‘The Character Has Integrity At The Heart Of Its Success’ – Looking Back At Sláine: The Horned God With Pat Mills

by Oliver MacNamee

With a hectic schedule to this day, Pat Mills was generous enough to find the time to answer a few questions on his memories of Sláine: The Horned God an epic that’s nearly 30 years old. And one I thoroughly enjoyed revising recently as the first issue in the new Hachette artwork series spotlighting the best 2000AD has had to offer over 4 decades of zarjaz thrills and spills.

Olly MacNamee: Reading this Sláine saga again many years later, it occurred to me that you must have steeped yourself very deeply in Irish Celtic history and mythology. How much research, all-in-all do you think you did for Sláine?

Pat Mills: Masses. Every Celtic original text source I could find. Kinsella’s The Tain and Graves’ The White Goddess are particularly important sources.

OM: And, seeing Simon Bisley artwork for the first time, did you realise what a huge talent you had on your hands in him? Surely he can be considered one of the inspirations behind the success of Sláine?

PM: No, I definitely would NOT say that. It was already hugely popular. Angela Kincaid’s episode was number one, beating Dredd. Something that some fans (and her fellow professionals who ignored her) prefer to white out of the picture because it raises uncomfortable questions which they don’t want to hear the uncomfortable answer to. Although I’d be happy to enlighten them! If they ever asked–which they don’t. Because they already know the difficult truth. That’s you projecting. Because it significantly diminishes the achievements of all the great artists who came before Simon and who followed him.

In fact, none of the artists “inspired” Slaine per se, with the notable exception of Glenn Fabry who did inspire and influence my writing. Others, including Simon, did, too, but in a more limited way. Simon’s achievement was to widen Slaine’s success and to raise it to a major new commercial level, including Europe, which is hugely important. But it’s not an “inspiration“–in fact  Simon’s vision is rather Conanesque which is not really Slaine. But a certain disparity between writer and artist provides a tension which is good for a series.

The important thing on Slaine is that I retained my writer’s vision from Episode One, despite Slaine artists–and occasionally fans and professionals–often trying to alter my vision and take me down other paths.

I think I can safely say I avoided all those detours and I think this is why the character has an integrity which is at the heart of its success. Of course, I could see from the beginning that Simon was a great talent.

OM: Brought up by women and considering himself a consort of the Earth Goddess, Danu, never her master, as a ruler, Sláine seems less barbaric than some modern world leaders I can think of. How important was it to you that Sláine was not just another meat-headed marauder? In The Horned God, he seems to have matured into the role of king.

PM: It follows the Celtic and neolithic matriarchal concepts. I don’t write meat-headed marauders. I leave that to others.

OM: In a sci-fi comic, what do you think was Sláine’s success with readers and, indeed, his ongoing success?

PM:  There’s a natural place for a mythological hero in a sci-fi comic. I like stating this because it annoys so many ignorant people in positions of power in comics who wished it was otherwise and tried to keep Sláine down. ‘Kiss my axe’ is my response to them. Normal comic readers have always got it,  it’s not a big deal.

OM: And finally; religion as a theme seems to loom large in much of your work. Here too. It would seem that this saga is full of mere mortals who twist religion to suit their own purposes. No more so than Slough Feg and his Death Cult. Would it be fair to say that it’s not necessarily faith itself that is the problem, but misuse of that faith and authority maybe? 

PM: Yeah, I’d say that was pretty fair.

Sláine: The Horned God, issue #1 of the 2000AD Ultimate Collection, is out August 23rd with a live Facebook launch on the same date.