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Ladycastle #1 cover by Ashley A. Woods

Delilah S. Dawson (AKA Lila Bowen) is a popular novelist whose work includes the Blud series (Wicked as They Come, Wicked as She Wants, Wicked After Midnight, and more), star Wars: The best Weapon, and The shadow series (Wake of Vultures, Conspiracy of Ravens). Her first original comic series, Ladycastle, is on the way from BOOM! Studios. Dawson recently told Westfield’s Roger Ash a lot more about the series.

Westfield: What was the genesis of Ladycastle?

Delilah S. Dawson: it all came from Monty Python. I was enjoying holy Grail for the millionth time, and when I heard the popular line, “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government,” I thought, but WHAT IF IT WAS? and of course I had to twist it. I wondered what would happen if the king and all his knights happened to be away on a crusade so that only the women were left in the castle when that watery tart hefted aloft the sword Excalibur. who would take it? and I made a decision it would be the blacksmith’s wife. not for the power and glory and gold, but because she was immanently functional and couldn’t let all that quality metal go to waste. and then monsters show up. because in my novels, you can always count on monsters showing up.

Westfield: It seems like you could have a lot of fun checking out fantasy tropes from a different perspective. Is that a part of what you’re doing with the series?

Dawson: Definitely! The round Table needed to be flipped. The men go on crusade… and never come back. The new king… is a strong black woman. The Sleeping Beauty… becomes a fierce warrior. The chosen son… is really a girl who refuses to be girly. The brave knight… is a blowhard coward. and the list goes on. I also had fun weaving in pop culture references, including hat ideas to Terminator 2, Hamilton, Clerks, Purple Rain, and, of course, Disney movies.

Westfield: What can you tell us about the story and who are some of the characters we’ll meet?

Dawson: The plot kicks off when a lone rider techniques the castle and announces that all the men, including the king, were eaten by a dragon. The lady of the Lake, or at least her arm, appears in a fountain to proclaim that whoever takes the sword will be the new king—oh, and also the castle has been cursed. now the king is Merinor, the former blacksmith’s wife, and her chief knight is Aeve, the old king’s daughter, finally freed from the tower where she’s been held captive. Aeve’s scrappy and contrary younger sister, Gwyneff, becomes her squire. The women need to right away learn how to fight, defend the castle, and repel magical creatures, and their only teacher is the coward who escaped the dragon, Sir Riddick.

Oh, yes. There’s absolutely a training montage.

Ashley A. Woods’ designs for the main characters.

Westfield: You’re working with Ashley A. woods on the series. What can you say about your collaboration?

Dawson: I’m so crazy ecstatic to be working with Ashley. The energy and colors of her work blow me away. This was my first experience creating characters and then seeing someone else bring them to life on the page, and her designs had a substantial impact on the scripts. I’m especially pleased with the armor she created for our characters, which is a rad blend of mad Max and classic Medieval. In the first issue, the blacksmith/king has to create special armor for the women that expresses their style while protecting them (and avoiding boob lumps), and it’s outstanding to see Ashley bring such creativity and genius to the work.

Westfield: how much world building did you do for the series?

Dawson: even a lot more than I do for my novels, actually. before I ever began writing the scripts, my editors challenged me to hammer out the voice, characters, plot, and visual feel of Ladycastle. I’ve never shown so much of the work behind my linguistic legerdemain before. We went back and forth until Ladycastle wasn’t just an idea and a tagline but a real, three-dimensional world filled with people carrying real baggage and real promise. I know a lot more about armor and the inner workings of castle drawbridges than I thought possible. I listened to the mad Max: Fury road soundtrack dozens, if not hundreds, of times. some of the little details will, I hope, be visible in the background, like the fact that the barber’s sister, having taken over his shop, keeps his leeches in fishbowls as family pets because she’s too soft-hearted to get rid of them even if she doesn’t believe in bloodletting.

Westfield: You’re mostly known as a novelist. how different is writing comics and what challenges did you encounter?

Dawson: When I read this question, I just started laughing. It’s *so* different, and at first, it kicked my butt. As a novelist, a lot of of my work happens alone, in secret,without sharing the work with any individual until I’ve written revised, and polished the book to a high shine. I know what I’m doing in a novel and have a built-in understanding of story length and character beats. Comics, on the other hand, changes everything. instead of working in one 400+ page burst, my story planning falls over four issues of twenty-two pages each, such that each issue needs its own plot that weaves into the overall arc. Every character has to find their beats without letting the tension lag. and that’s all before I had to start thinking about how to show what’s happening visually.

Fortunately, I have a visual arts degree and worked as an artist before I became a writer. even a lot more fortunately, I have an amazingly supportive editorial team who really dug deep to help get me up to speed. writing the first issue of Ladycastle was like a crash course in comics writing as I learned how to format a script, how to show action in a still, and how to keep from absolutely crowding the page. My stories all happen somewhat organically, and I really relished the breakthrough moments where my subconscious brought everything together in a way that I hope the reader will find as satisfying as I did when I jumped up and shrieked in that coffee shop.

Ladycastle #1 cover by Elsa Charretier

Westfield: any closing comments?

Dawson: I hope everyone will pick it up and get a copy for their favorite niece. It was crucial to me to write a comic that was fun, fast-paced, but had heart, a story where ladies lifted ladies. BOOM! has been amazingly supportive, and two series that influenced Ladycastle are also BOOM! projects: adventure Time and Lumberjanes. So, you know, pick those up, too. Time to knight up!


Ladycastle #1