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An oral history of 'Hound': Paul Bolger details how the Irish myth made its way to Dark Horse

Comic Books

An oral history of ‘Hound’: Paul Bolger details how the Irish myth made its way to Dark Horse

Insight for both history fans and comics readers alike.

On Tuesday, we told you all about Hound, a graphic novel written and drawn by Paul J. Bolger alongside co-writer Barry Devlin and Dee Cunniffe. But there’s more to this story you need to hear.

For Bolger, it’s been a passion project that’s been in the works since 2014. Bolger has been carefully crafting this work not only to highlight Irish myths but to inspire readers to look at the rich source material. Its goal of fully capturing the rich histories Irish myths is just one reason why AIPT was interested in interviewing the artist.

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So, given that dedication, and that many readers may also be aspiring comics creators themselves, we’ve given Bolger more time to expound the story, his work, and much more. It’s our hope that it can be a chance to farther explore both a lush segment of history and the power of comics as a medium,

And, once more, Hound is due out in bookstores everywhere starting March 9 (via Dark Horse Comics).

AIPT: Hound has been years in the making. What made now the right time for a 488-page hardcover?

Paul Bolger: I don’t know about this being the right time but it certainly feels like the best time.

Hound has a long history that’s for sure. Not to bore the backside off anyone but I guess a recap of how the project started out might help explain how it came to be and how it’s happening now.

Hound started with me asking a colleague, while working as a junior animator in Dublin on the movie All Dogs Go To Heaven, “why are there no Irish legends told the way we Irish tell them on screen or in comics?” He had no answer at the time other than there just wasn’t.

Sure, there were a few silly Leprechaun cartoons and books and other hokey folky yarns and sickly sweet faux traditional or ghostly fireside takes on Irish stories here and there but nothing that showcased our rich pre-Christian culture for a wider audience.

The Mythic Cycles are great but you often need a degree in Hiberno-English and the patience of a saint (or is that scholar) to get through them sometimes. So, the originals of the species were either read by those in the know or diluted and dumbed down for kids in brightly colored picture books. Irish myth and legend had gone twee and cuddly or it had started to ape other cultures and was slowly being steered toward a more infantile approach. Which is fine, just not for me. I wanted to see an adaptation that would explode from the page or screen in all its original bloody, sexy, and audacious glory.

Hound:' Paul Bolger

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Something had to be done to get back some of the grit that made the old literature so epic and exciting. And like all megalomaniacs with delusions of grandeur, I figured I’d give it a go. That was in the early 1990s.

The story that screamed at me the most to try and adapt was The Hound of Ulster — one of Europe’s oldest epics written in a vernacular language. So, began the long road to where we are now with the book.

One reason Irish mythology is hard to find in cinema and comics is that it can be non-linear in structure and lends itself more to prose and poetry than the start, middle and end style storytelling. This is the legacy of the oral tradition that spawned it.

There are lots of other reasons that Irish or more widely Celtic, myths and legends have not found their way to the wider world via cinema or comics – arguably the two most popular mediums for adapting ancient epics. Since the Graeco-Roman and Anglo/Nordic/Germanic cultures had replaced that of Celtic Europe by the Middle Ages and as we know the victors always write history and steer the culture in their favor. You could say that the losers of the culture wars hadn’t a hope of airing their side.

Things have changed and in the last decade, there have been many interpretations of Irish and Celtic folklore and mythology in both animation, film, TV, and comics. Creators and world audiences are finally waking to this largely untapped resource of entertainment for modern audiences.

Hound:' Paul Bolger

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

My first attempt at adapting Cú was as a comic many years ago but due to working in animation, I had little time to explore it further. So, the obvious choice was to make a movie of it. After many attempts to get that going in both animation and live-action and finding film finance a very high wall to climb, especially in the times I tried with the story I had in my back pocket, I went back to my first love. Comics.

I dug out all the designs and other ideas I had collated over the years and convinced my film producing partner on the project, Hugh Welchman (Peter & The Wolf, Loving Vincent), the best way to move the project forward was to do a graphic novel version of my take on it.

If nothing else we would tell the story the way we wanted and the cost would not be as prohibitive as a feature film. He agreed and so began the creation of the book! We already had a screenplay, written with my creative brother from another mother Barry (Devlin) with support from Screen Ireland, and this served as the bedrock we would build “Dogboy” on.

We ran three successful Kickstarter campaigns which allowed me to take time out between 2014 – 2017 to draw the book. When renowned colorist Dee Cunniffe came on board to letter and prep the book for print and my old college mate Fran Walsh came up with our cooler than cool logo I knew we had something. We had over 1000 people back the three volumes of our original extremely limited hardcover trilogy edition and three years later we had a finished book. We only printed 750 of each volume and they are long sold out. I wanted to put all three volumes together in one book so we pitched it to a few publishers and the response was complimentary but most of those we showed it to said it was too large a project for them to put out.

Then a light shone through the incoming first dark wave of COVID-19 and everything changed in a matter of days.

Hound:' Paul Bolger

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

He will probably hate me for saying this but the amazing edition of Hound that is about to be unleashed would not have happened if it was not for writer/artist Brendan McCarthy (Fury Road, 2000AD, etc.). Brendan sent me a very kind message back in or around the first Kickstarter effort saying he liked a particular page I’d drawn and shown online as a sample of what was to come. I was blown away by this and we kept in touch a little afterward. I have all his books FFS. And Fury Road? Well…no words needed. He the man!

Anyways Brendan said he knew someone who might be interested in publishing Hound for us the way I envisaged it. One volume. 500 pages. Hardback! So, I sent him what I thought might grab attention, and the next thing I know there is an email in my inbox from Mike Richardson via Brendan saying he wanted the book for Dark Horse. Mike and I must have talked for 3 hours when we met (via Zoom) – Hound had found its one true home.

When we got into prepping the book my editor Patrick Thorpe said he wanted to keep it as written which I took as a great compliment. When I suggested a 15-page gallery at the back of the book showing interpretations of Hound characters by some of my better-known comics artist, illustrator, and animator friends Patrick and the team at DH went for that too. What more could an aging scribbler ask for? Dream publisher. Dream edition of my first book!

Talk about meeting your heroes!

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