Karen Berger when I introduced him to her.”
When you came up with the concept, were other “child makes magical journey” stories popular, such as the Harry Potter novels and DC Comics’ Books of Magic?
“The series was pre-Harry Potter and Books of Magic,” remembered Ridgway. “It was also pre–Summer Magic which became the Journal of Luke Kirby in 2000 AD magazine (for which I drew the initial serialised stories and several shorts). There were several series of books at that time – notably C. S. Lewis’s Narnia tales and Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising. The main difference is the age of the lead character. The girl in my series is 15 (25 years old if you count the 10 years in the enchanted castle).”
Ridgway pondered for a second, and then said, “I have since thought of writing it myself, but I am not an established writer. As an engineer I have written specifications and operating manuals for equipment. I have also prepared quotations and the accompanying letters to ‘persuade’ clients that the equipment I am offering is better for the client’s needs than that of the competitors – no easy task when you know that the equipment you are offering is more expensive than the competitors because the competitor was putting forward equipment that did not match the client’s specifications.
“Over the years, I realized that if I want my stories to be done the way I wanted them, I had to do them myself. Comics in the US are dominated by super-heroes, The Walking Dead, franchise spin-offs like Star Wars, and ‘adult’ stories by writers of limited series. The artwork is often of a high standard but it is a team effort because of the time it takes to produce. To me, the best artwork is produced by an artist working alone but it is virtually impossible for an artist to turn out full-colour artwork to a monthly schedule. I realized that to produce something at the best quality I could manage, I had to forget deadlines. At my age, I should be retired. Instead, I am drawing and learning to paint (on computer) better than I ever have. Many of the programs I use on computer are freeware. Wikipedia is free. Krita, Gimp, and Blender 3D are free. I don’t need the money so why not produce what I want to produce for free? That way, anyone who likes it can read it. If some company wants to publish the work in book form when it is finished then they can pay me a reasonable amount based on the profit they make.”
Ridgway paused again and added, “While writing specifications and manuals may seem drab, it requires an intimate knowledge of the workings of the equipment being described and a detailed and logical progression of operation of that equipment. This is not unlike designing the characters of a story – it all has to fit together in working order.”
And with that, Ridgway has since directed his boundless creative energy on a new project that fans of the extraordinary artist will certainly fancy.
“I read Lord of the Rings over 40 years ago – long before Peter Jackson’s films made the story as popular as it is today. I thought of drawing it as a comic strip and then thought of doing something along those lines myself. My ideas gradually changed and evolved into something I called “Wereworld” and was going to be produced for a weekly comic called Eureka, the brainchild of Derek Lord, who was editor of the famous Eagle magazine/comic. Unfortunately, Derek died and Eureka went with him. More recently, I found there was a series of books called Wereworld by Curtis Jobling. While they had no similarity to my series, I changed the name to Darrak – the name of the central character. More recently, I found a series called Echoes of the Fall by Adrian Tchaikovsky which caused to have a radical rethink of the background to my story. So far as I know, my story now bears no similarities to Adrian’s series.
“As Darrak is ongoing, I am reluctant to reveal too much about where it is going.”
Lost Tales©2019 Scott Braden. All Rights Reserved