Monday, September 14, 2015

Saltire Interview with John Ferguson: Part II

Outlanderhomepage Originals 

by D.Elisabeth Aymett 

Welcome back for Part II of the interview with John Ferguson, creative genius of Scotland’s first Superhero – Saltire.

We left off with the question of what would be John’s top three battles for which he’d like Saltire to come and make the difference and change history. We promised you a surprise on the answer John gave for his pick for number three, so here it is:

John: I’m going to throw a bit of a curve ball and say the third one would be a metaphoric battle that is yet to come, and would be essentially helping Scotland become an independent country once again. Be it right now or in years to come, I would love to see Saltire turn up and be the inspiration for Scottish self-determination.

OHP: And of course Saltire is immortal and infinite so he gets to show up in time whenever or wherever you want him to, which is a very cool super power to have!

John: One of the things we’d like to do is put him in the future. Scotland has a fascinating past but perhaps has an even more interesting future. With what’s going on culturally and politically, we think there’s more to be done with Saltire in the future, probably at least as much as the past and that’s going to be a lot of fun.

OHP: Well, we’d love to see that happen for Scotland as well.

John: We’ll get there. I mean, it’s happening. It’s taking maybe longer than some people would like, but it will happen in my lifetime. It keeps everyone calm just knowing it’s coming, it’s just a matter of when.

OHP: Well, I’ll go off-script here for a moment and mention those leaked emails between Sony and the Prime Minister’s office where they discussed the delay of airing Outlander in the UK until after the vote on Scottish Independence. 

John: Yeah, that was quite interesting, wasn’t it? 

OHP: Wasn’t it just?

John: That tells you what a difficult place Scotland’s cultural sector is. There’s no publishing industry, no television industry, no film industry, so everything you hear about us comes from somewhere else. And that’s why we need our American cousins to help us out because we are filtered through London-based media. So whatever you hear about Scotland doesn’t come from Scotland. That’s why Saltire is so popular because we are self-published. No one has control of what we do, we don’t have stipulations. I think we maybe get on some nerves because of it, but we like it that way.

OHP: It would be essential from your point of view! Good for you!

John: Yeah, we can say what we want and go straight to America with it. We know this is not going to interest London and they would possibly suppress it. But we know we can go to Los Angeles and to New York and there will be interest because there’s a huge affinity with Scottish history and culture and the vibrancy of the connection between our two countries. So we’re going to bring Saltire to America and see if we can make friends over there. (Note to John: you’ve just made some new American friends!)

OHP: Well, we’ll do our part at our wee blog to help you get here!

John: Love it!

OHP: We’ll tweet it out to Mr. Ron Moore who may have some ideas on how your franchise could expand.

John: Fantastic! That would help.

OHP: We’ll try!

John: We really do want to break into America, where it’s a much bigger market than Scotland. And there’s also Canada and Australia and the rest of the English-speaking world out there and all these people who are interested in Scotland and have Scottish heritage. A lot of people think Scotland is subdued, but that isn’t really true. There are a lot of Scottish artists and creatives who are very active and just need to get their stuff out there internationally, which would be fantastic for the country.

OHP: We’ll be looking forward to it! John, we talked about Culloden, but how do you think Scotland would be different now if that battle hadn’t been lost? Obviously, Highland culture was all but wiped out, but anything else?

John: Wow, another really great question…so you see Gaelic culture, Gaelic language would not have died out the way it has. That language was outlawed for several generations. Having been a very vibrant and normal part of Scottish life, it was ruined, as were a lot of the traditions, like bagpipes, Scottish dress such as the kilt and plaid were outlawed. So that has a massive bearing on any culture. But you know, Scottish people are just naturally rebellious (laughing) and they fought hard to hang on to their culture and still do to this day. I mean you never ask a Scottish person, “Where do you come from?” and have them say, “Oh, I’m British.” It just doesn’t happen. Scottish people will always say they’re Scottish.

The change happened I think through WWI and WWII, where there was obviously a greater threat to democracy and civilization from Hitler and the Nazis and that meant that the British empire and the rest of Europe, along with America, all came together to fight this horrible entity which had taken hold of much of the continent.

That’s when some Scottish people started to identify more with Britishness so some of it would’ve happened anyway because of the world wars and the industrial revolution. It may not have taken a battle with such a horrendous outcome as Culloden for the countries to still become a Union.

I mean, the Industrial Revolution would still have happened so that meant the aristocracy wanted land, and labor, to work in factories. And the World Wars would still have happened so…I think, if the Jacobites had won at Culloden, we’d probably still have a somewhat United Kingdom but Scottish culture would be much stronger than it is today. It’s a really interesting question.

