TalonCard

Pirates - Early Character and Comic Designs

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Ahoy!

Some background on this first: nearly nine years ago, LEGO Researcher extraordinaire @Sadie Meowsalot  took the initiative to contact the author of the Golden Medallion pirate comic Per Sanderhage and learned a number of interesting things about the early story development for the Pirates theme, including the existence of an entire unreleased sequel comic, the Island of Mist

One of the other interesting things that came out of these conversations was, essentially, the origin of the pirate characters we know and love, many if not most of which seem to have been the creations of Sanderhage himself. Sadie has since rediscovered some material that was sent on to her that she forgot to include in the initial discussions of the material and asked that I share it here on Eurobricks.

Given that a lot of time has passed and that the original forum discussions occurred many years ago, I'm going to summarize and link to the material originally posted by Sadie (Brickshelf) in addition to the newer material (Flickr) to give context to the material.

The brief to create characters for the Pirate theme was dated 1987 from LEGO Publishing's Preben Dewald and asked for the following elements [translated from Danish]:
 

Quote

"Based on the following briefing paper, LEGO Publishing wants to create a concept on the theme of pirates/captains.
Concept must contain the following: Personal characteristics with associated names.
In the characterization, there must be built-in possibilities for conflicts for use in fiction products. Be it books, comics, games, role-playing games, role-plays, movies. The target group is primarily boys aged 7-12 years, with the main focus being boys 9-11 years old. The personal characteristics must include both physical and psychological characteristics. 
It is desired to prepare an environmental characteristic for both the toy range and the fiction programme.
The environmental characteristic must be able to form the framework for the persons' appearance in the "universe". It must form an attractive visual backdrop for all imaginable product types..."
"The backdrop is the Caribbean Sea in the years 1750-1800. This includes a pirate ship of the frigate type, a sea fort, a treasure island, possibly merchant ships and warships. It is important in concept to capture the right atmosphere, and that the character traits do not conflict in any way with the overall objective of the LEGO group."

As of 8/26/1987, the known character types LEGO Publishing requested names and descriptions for were:

-Pirate Captain
-1st Mate
-2nd Mate
-Sailors (Possibly including a female figure)
-Parrot
-Monkey

-Governor
-Governor's second-in-command
-Soldiers
-Civilians, including one female figure

Sanderhage recollects that several artists connected to the Norma agency were given the opportunity to try out for this assignment, and was even able to provide some of these samples. Unfortunately, he did not recall the name of the other artists involved.

One important fact at this early stage was that while the Pirate sets had been designed and were ready to go by 1986, photographs were still in the process of being released to the agency. Thus, not all of the character designs resemble the minifigures and sets. As we'll see, those involved were unsure what style would ultimately be used, so the try-out illustrations cover a wide range of styles from cartoonish to amazingly realistic.

At some point, names began to be assigned to the proposed cast of characters, which had grown to accommodate a band of nastier pirates as well. Per Sanderhage himself wrote the story "bible" for the theme, so it is likely that these were his creations. Some of these were eventually used in the final stories:

Governor Broadside
Martinet, the governor's second-in-command
Camilla, the Governor's Daughter
Spinoza the Monkey
Popsy the Parrot
Culverin, the nasty pirate henchman
Bessie (landlady of the pirate's inn)
Rummy, the first mate

Will appears here as well, though he is unnamed.

Some names appear to have been changed later in development:

Badrich, the nasty pirate captain (Later changed to Captain Foul in English, though the German translations use "Baddog" instead)
Trigger, the cabin boy (later changed to "Jimbo" in English)
Quickladle (later changed to "Flashfork" in English)

Sanderhage has sketch pages of these proposed characters from a Spanish artist, which have been newly provided by Sadie:

Character page one
Character page two

The biggest revelation here is that one of the original names considered for the character we know as Captain Roger/Redbeard was...Captain Ironhook! This name was re-used when a pirate very similar to Redbeard was introduced in the 1992 sets, so it's very interesting to see it used this early in development.

