DC Comics unveils fantasy series set in Glasgow

With its hidden world of mythological gods and monsters lurking below the streets, Red Thorn is one of the most striking and atypical depictions of the Dear Green Place.

Picture: John Devlin
Picture: John Devlin

The profile of Glasgow is set to receive a surprising boost, as one of the world’s leading comic publishers unveils a new series devoted to the lore, legends and pop culture of Scotland’s biggest city.

Described as a “dark fantasy epic,” Red Thorn is the latest title to join the celebrated roster of DC Comics, the company behind Batman and Superman, though it is published under its “mature readers” Vertigo imprint.

The first issue, published last week to critical acclaim, follows the story of Isla Mackintosh. An American with Scottish heritage, she arrives in the city in the hope of finding her missing sister, only to discover all is not as it seems, with an ancient pagan demigod known as Thorn escaping a prison deep underground.

Meghan Hetrick. Picture: John Devlin

The story of how the two worlds collide represents a major breakthrough for Red Thorn’s creator, David Baillie, a West Lothian-born writer and artist who grew up in Glasgow. A former analyst for British Aerospace and programmer for Deutsche Bank, he has spent the past decade forging a successful freelance career, penning scripts for the likes of 2000AD and Judge Dredd Megazine. His golden opportunity arrived last year when he was invited by Vertigo to pitch a new title. At first, he was unsure whether the US company would be interested in a story set entirely in his adopted home city.

“It seemed like a hard sell,” Baillie recalled. “DC is based in Los Angeles and everything stars surfers and sunshine. I was pitching this book set in a world of perpetual rain. It’s a very different style to the hundreds of other comics out there today, which tend to be much more shiny.”

His concerns, fortunately, proved unfounded. After running the idea past Shelly Bond, Vertigo’s editor-in-chief, she described it as a “brilliant” idea.

“Shelly thought the idea of a comic set in Glasgow was exotic and I guess when you’re in Scotland, you’re used to the weather and the amazing, sometimes hidden, architecture. You don’t appreciate it.

David Baillie. Picture: John Devlin

“It was only when I started talking about Glasgow that a buzz started to happen, and all the film and television guys at Warner Bros [owners of DC comics] began to get excited.”

Encouraged by Bond’s enthusiasm for the project, Baillie decided to populate Red Thorn’s world with familiar sights, wandering around the city taking photographs of street furniture, landscapes and buildings that could be brought to life by his US-based collaborator, artist Meghan Hetrick.

In the first issue, entitled “Glasgow Kiss”, eagle-eyed readers will spot such well-known locations as the Necropolis, Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow School of Art and the Clyde Auditorium.

After using Baillie’s photographs and maps of the city, Hetrick said she felt the city had a strong visual identity. “It’s a place that’s unique and full of character, but there is a creepiness to it as well,” she explained.

One scene sees the characters pass the famous sign of the Barrowlands, a venue Baillie says played an important part in his burgeoning interest in graphic art. He once ran a stall at its market and spent his free time there browsing through boxes of old 2000AD issues.

The city, Baillie believes, has not only informed the comic’s look, but its characters and dialogue. “There’s a humour and argumentativeness to Glasgow people, and I’ve given that trait to pretty much the entire main cast,” he explained.

Already, the pair have completed a year’s worth of comics as part of Red Thorn’s initial series and, depending on commercial success, hope it will prosper for several years to come.

With the medium proving a popular source for movie and television adaptations, they have also received interest from producers in the US.

“People are interested,” said Baillie. “That’s all I’m allowed to say!”