The Heather Ale – a one-shot – spoiler light

THA-coverThe Heather Ale
Published by Black Hearted Press
In collaboration with Williams Bros Brewing Co

Writer: Jack Lothian
Artist: Alan Brown

Based on the poem
Heather Ale
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Genre – Historic, Literature

I hadn’t heard of Black Hearted Press until the announcement that John Wagner, Alan Grant and Carlos Ezquerra were developing a new comic for them. At that point I realised they run Glasgow Comic Con, of which I have heard but never attended.

So that put them on my radar.

Recently artist Dan Cornwell whose work I know from Dogbreath was signed to illustrate another title from John Wagner and Alan Grant for Black Hearted Press. You can read that announcement on the Black Hearted Press site.

So when at Thought Bubble earlier this month I sought them out to have a look at their line.

Written by screen writer Jack Lothian (Skins, Shameless, Ashes to Ashes) and illustrated by Alan Brown (Ben 10, Hello Kitty, Viz), Jack Lothian is the Editor-in-Chief with Black Hearted Press.

The poem by Robert Louis Stephenson is in itself a work of fiction. The fabled Heather Ale of the Picts, a brew so perfect that all who drank it wanted no other brew, inspired the poem. Williams Bros Brewing Co celebrated 25 years of brewing their own version of Heather Ale, “Fraoch”, this year and this comic was launched at Glasgow Comic Con in celebration.

The story is about the King of Scotland and his persecution of the Picts. The Picts were the original inhabitants of the land far north of Hadrian’s Wall, the wall itself was built in Brigantes territory. Despite what many think the Picts were not one tribe, they were a confederation of tribes, as were the equally expansive Brigantes.

Much is lost from history regarding the Picts as they were conquered by Vikings and eventually subsumed by Gaelic invaders from Ireland. In all likelihood the Picts lived on under Gaelic rule and their genetics survive. Their culture however is lost, along with it the Heather Ale.

The story begins with a peaceful scene of a Pictish village sometime after harvest. Heather Ale has been brewed and kith and kin have come together to celebrate their strong ties. Our narrator is a Monk, he is likely of Gaelic origin as he is writing from the viewpoint of the Scots.

The King of the Scots leads a raid on one such peaceful gathering and after the slaughter he drinks their ale. Finding it so much to his taste he wishes to have the secret of its brewing. The villagers however were all put to the sword.

His men from then on were sent for and wide to locate someone who knew the secrets of the brew. Finally the last two men with such knowledge were located. An elderly man and his youthful son.

The story is written in the form of an account by a someone who lived through the period rather than in the style of the source poem. It is a very neat story with clear and crisp tone.

The artwork is well suited to a historic tale. Given that the poem makes it clear that Pict and Celt look different I am suprised there is no obvious ethnic difference. It is however still clear who is who. Interestingly some of the art bleeds in to the gutters on the page, this is clearly deliberate and I think adds to the concept that this is an aged document from some time soon after the events.

In most ways this is a very close interpretation of the source poem, apart from the racial stereotyping by Stevenson. A very satisfying story.


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