The artists were also given a comic scene to illustrate as part of the process. It appears that the storyline for the comic book had likely been written at this point, as these included scenes with very specific story beats that would ultimately appear in The Golden Medallion. These included the taking of Governor Broadside's cargo vessel:

Incredibly realistic version, featuring Redbeard, Will, Spinoza, and Camilla
Final version for comparison (via @jodawill) Page 1, Page 2

Foul and Culverin forcing Will and Redbeard to walk the plank:

Version from the same Spanish artist who provided the character sketch pages, new image via Sadie (note the half medallion here)
Final version for comparison

Another comic scene is completely original to this pitch, as far as I'm aware. In this scene, a young boy with a treasure map for Redbeard is being chased by an angry pirate. He ends up meeting Redbeard and Will outside the Keg & Cutlass inn, one of the major locations in the comic.

It's tempting to read this as an early introduction for Captain Foul and the cabin boy character Jimbo, but Spinoza the monkey (introduced in the Golden Medallion and seen in the other pitches) is already here. This may be an early idea for a sequel comic, or a different take on the story's opening before the golden medallion element came into play. Some of the characters have design elements seen on the minifigures, so the artists have probably had a chance to see photographs of the toys here.

This cartoonish example brings to mind the approach to the earlier Jim Spaceborn comics
This sample dials Redbeard's size up to an amusing degree
This page presents Redbeard as an older pirate, and seems to briefly flash to another pirate (who may just be an imagined version of Redbeard.) There's also a funny gag involving a stand that sells treasure maps, which I've also seen done a few times in videos and MOCs.

Per Sanderhage wasn't just looking to write the comic story, he made sure to throw his hat in the ring to be the artist as well:
 

Quote

"[ I ] just HAD to give it a try. Doing inspirational and background is okay, but I liked the idea of doing the entire book."
-Per Sanderhage


Sanderhage didn't end up getting the artist job, which instead went to the Spanish artist Vincente Vano Ibarra. But his tryout pages seem to have influenced the look of the characters in the final comic more than any other artist. He seems to have been more informed about the design of the minifigures and accessories compared to the other artists; having already worked with LEGO Publishing on the Castle Kids: Robber Baron comic may have given him a leg up here. (Scans via @jamesster, give that a look if you haven't already, it's every bit as good as the Golden Medallion and possibly funnier!) 

New from Sadie: Sanderhage's first attempt at a cover image for the comic. This includes Will appearing basically the same as his final version, along with a map very similar to the printed element from the sets. There are characters that appear to be a mashup of Redbeard, Foul, and Culverin. Sanderhage explains:
 

Quote

"I made a very fast sketch for a cover, just for Preben to have something to show his bosses. The anatomy of the characters is all wrong, but at the time we weren't sure whether to go for a cartoon look or a more realistic one, so this is something in-between. Obviously not working at all, but part of the ground work."
-Per Sanderhage


I think Sanderhage may be selling himself short here; I think this and all of his illustrations are pretty fun and dynamic. There's another early version of the comic cover here, in which Redbeard is closer to Sanderhage's other designs.

Here's his version of a slightly more dashing Redbeard, and another page that illustrates Governor Broadside, also very close to the final design but with a neat version of the hat. (Redbeard himself only has crossed cutlasses on his hat in many of these illustrations; LEGO was initially reluctant to feature a skull-and-crossbones design on the Pirate sets until set designer Niels Milan Pedersen pressed the issue.)

One more with Redbeard making off with quite a treasure haul.
Redbeard and Will, here in a slightly different variation with striped pants and a vest.
Finally, here's Sanderhage's take on the unique comic scene we saw earlier; it is quite detailed, complete with dialogue and the closest thing to a "final" version of this lost story that we're likely to get.

I also spoke to Per Sanderhage after Sadie's initial communication, and he was nice enough to provide some insight as to his thoughts on developing the characters, the Golden Medallion story, whether he was involved in the audio dramas (he doesn't remember) and the cancelled follow-ups (one of which was the Island of Mist.)
 

Quote

"I am delighted to hear that you enjoyed this little series so much, that you still remember it after all this time.

