RICH INTERVIEWS: Shawn Manning Writer for Macbeth: The Red King
First Comics News: Have you read the original Macbeth, if so what did you think of it?
Shawn Manning: I first read Macbeth in middle school, I think. I was immediately drawn to the language. I know that’s what trips a lot of people up reading Shakespeare, but I was really drawn to it. And it was much more engaging as a story than Romeo and Juliet, which I’m not sure I’d read at the time but was aware of as a thing. If I’d read it before then, it didn’t stick.
But later I performed in a production of Macbeth in college. I was a soldier, basically just somebody for Macbeth, Macduff, and company to kill over and over. It was great fun, and talking with the dramaturgy students studying the play was when I first learned that these were all real people — except for Banquo and Fleance — and that Shakespeare wrote the play specifically to make the new King James happy. That got me thinking, and fifteen-plus years later led to my own take on Macbeth.
1st: How is your comic different from the play of Macbeth?
Shawn: Well, he’s the good guy in mine. Oh, and mine has vikings. The story is entirely different, though there will be some familiar notes. Gruoch (“Lady Macbeth”) is a powerful figure, though she’s much more noble in mine. In both stories, there is an ambition to Macbeth, but in The Red King, it’s not his downfall.
1st: How would you describe Macbeth’s personality?
Shawn: He sees himself as the rightful king, and he’s not entirely wrong. Tradition is on his side because up until Malcolm II passed the crown to his grandson Duncan, the kingship has alternated between two royal families, and it was Macbeth’s line’s turn. So he’s proud, boastful, confident. He’s also oddly pious; he and his wife founded a bunch of monasteries, and Macbeth himself traveled to Rome to meet with the pope — all of this is factually true. And his given name Macbeth means “Son of Life,” which would be understood as an overtly Christian name. So I looked at what it would mean for a man who is, essentially, a warlord to ponder what it means to be a good man. It would be difficult to say he succeeds in being “good” by modern standards — he does murder a slew of people, including his stepson’s father — but I feel he’s no worse than others in his circumstance.
1st: What is the situation Macbeth finds himself in?
Shawn: The book opens with Macbeth killing Duncan, not in his sleep as Shakespeare presented but rather on the field of battle — with Duncan as the aggressor. From there, Macbeth must secure his reign by putting down rebellious lords and subduing viking raiders, all while the deposed prince Malcolm plots away in England. But Macbeth is also contending with a difficult family relationship. He tries to be a good father to his stepson, Lulach, and mostly succeeds; but the central fact of their relationship is that Macbeth killed Lulach’s dad.
1st: How would you describe the time period of “Macbeth: The Red King”?
Shawn: 11th century Scotland, roughly 1040-1057 AD.
1st: Besides Macbeth which other characters are featured?
Shawn: His wife Gruoch, who also has a strong royal claim; Lulach, her son; Prince Malcolm, Duncan’s son and the future king; and Thorfinn, Earl of Orkney and Caithness, whose loyalties are split between his Scottish and Viking heritage.
1st: Who is the artist on “Macbeth: The Red King” and how would you describe their style?
Shawn: This is my third book working with Anna Wieszczyk, who has also done a stellar job on Godkiller at Black Mask Studios. Anna’s style brings this loose, free-flowing energy to every book she illustrates. She’s the one who really brings these characters to life.
1st: You wrote for “Star Wars Adventures” how did it feel working on such a well-known franchise?
Shawn: Really, really exciting. A bit challenging to get all the details right, but I’m really pleased how the story turned out.
1st: Would you like to visit the Star Wars Universe if so why or why not?
Shawn: Oh, I probably would. But it seems like the bad guys pretty much always have the upper hand in the galaxy so it could be rough going.
1st: Why is “Hell, Nebraska” a book people should read?
Shawn: It’s the story of a man who discovers that Hell doesn’t exist, so he decides to create it in the middle of the American heartland. Hell, Nebraska seems to be the book most people know me from, which I really didn’t expect. It’s a kind of supernatural horror/teen drama along the lines of Death Note, but with a different focus.
1st: Any chance of you making a comic book based on another Shakespeare play?
Shawn: I learned about Macbeth through the play, but what was driving Macbeth: The Red King was the history. So probably not. If I did the Henry Cycle, for example, it would really just be historical fiction about Henry V — more folks are aware of him as an actual historical figure than are aware that Macbeth was a real person.
1st: What is the last book you worked on and what is it about?
Shawn: Macbeth: The Red King is the last book I’ve done that was all mine, but I’ve had short stories in Alterna’s anthology IF: Crime and a few other places. My story there is a Judge Dredd parody that sees two space cops tracking down a master criminal known as Spartacus.
1st: What will you be working on next?
Shawn: I have a few things in the works right now. I’m shopping a superhero legacy story with artist Ross Campbell, we’ve had some positive responses but nothing confirmed yet. And there’s another history thing that’s moving along, very excited to talk more about that later.
1st: What would you like to say to those who read your comics?
Shawn: Thanks! It really means a lot to me, and I hope you’ve enjoyed them.