Interviews: Killer Queen, Power Prince – Rob Williams Talks Royals, Masters of War
Last week we flagged up one of February’s upcoming new series from Rob Williams and Simon Coleby, Royals: Masters of War (see here), an intriguing-looking alternative history take on World War Two with superpowers. But unlike previous wartime superpowered tales (some of which were written while the conflict was actually happening, of course, such as Captain America or Superman fighting the Axis) here it is only those of noble lineage who have superpowers. Realising the devastation a superpowered battle between the noble houses of different realms could have there has been a truce for years barring them from taking part in combat. But as the Luftwaffe rains bombs on civilians during the Blitz one young prince may not be able to restrain himself – but if he intervenes will he make things better or worse? Let’s see what Rob can tell us about his new series from DC’s respected Vertigo imprint:
FPI: Hi, Rob. Not content to rest of your laurels after the spectacular Trifecta and taking Dredd to Titan in the current 2000 AD you’ve teamed up again with Simon Coleby for what sounds like a pretty intriguing alt-history tale. Could you tell us a little about Royals: Masters of War?
Rob: The ‘elevator pitch’ is that this is a world where the only people who have superpowers are royalty. And the purer the bloodline, the greater the power level. So a King or Queen would be Superman level, whereas a duke or a baron might just be able to put on a pretty light show for decorative purposes. And we’re setting our story against the canvas of World War II. We open in 1940 and then follow our leads – the British Royal Family – through an alternate history of the conflict. It’s Downton Abbey with superpowers. Kind of.
FPI: I believe you’ve structured the series around major turning points during different years of the Second World War?
Rob: Yeah, we had a six-issue series, so one issue for every year of the war seemed a good structural spine. It also allows us to move through some of the war’s major set-pieces. The Battle of Britain, Pearl Harbor, Midway, Stalingrad, D-Day and the siege on Berlin. Our character move on a year between issues, so you’ll see the effect the conflict has on them. Tangible character arcs. They are not the same people by the end of our storyline.
FPI: What sort of influences lead you to this story? The old war comics for boys that were such a staple of the old Brit comics world, or the classic British war movies?
Rob: I’m naturally interested in World War II and tend to read a lot on the era. We have a number of influences though. Even though it’s a book featuring superpowers it’s not really a superheroes comic. It’s a story set in a war, but there’s a love story, albeit a very unconventional. rather tragic one. And more than anything it’s the tale of one family. I’d occasionally be intimidated, trying to detail world history of a conflict this vast in six issues. But my mantra on the book was ‘it’s about a family.’ The backdrop is a large appeal for The Royals, but any book has to be about the characters, first and foremost.
FPI: With this sort of alt-history tale you get to play with all the toys – good, big, widescreen war story, historical interest and details, the personal aspect and superpowers too, but the downside is you really need to do your research to make sure the historical side of it is accurate, how did you and Simon approach that?
Rob: We researched! I’d not claim to have bunkered up and done a PhD on the subject but I read what I could on the era. I know Simon did a lot of visual research. I did a lot too, putting links and photo reference in the script for him. We wanted this to be a book where the vehicles, the uniforms, the buildings all looked authentic of the era. Of course, that’s very time consuming to do. But the book is elevated because of that, I think.
When you see Spitfires in issue #1 they have the 1940 colour scheme. When you see the Japanese aircraft carriers in Midway they are the actual aircraft carriers. Simon near killed himself with this series, but it’s a beautiful thing as a result. We’ve shown the pages to a lot of people in the industry, friends etc, and every one has been blown away by Simon’s work on the book.
FPI: Did you find having well-researched proper details from the real history helped to ground the story a bit, to counterbalance the more fantastical elements? Or was this an excuse for the pair of you to sit around making WWII bomber Airfix model kits and call it research?
Rob: Simon and I are both big old plane geeks anyway, so Airfix kit building doesn’t sound a hardship to me. I’ve got my eventual retirement all worked out. I’m going to build a big shed, drink lots of single malt whisky, read lots of books and make model airplanes.
Actually, that was one of the driving factors behind the series. Simon and I were on the phone moaning about how aircraft in comics rarely look like the real aircraft. Simon recalls saying to me ‘I want to draw World War II planes’. And off we went from there. Ben Oliver, who I’ve worked with a few times over the years, once said to me ‘even if you were writing a kitchen drama you’d have a plane fly past the window.’ He might have a point.
FPI: In our own lifetimes we’ve seen some royals go off to war – Prince Andrew during the Falklands and more recently Prince Harry in Afghanistan while historically royals have been the rallying point for the national call to arms (and much further back they actually led the combat). Did you have some of those images and events in mind when creating your fictional royals and laying out what they would actually do in this alternative history?
Rob: Not particularly. It was more wondering what our characters would do in such a situation. There’s a great book on the Battle of Britain called The Most Dangerous Enemy by Stephen Bungay, that I’d recommend, which had this story about how a Nazi aircraft was heading towards Buckingham Palace to ram it and a British pilot flew alongside and tipped its wing so it narrowly missed. That’s a true story. Germany was bombing London daily but this palace stays untouched. I was wondering how that would make its inhabitants feel. And if you had super powers but were forbidden to intervene by your father – which is what happens to our protagonist, Prince Henry when we meet him – what would you do? Would you just let German planes drop bombs on your city every day?
But there’s a good reason the King bans his children from getting involved. There’s a truce between all the royals around the globe because they know, if they get involved, things will get a LOT worse, both for them and for the ordinary people. When Henry can stand no more, it’s a heroic act, but it escalates the war wildly and, as we’ll eventually see, it could lead to a different outcome.
FPI: Will Royals be a one-off mini-series or are there any plans to follow it up with more if it goes down well with the readers? Cold War era perhaps? Or go back to an earlier period to see how these powers developed and how they influenced the shaping of history?
Rob: There’s plenty of creative opportunities to do more, given the concept. And I have something in mind. Both Simon and I would love to do more The Royals. It’ll depend on sales.
FPI would like to than Rob for taking the time to tell us a little more about his new series. The first issue of Royals: Masters of War is published by DC’s Vertigo line next month and should be on the racks on February 12th; it can be ordered via our comics subscription site. You can keep up with the latest from Rob via his site and his Twitter.