Tag Archives: Arthur

Ladies of the Lakes

The Lady of the Lake raising her arm from the water to offer Excalibur to Arthur is a powerful image, one of the defining images of Arthur’s myths, I think.

Working on the graphic novel adaptation of Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, I’ve been obliged to notice that it’s not just one lake lady. Also, as a personal note, in some versions, Nimue/Vivien is a lady of the lake.

The second, less famous lake lady rocks up to Arthur’s court bearing a sword only a good knight can pull from its scabbard. This is a bit of an evil joke, because the man who takes the sword is then fated to kill someone he loves with it. Swords from lakes may be magical, but they aren’t reliably benevolent.

Who are these ladies? Spirits of place? Half-forgotten deities? Literary plot devices? A bit of minds-eye candy?

As I’ve been colouring on the project, I’ve thought about them a lot. I’d like to offer my unsubstantiated personal uncertainty on the subject. (It’s not gnosis, I really don’t know…)

We know the Celts made offerings to water, including offerings of weaponry. There are sites, in lakes, where lots of booty was thrown in. I think this has to be connected. One possibility is that the ladies of the lakes are a vague folk memory of the lake beings to whom those offerings were made. Another option is that they’ve come into being to explain the underwater hoards. It makes sense if you find a treasure under a lake to imagine it belonged to someone, and from there it’s not very far to the strange women lying in ponds distributing swords as a basis for a system of government.

Colouring for Camelot

New Year, new slightly crazy project. My other half – illustrator Tom Brown has signed up to do a four volume graphic novel interpretation of Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, adapted by Arthurian buff John Matthews. This will be happening over the next four years.

Tom and I got together around jointly working on www.hopelessmaine.com – our creative lives and our marriage are deeply intertwined. I have to admit that last year, when he was involved with The Raven’s Child, I found that tough. I did some odd bits of shading, but we spent much of our spare time talking about a project that I had no other involvement in, and I felt rather peripheral a lot of the time. So, a cunning plan was clearly in order.

Those of you who have followed Hopeless Maine will know that Tom favours muted pallets. Medieval art is really gaudy by contrast and it would be fair to say that those bright colours do not come easily for him. I, on the other hand have fairly medieval sensibilities anyway – you should see our living room! I like working with colour. I have no real skill at line drawing or getting things to look like things, but a deep fascination with how colour works. Normally this is manifest in textiles and upcycling projects, but we’ve done a few things where Tom has drawn for me to put in tapestry, and we’ve known for a while this works well.

Last year, I asked if I could colour on the Arthur project. This is normal for comics and graphic novels. Typically, one artist does the initial drawing, then separate people deal with the colour, the ink work and the lettering. Comics art is either collaborative, or factory production line, depending on the setup. We’ve been testing this, and it seems to be working. The logo for the project represents a team effort.

Thus far, the method is as follows. Tom puts down all the lines, and any contour shading that he wants, and then scans this. I colour on the paper, using oil pastels. We scan it again, and in photoshop he drops his line work back in over the top – so there’s no separate inking. We’re going to look at him reasserting the lines on originals as well. He also does lighting effects, and there we are. We’re learning how to do this together in ways that avoid duplicating work and that play to our different strengths. So far so good, I think.

The oil pastels I’m using, I inherited from my grandmother. She spent her retirement years creating land, sea and sky scapes, tall ships, flowers, and such like. I’m not just using her pastels, but trying to remember all the many tricks she taught me in my teens. If nothing else, I have learned from her that a bit of kit that looks like a child’s wax crayon (but isn’t) can be deployed for significant detail, and subtlety. Like Tom, she used to go in afterwards with pencils to firm up the details.

As an aside to this project I’ve had a crash course in the 1400s, I’m looking at chivalry and the troubadours, and there’s all kinds of interesting bits and pieces around the making of this, so I will no doubt be back to this as a subject on and off over the next four years! Hopeless Maine will be happening alongside Arthur, I’m still writing, and in theory it will all fit together.