I think we’d have a much stronger Gaelic and Highland culture and that probably would have made a difference in how our country is perceived.

OHP: Well, John, you have been extremely forthcoming and generous with your time. And I so appreciate it, just one more question then?

John: Oh, absolutely! You ask me anything and I’ll tell you honestly what I think (he really does seem to be this sort of man!).

OHP: So, I was just reading today in Scotland Now that there are several upcoming events planned at the Culloden Museum and Culloden House to commemorate the ‘15. Are you planning on attending any of them?

John: You know, for most of my family and friends, Culloden isn’t a place you like to visit. It’s a sad place, it’s like when people go and visit any war battlefield where your ancestors died.

OHP: Like Gettysburg for us?

John: Yeah. It’s not a place we tend to gravitate towards. A lot of tourists do. I imagine it’s the same as if you asked the people of Belgium or France how often do they go and visit the battlefields from the Great Wars. It’s, you know, it’s a tragic place. People go to Glencoe, holiday makers, but when you talk of the horrific events of the Glencoe massacre, it’s not a happy place for Scottish people to go and visit. It’s another fascinating part of our history, but, well, if I go to Culloden, it’s never with any sense of joy or happiness because it’s not really that long ago. My six times great grandmother would have been around at the time (this, my fellow Americans, is the difference in how Scots perceive history and our perception of it!). So we look back and the awful oppression of the Highlanders and what happened to them and how their culture was wiped out on the back of that. So, I may, but it wouldn’t be one of those things I’d take my family to make an occasion. It would always be a somber place for us.

Some of the other battlefields in Scotland, you say, “Hey, let’s go and see this iconic place.” But that’s because, well, we won most of them. Scots traditionally won battles, we’re quite an aggressive bunch, but it’s not the same at Culloden.

OHP: Well, it’s a pretty impressive people who could beat back the Roman Army.

John: Yes, it’s another one of those stories that have only been written down from the Roman perspective.

OHP: Yeah, they kind of won a technical victory there, but then found out it was way too much trouble to occupy the land they’d, um, “conquered” shall we say.

John: Yeah! Saying the Romans won their conflict with Scotland is like saying Hitler won WWII because he did quite well at the start. 

OHP: (laughing again – John has a wicked sense of humor – how did that man get me to laugh 30 seconds after talking about Culloden? Ah – I have it – John is really one of those naughty faeries in disguise…) Right!

John: You do get some Roman historians who insist that the Romans did invade and conquer Scotland. But Hitler invaded France and was able to occupy them, but then his army got flattened. To me, you have to look at the entirety of the history.

OHP: I would have to agree. The Romans ended up building a wall to mark the boundary of where their Empire ended and Scotland began. Nothing like that happened anywhere else.

John: Right! In fact, in my opinion, Scotland has never really been conquered in its entire history, at least as far as the Scottish people are concerned. Because every time someone has come along with a big Empire and said, “You must join our Empire.” We’ve gone, “Well, eh…. no.” It may take a year or five or ten, but at no time were the Scottish people truly subjugated and made part of an empire. Maybe occupied, but we would always fight back.

We’re kind of like the rebel alliance in Star Wars, if you’ve ever seen that movie?

OHP: I have. (I’m sure I sounded a bit confused here. Hard to think of Scotland as Tatooine, but let’s try, shall we?)

John: So, like that – occupied, but never conquered. The worst thing that ever happened was Culloden, which wiped out Highland culture. And part of the problem there was Scots on both sides. Scotland has seen the worst when she was divided against herself. But that’s true of any country; they’re at their most vulnerable when you get them fighting amongst themselves. Scotland’s had that problem once or twice.

For instance at Culloden, some of the Scots fought against the Jacobites because the Stuarts were Catholic and they wanted a Protestant king. Religion was used to divide the country. So, yeah, we made a mess of it a couple of times, but I always feel Scotland has persevered as a culture and as a country and I think it always will.

And you know, the next generation coming through, the college and school kids, they’re in a time when Scotland is a very vibrant place with a great future. My generation and older, we look back towards the past. That shows up a bit in my writing, where you see Saltire in history, trying to rectify things, where the next generation might like to see Saltire in aspects of the future. And it’s important to try and follow their lead.

OHP: Well, we’ll watch with interest to see how you do that. So, obviously you do believe that one very strong character could make that difference and change history?

John: Well, you know, people rally around figureheads. If it’s pop culture then you can reference a character like Batman.

Batman is now one of the biggest icons in the world and if you think of it, there’s this man who’s jumping around wearing his spandex pants and a cape and standing on top of buildings and we should all really think he’s nuts, but people think it’s awesome (I’m giggling now…note to self – I am NOT a teenager!). But we do find societies will rally behind a figure and we hope that Saltire can be a part of that, certainly for Scotland, and maybe internationally.

