While there have been a lot of interesting versions of the Arthurian Legends — including ones where genders are swapped or the setting is changed from medieval England to a futuristic Britain — not many have dealt with the core issues of the story. But in the first volume of their ongoing comic The Orphan King (paperback), writer Tyler Chin-Tanner and artist James Boyle deal more with the idea of why Arty got to be the king, not how or what he did once he took the job. In the following email interview, Tyler and James discusses what inspired and influenced this story, as well as their plans for Vol. 2.
Tyler Chin-Tanner, James Boyle
Let’s start with the basics: What is The Orphan King about, and when and where is it set?
Tyler: The Orphan King is a reimagining of the King Arthur myth. It was different enough that I changed the names of the characters. Instead of Arthur, our main character’s name is Kaidan. We also combined both Merlin and the Lady Of The Lake into the character Lady Taleissa. It’s all set in a fantasy world, which allowed us to be a little more free incorporating magic and mythical creatures, but the setting is essentially 5th century Britain, shortly after Rome’s hold on the area collapsed.
This is hardly the first time someone’s put their own spin on this story. Aside from what you just said, what makes The Orphan King different?
Tyler: The main difference here is that we really wanted to address the issue of “birthright.” It’s something that never quite sat right with me in the original legend. Arthur was given the throne once it was discovered that he was the rightful heir. I get that it was a monarchy and that was the system, but why does that make him a great leader?
And while monarchies are a lot less prevalent these days, I still feel as if there’s still some relevance in today’s society. So often, people’s success in life is determined by the status of their parents. It certainly helps in terms of resources at their disposal, their schooling (i.e. special training), or simply being debt free when they start off their career. So like many stories that take place in the past, there are still implications on present day.
So whose idea was it to redo King Arthur’s story?
James: I’d say it was Tyler’s idea, but I think he knew I would be into this kind of story.
Tyler: Growing up, I had always been such a fan of the King Arthur stories. I read many of the books and watched a few films. But it didn’t immediately occur to me to write my own version of the story. Then, one day, a scene just popped into my head. It was of Arthur coming back home after his training, but he was too late. His home was destroyed and everything he knew was gone. Instead of taking his rightful place on the throne, he was cast adrift in the land he was supposed to rule.
Some versions of the King Arthur legend go deep on the fantasy elements, others don’t. How fantastic does The Orphan King get, and why did you feel this was the right amount of fantasy?
Tyler: I believe the proper term is “low-fantasy,” where magical elements intrude in an otherwise normal world. I thought it would be fun to have some of these elements, magic and creatures…plus, I knew they would be fun for James to draw. But for the most part, we’re dealing with real world societal issues of power and privilege.
So Tyler, are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a particularly big influence on The Orphan King?
Tyler: Yes. My absolute favorites were the three books in Mary Stewart’s trilogy: The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment. I was also heavily influenced by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists Of Avalon, which told the tale from the female characters’ point of view. And of course, there was T.H. White’s The Once And Future King. I even gave a crack at reading Le Mort d’Arthur by Thomas Malory.
How about non-literary influences; was The Orphan King influenced by any of the movies or TV shows that have told the legend of King Arthur?
Tyler: I would say less so than the books, but certainly the animated The Sword In The Stone as well as the live-action Excalibur.
Moving on to the art, James, who do you see as being the biggest influences on the art you did for The Orphan King?
James: When I was kid, someone had gotten me one of those A-Z pictorial dictionary books about Celtic mythology. This thing was filled with amazing illustrations by Arthur Rackham, Alan Lee, Evelyn Paul, J. Leyendecker, Aubrey Beardsley and many others. The imagery in this book really piqued my imagination. I’ve had it on my “art book” shelf for a long time and referred to it often for inspiration while drawing The Orphan King.
And were you at all influenced by any movies or TV shows, Arthurian or otherwise?
James: I remember watching Excalibur on TV as a kid. I think it was rated R so it definitely had an effect on me.
How collaborative did things get during the process of writing and drawing this comic?
Tyler: I always go back in and update the dialog to match the art. James really captured a lot of the characters’ personalities in the way that he drew them and that did a lot to inform how I wanted them to sound. There was a lot more life to them once I saw them on the pages.
And James, did Tyler ever offer any suggestions about the art, either directly or through what he wrote for the script?
James: Absolutely. I would always send Tyler my layouts before starting on pencils. There were times when he would catch something I did that might be confusing to the reader, or a detail I missed that was important to the flow of the story. It’s always good to get another pair of eyes to check your work.
Now, The Orphan King: Volume 1 presents the first five issues of this series. Is the plan for this to be an ongoing series or do you have an end in mind?
Tyler: The plan is for this to be an ongoing series, [but] I don’t know if we’ll continue with the single issue format that makes up each book. We might just jump right to the graphic novel for future volumes. That seems to be the trend in the industry.
As far as how many volumes there will be? I don’t know that yet. Kaidan has quite the journey ahead of him. I have a good sense of what will ultimately happen and the kinds of lessons he’ll learn along the way. But in terms of just how many books will make up this adventure, we’ll just have to wait and see?
And do you know yet when The Orphan King: Volume 2: The Haunted Hills will be out?
Tyler: It takes a while to make each book, so I’m hoping for a 2023 release. Especially if we’re releasing the full book all at once, we’ll both need some time as I write the full script and James draws all those pages. But it’s coming.
Also, does Volume 1 have a subtitle?
Tyler: I think I’m going to have to pull the same thing George Lucas did with the original Star Wars and go back to give Volume 1 a subtitle after the sequels have come out.
The legend of King Arthur has been made into a number of movies over the years. Do you think The Orphan King could work as a movie?
James: I think The Orphan King would work great as a YA episodic series. Tyler has set up some great cliffhangers at the end of each issue, which would get lost in a feature length film.
Tyler: I agree with James here. I think a TV series would work better that a film. Each volume could be its own season, with the chapters being episodes.
So then who would you want them to cast as Prince Kaidan, Lady Taleissa, and the other main characters?
James: Hmm, Kaidan is a young kid, so that’s a tough one. For Lady Taleissa, how about Tilda Swinton [Doctor Strange]?
Tyler: Kaidan is tough to cast. I’m thinking someone like [Spider-man: Far From Home‘s] Tom Holland would be good. Maybe they could CGI him to look younger for the flashbacks.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Orphan King, Tyler, what book that James drew would you recommend they check out next, and James, what book that Tyler wrote would you recommend?
James: Check out MEZO by Tyler, Val Rodrigues, and Josh Zingerman.
Tyler: It’s not a book, but everyone should check out the Philadelphia inspired Tarot Deck that James drew. It’s really cool.