I had first talked to J.H. Williams III about us doing a print together soon after my first print with Alan Moore was released in late 2007. Jim was very supportive, thought it was a fine idea, and offered to work with me on one. I agreed, but it took us a while to get to it. In late 2008 I started putting my thoughts together and working on my version of the text. I showed the first part of that last time, here’s the rest, the text I planned to actually use on the print itself:
King Uther Pendragon fell sick, and he yielded up the ghost. Then stood the realm of England in great jeopardy a long while, for every lord made himself strong, and many weened to be king. The Archbishop sent for all the gentlemen of arms that they should come by Christmas unto London. In the greatest church of London, all were long in the church to pray. When the mass was done, there was seen in the churchyard a great marble stone four square; and in midst thereof was like an anvil of steel a foot high, and therein stuck a fair sword, naked by the point, and letters there were written in gold that said: “Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born of all England.”
The people marvelled, and all the lords went to beholden the stone and the sword. When they saw the scripture some assayed, such as would have been king, but none might stir the sword nor move it.
Then there was made a cry, that every man should assay to win the sword. Upon New Year’s Day the barons let make jousts and a tournament. So it happened that Sir Ector rode unto the jousts, and with him rode Sir Kay, his son, and young Arthur, Kay’s brother. As they rode, Sir Kay missed his sword, for he had left it at his father’s lodging, and he prayed Arthur to ride for it. “I will well,” said Arthur, and rode fast, but when he came to the home, all were out.
Then Arthur was wroth, and said to himself, “I will ride to the churchyard, and take the sword that sticketh in the stone, for my brother Kay shall not be without a sword this day.”
When he came to the churchyard he found no knights there, for they were at the jousting. He grasped the sword by the handles, and lightly and fiercely pulled it out of the stone, and took horse and rode until he came to Sir Kay, and delivered him the sword.
As soon as Sir Kay saw the sword, he wist well it was the sword of the stone, and he rode to his father. When Sir Ector beheld the sword, he returned them to the church. “Now let me see whether ye can put the sword there as it was.” Arthur put it in the stone, wherewithal Sir Ector assayed to pull it out and failed. “Now assay,” said Ector unto Sir Kay. And he pulled at the sword with all his might, but it would not be. “Now shall ye assay,” said Sir Ector. Arthur pulled it out easily. Sir Ector knelt down to the earth, and Sir Kay. “Alas,” said Arthur, “my own dear father and brother, why kneel ye to me?”
“Nay, my lord Arthur, I was never your father nor your blood.” Then Sir Ector told him all, how he was betaken for to nourish him, by King Uther Pendragon’s commandment, and by Merlin’s deliverance. Therewithal they went unto the Archbishop, and told him how the sword was achieved.
On Twelfth-day all the barons came thither, to assay to take the sword, but none might take it out but Arthur. Wherefore all the commons cried at once, “We will have Arthur unto our king!” And so anon was the coronation made, and was he sworn unto his lords and the commons to be a true king, to stand with justice from thenceforth the days of his life, through the noble prowess of himself and his knights of the Round Table.
You’re welcome to have a look at the full Malory text, from chapters 4-7 of Le Morte d’Arthur. I tried to keep to the core story and leave out less important elements. For instance, the process of Arthur being proclaimed king went on a lot longer in Malory than I have it. Apparently the knights and noblemen took a lot of convincing! Arthur must have gotten pretty tired of putting that sword in and out of the stone.
One thing to notice about the text is how strongly Malory connects Arthur to Christianity. The sword appears in the churchyard, like a holy miracle, at Christmas, while everyone is praying. Arthur’s success is confirmed by the Archbishop. I think Malory did this for several reasons. First, from his writing, he seems to have been a pious man himself, at least in older years when writing this story. Second, it makes sense to give Arthur holy approval, so that when the Holy Grail later appears to him and his Knights, that part of the story seems a continuation of the theme. In reality, the Grail legends joined the Arthur legends pretty late in the process, and in France, not England. Even the connection of the grail to Joseph of Arimathea and the connection of both to Glastonbury in Britain was a pretty late addition by Robert de Boron, a French poet of the 12th-13th century, though he may have been retelling stories already known in Glastonbury. By Making Arthur’s kingship very Christian, Malory integrated that part of his book more convincingly, and it has stayed there ever since. One only has to consider the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, for instance! A third reason also occurs to me: who would be the most likely source of the sword in the stone if it WASN’T a holy miracle? I’d say Merlin! In fact, it seems just like the kind of thing he’d do, to get his protegé on the throne! Malory wisely keeps Merlin out of the way while the whole kingship process is taking place. And by the by, the idea of the kingship being given to the one who pulls a sword from a stone shows up first in the poem Merlin of Frenchman Robert de Boron in the 12th century.
Note also that the “commons,” meaning the common people in general, all acclaimed that they wanted Arthur as their king, according to Malory. An early nod to democracy, in a land that would not see it for centuries. In real England of the time, the common people had little say in their rulers.
In early January I sent the complete text as I’d edited it to Jim, and talked to him on the phone about the layout I’d envisioned. In February he sent back this rough design. It had everything in it we’d talked about, and I thought it was perfect, though I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get the 600 words of Malory text I wanted to use in the spaces on either side. We decided not to use the small inset pictures of Uther and Merlin at the bottom to leave more space for text, and the characters were not central to the story being shown anyway. Jim still wanted some kind of decorative element across the bottom, to balance the title area at the top, and I suggested the two battling dragons from the King Arthur and his Knights book, via Geoffrey of Monmouth. Jim liked that idea. And I like to think of them as representing the Saxon forces of Uther (represented by the Golden Dragon Geoffrey gives him as a standard), and the Celtic forces opposed to him (represented by the red dragon of Wales), though, of course, we wouldn’t be showing them in color. Here’s an image of the Welsh dragon I sent Jim for reference:
For the sword itself, I had found a website for inspiration, and passed it on to Jim. Many of the swords on it I thought too ornate to use, and he wisely kept his design pretty simple, but the shape and proportions were helpful, I think.
Jim also wanted to use some Celtic symbols. I suggested a mix of Celtic and Christian symbols, building on the dual nature of Arthur as suggested by Malory and T.H. White, and Jim agreed to that. I said I would do some searching online for things that I thought might work. Here are some I found:
I also had found a good image of what the Holy Grail might have looked like, assuming it was a simple metal cup that might have been used at the time of Christ. I sent that to Jim, too, in case he wanted to use it as one of the Christian symbols:
One final element we talked about was a border design to run down the sides. I suggested a Celtic knotwork pattern, which I could create using a font I have, called, appropriately, the Celtic Knot Font. You can read more about it on the link, essentially each character is a section of knot design, and you can line them up in many ways to create really cool knotwork patterns. I originally bought the font to use on the covers of THUNDERBOLT JAXON:
The thick border there uses a design three characters wide, while the small line under the story title uses a single line of characters. For our print, I first did these small samples and sent them to Jim:
The sample on the left uses a double row of characters, the one on the right a single row. After he saw them, we agreed a single row on each side would be best, to leave as much room as possible for art and text. Here’s part of the final designs I sent him:
Then my part was done for the moment. I knew Jim was busy drawing Batwoman for DETECTIVE COMICS, and it would take him a while to get to our print art, but he worked on it between other things, and in April sent me a file containing the final art. I’ll continue with that next time.