I’d love to be able to take it international then come back to Scotland and say, “Look what we did.” to inspire the next generation of creative thinkers from Scotland. Because we need more books, movies, TV shows and such, like Outlander. Right now, when people reference international Scottish media, it’s Outlander, Outlander or Outlander. And Outlander is great (no, I did not make him say this, I swear!). But really we should have more movies, more TV shows, more books, comic books, video games that profile Scotland. And we don’t have that right now.

You’re in California (note: this particular Wee Lass IS in California) and you folk are always thinking of the future and think “yeah, we can make this, and do that” the next movie or video game but in Scotland, not so much. So I think America understands creativity and that’s where we need a bit of help from your side, particularly in California where people are very, very forward thinking. So I think there’s going to be a lot of cross pollination between Scotland and the United States.

OHP: Right. Maybe Silicon Valley is the next place where you can export Saltire?

John: One of our big plans is to get out to California next year, get to some of the big Comic Cons. (Ahem, Mr. Heughan, are ye listening???) Hopefully to New York as well. America doesn’t have the agenda that the UK does where they say, “We don’t want that” because it shows a strong Scottish character.

America, the land of the free and the home of the brave – you can’t be that and not feel an affinity for the Scottish story.

OHP: Absolutely!

John: America was a colony of England. You fought your war and won your freedom.

OHP: Yes, well, and let’s give credit where credit is due. Look how many of the colonials at that time were transplanted Scots. We benefited from those fierce Scottish warriors that came over after Culloden.

John: That’s right. And that’s why, I think, so many people have an affinity with their Irish or Scottish heritage. You know the Irish, about a hundred years ago, said “Well, we’re fed up with this Union; we’re leaving.” And they did it through violent means. I would hate to see Scotland do anything violent. I think we can do it democratically. I think we can achieve independence and still be friends. That’s what everyone wants to see. It’s about a cultural change it’s not about aggression, doing it the way it was done by America or Ireland that belongs in the history books.

OHP: Right.

John: They were fighting against an army but to me we’re not fighting; we are trying to change opinions. I think in a cultural sense, helping, whether it’s through print media, movies, television, or interviews, filling the vacuum and bringing young Scots to the fore and making a vibrant independent country, without any axe to grind or falling out with anyone. Still being friends with everyone in England, in America, in Ireland. That’s what we should do, and I think that’s what we will do, but it may take a few years.

OHP: Let’s hope so. Getting back to Saltire (we were having such fun discussing history – it comes alive the way John talks about it) I did want to ask you about the tattoos on Saltire’s arms. What’s the meaning of those?

John: The symbols on his arms actually say “Saltire” in Pictish Ogham, the original script of Caledonia, dating back a couple of thousand years. We’ve made it cursive so it’s a little prettier. It’s something we will use throughout the series when the more ancient side of Scotland’s alchemy and magic are portrayed.

OHP: Any plans to make Saltire into a video game?

John: There’s quite a video game industry in Scotland. Grand Theft Auto, which is the one of the biggest computer games in the world, is made in Scotland, even though it’s set in California. So we may not have to go too far to find people interested in what we do in the gaming industry.

We’ve had some interest from the gaming industry from over in the States. It’s a matter of us going and taking the actual comic books and getting them published and profiled in America, get it some traction there. Then knocking on some doors and seeing who wants to make this into a video game, or turn it into a movie. You know we’ve got some fantastic Scottish actors and directors.

OHP: Oh, God yes!

John: You’re an Outlander fan so you know how many talented Scottish people are in those mediums.

OHP: Speaking of talented people, you know Sam Heughan is a huge fan of your work.

John: He’s fantastic. He was a TV actor here in Scotland before he became “Jamie”.

And as far as the movie industry, producers like Scotland because it’s such a nice country, but we need the forward thinking of America to help us push it onto the international stage. We’re really thankful for all the support we’ve had, in particular with the Outlander fans from America. It’s been quite special for us because we are popular in comic books but Outlander fans are fans of literature and television and those are different mediums so we are very appreciative of that.

OHP: We are really looking forward to seeing you here in the States and thank you so much for your time.

John: We look forward to bringing Saltire Stateside and meeting all the Outlander fans. Thanks.

The Wee Lasses wish to thank John and Claire for their graciousness and time in the preparation of this interview. We wish them every success for the release of Annihilation 2, which is coming out next month, and in bringing Saltire to the rest of the world and, hopefully, to the screens, both big and small, in the very near future!

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