In this latest look at what’s going on in the world of Unseen Shadows we take a walk down a darker path with Virgil Yendell as he takes us through his work on the recently completed story ‘Knights of Cademus’ which will feature in the third Unseen Shadows trilogy.
Writing the Knights of Cademus
Finding Barry Nugent’s Unseen Shadows project at Thought Bubble one year, I was immediately intrigued by the modern take on the fantasy/pulp themes, and the different ways of accessing the story gave so much potential. After making my way through all the Unseen Shadows material I began to get a view of the mixed angles and characters from which to approach the Unseen Shadows world. In amongst the main and supporting characters that were already central to the novel and associated graphic novels I saw a chance to chase and expand on an idea I’d seen other writers touch on before. I pitched it to Barry and he gave me the green light to start work on the Knights of Cademus story.
There’s more to it but essentially the Knight of Cademus are Star Trek red shirts for the bad guys (as Barry would say) or are the Putties from Power Rangers (as my partner would say). They are the cannon fodder, the anonymous henchmen of the big bad. The red shirts have been the focus of their own novel by John Scalzi looking at how they view their cannon fodder status etc Grant Morrison paid his dues to his anonymous henchmen in The Invisibles series with a swan song story about the life that would lead someone into such a role. I loved Grant Morrison’s take and we have a few nods to it in our story but I also wanted to do more. I wanted to know how an army deals with the losses these henchmen always face in such stories. How do they deal with it personally and as strategic force? How is such a force developed?
“The Knights of Cademus are elite fighters who join the modern-day Book of Cademus. Descended from Sir Oliver’s Cademus’ personal army this is the strong-arm of the cult and their most dangerous weapon. Their blind loyalty and faith to the Cabal is only matched by their ruthlessness towards those who would oppose the will of the Cabal. Death holds no fear for a Knight of Cademus, who will willingly sacrifice themselves if the mission calls for it.”
The Knights of Cademus aren’t paid thugs and it’s their belief that drives them but during the course of many of the stories they are out classed and defeated at every turn. How does their belief, their camaraderie keep them going when faced with the seemingly unstoppable “heroes” of the Unseen Shadows world? There are so many interesting questions. These guys aren’t just cannon fodder. In this, the first Knights of Cademus story I wanted to explore how the Knights instilled the belief into recruits and how the organisation reacts to losses the likes of which Napoleon Stone and The Reverend generally inflict on their ranks. Cue the modern protagonist Roy, a troubled youth who finds himself in the sights of the Knights.
At the same time I wanted to convey the sense of longevity and history that the Knights have in the Unseen Shadows reality. So paralleling the modern story is a medieval one. Set during a time when the Knights of Cademus have lost their focus and we follow initial endeavours to rekindle it. I have friends working on the Teutonic Crusades in central Europe (ecologyofcrusading.com) and was given the chance to join them on some fieldwork. We cored through a frozen lake and visited the Teutonic castle of Marlbork. The trip was an inspiration. Depending on how much you delved into Unseen Shadows you may know that the origin of the arch-enemy of the series, Sir Oliver Cademus, is tied to the Crusades in the near east (Templar and Hospitalier orders). So I thought the lesser known European crusades of the Teutonic order were ripe for inclusion.
The period and circumstances were perfect and with events such as the Battle of Ice (fought on a frozen lake) and of course the huge imposing Malbork Castle, that at its height could house over 3,000 men and was four times as big as Windsor Castle, were great stimuli for my imagination. However, this did give us some problems. Keeping in mind my friends working on the Teutonic Crusades I wanted to do its depiction justice and they would notice if I took too many liberties with history and reality. I know! I know! The wider story involves demons and the like so why am I bothering. I’d say professional courtesy and respect was driving me but honestly it was probably more to avoid the ribbing I would receive.
There were a few discussions about size of weapons and helms. Too small or too large for accuracy versus too small or large for dramatic affect. I think we struck a good balance. However, the biggest problem was the grand, red, Malbork Castle, which (and I may whisper here) isn’t actually red in the comic. Yes, I know and I’m very sorry. A missed opportunity but the reasons were pretty overwhelming. The illustrator (James Evans) and I decided early on that a good way to help the reader instantly distinguish between the interchanging medieval and modern stories was to have different and distinct colour palettes for each. The training camp and army feel of the modern story was given earthy greens and browns whilst the colder and more severe medieval story was given a much bluer palette. This also helped James with the work load somewhat, as he was pencilling, inking and colouring the 22 pages himself. The problem came when James tried to put a red/orange castle in the blue/icy medieval landscape. It looked really out of place in the colour scheme and no amount of tweaking helped. I again apologise to the UNESCO world heritage site that is Malbork Castle. In my mind it is red. It’s just covered in a layer of frost. Despite these issues I hope it’s an interesting look into some aspects of the Knights of Cademus. James and I really enjoyed working on it with the other Unseen Shadow’ers, especially Nic Wilkinson, Sara Westrop and of course Barry Nugent.
Hopefully we’ll be doing more on the Knights in the future. I’d love to look at how a Knight of Cademus deals with surviving defeat, failure and severe injury and how they transcend the politics and manipulations of the strong and sometimes opposing forces within the leadership of the Book of Cademus cult.