If you haven’t checked it out, head over to the Saint James site and read the free 8-page mini-adventure I wrote, She Lives, Still Rules. There’s a naked Syrian Goddess turned cursed mermaid and mythological treasure. What’s not to love? After you’ve done that, come back here and read on to delve into the back story.
Why Mermaids, Anyway?
When I first wrote this short 8-page comic, the Ex Occultus world was starting to take shape. If you’re not familiar, Ex Occultus follows the exploits of adventurer and fortune-hunter Francis Wakefield, the gruff and grizzled Englishman with a tortuous past, and his protégé, a young man only known as Hollander, as they journey through the arcane in search of treasures and fortune, righting wrongs as they go.
I wanted to take the two main characters to an environment they’d never been before – someplace foreign. Underwater is about as foreign as it gets, and there they’d truly be out of their element. After that, it was just a matter of deciding what creature or occult artifact they’d encounter. I settled on mermaids, mostly because I felt like the majority of folklore painted them in a positive light and also because I wanted a female antagonist, further separating it from the Ex Occultus stories that were already out there. But the boys needed a reason to have a run in with the half fish, half human folk.
The Fabled Qur’an Treasure
Being men that were primarily interested in profit, even Wakefield and Hollander would need a damn good reason to head hundreds of feet below the surface and risk their lives. In the 1800s, after all, undersea diving was still a fairly dangerous and cumbersome adventure. They’d either need to be paid a lot or be searching for something extremely rare and valuable. While poking around Wikipedia, I came across an entry for the Qur’an treasure.
It’s described as a vast treasure that is constantly moving and doesn’t have a known location. Combining that with the mermaids was perfect – I imagined the mermaids were the keepers of this trove of treasure, transporting it around the sea floor. Wakefield and Hollander would be commissioned to find it, not knowing who the keepers were. Now I just needed to figure out how the confrontation would work.
Atargatis, The Great Mistress
I didn’t want the boys to run into any old mermaids. A lot of the Ex Occultus universe is rooted in real myths and legends, and this shouldn’t be any exception. After some quick research into mermaid legends, I found an entry about Atargatis, one of the earliest references to mermaids in recorded history, circa 1,000 B.C.
Atargatis was a Assyrian goddess who fell in love with a mortal shepherd and in doing so, killed him. So struck with grief and shame, she threw herself into a lake to take the form of a fish. But she was so beautiful, the gods would not let her hide her divine beauty. Her bottom half was turned into a fish, and the top left as a woman.
So I decided she would be the leader of my underwater coven of mermaids. Continuing to lead the life of a queen underwater, amassing a horde of treasure and commanding warriors who basked in her beauty. A worthy rival for Wakefield and Hollander to tangle with, and even more dangerous.
Next week, I’ll take you through how I wrote the script and added my own mark to the mermaid folklore.