The thing is, that it is so long ago that I don't even remember how many was done. I'm fairly sure I wrote three complete manuscripts but I think only two was ever drawn.

Most of the toys were planned before I got involved. It was all pretty generic so there was no big problem in making characters out of the figures and use the buildings and ships as presented.

When starting this project I pointed out to my contacts that there are very few good pirates tales in literature, and only a limited amount of stock situations.

If you want real traditional heroes/villain -stuff you either must have good guys turn to piracy against their nations enemies (Spain and England have several strips based on this formula... with each other as the bad guys of course). Otherwise it would be navy vs. the evil pirates. 

But this had to be a non-political story and every kid sometimes wants to be a pirate, so the focus had to be on him or her.

I settled for a classic roguish captain with almost as much gold in his heart as in greed and a young man as his sword-buckling [sic] sidekick, who is actually the nominal hero. This is pure story telling...the hero need someone to talk to after all and the supporting characters can be made a lot more interesting and given less attractive motives.

As a classic remark goes: The hero gets the girl, but the bad guy gets all the good lines... and there wasn't really a girl in the set-up although I intended to introduce two in a later story. A scheming lady out to outfox Roger and her assistant who gets romantically involved (in as much I could do so) with Will. Female versions of Roger and Will, so to speak,

Their relationship is a father/son thing (Roger raised Will after his father was hanged for piracy) but I thought it fun to make the younger the more sensible one and the older man the daredevil.

And yes, there were a story bible, but I wrote it and it was very simple. Just the main characters and some hints on the supporting cast with a cook with a temper and a pirate itching to mutiny.

As for the audio I really can't remember. I do recall writing an idea which involved a scary island where some castaway [who] could control the alligator (including a giant one) with a flute, but I don't think anything came off it."

-Per Sanderhage


I think that covers just about everything to date. Thanks so much to Per Sanderhage for taking the time to share all this material and his memories, and enormous thanks to Sadie for having the initiative to find all of this out in the first place, and encouraging me to share the rediscovered material with you all.
 

Edited by TalonCard

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Incredible post! :pir-triumph: Many thanks to you, Per Sanderhage and @Sadie Meowsalot.

I didn't grew with the comics, so I'm not very fond of it because of how Redbeard is different to my imagination. My version was a heroic captain looking for adventures and freedom, and with a closer resemblance to this sketch.

Anyway, knowing more about the creative process and how the line was built and peepers for market is fascinating.

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1331 posts

Thank ye for this incredible information. Always interesting to learn more about LEGO Pirates history. Well done! :pir-huzzah2:

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Wow @TalonCard!!

This is all absolutely fantastic stuff! I was enthralled when I first stumbled upon all of the material that Sadie posted all of those years ago, and to now get all of this additional information is just so cool!

Thank you so much for the work in compiling all of it for us!

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On 1/11/2024 at 10:45 AM, TalonCard said:


............
I also spoke to Per Sanderhage after Sadie's initial communication, and he was nice enough to provide some insight as to his thoughts on developing the characters, the Golden Medallion story, whether he was involved in the audio dramas (he doesn't remember) and the cancelled follow-ups (one of which was the Island of Mist.)
  

What a great post! 
Thanks for all the work and info.

Island of Mist is the black and white one, right?
What is the other, second cancelled Pirates comic?

Does anyone know why Pirates is the only LEGO theme that has such an extensive lore?
With elobarate, reoccuring characters with specific names, comics, books, audio etc.

I would think it's possible with Castle as well. A specific king and queen etc. for the Crusaders/Lion Knights, Black Falcons etc.
A nice name and accompanying story for a Wolfpack leader...
Castle Kids: Robber Baron comic was a one time thing?
The only Castle character I know of with a name is Majisto. But there 's no story to go with it, for as far as I know.

More info on the Pirates lore should be able to be found in the LEGO archives, I suppose?
Maybe filling in the parts that Per Sanderhage doens't remember.
Assuming such archives exist. LEGO has an archive with al the sets, so why not.

Duck Bricks met with the Bionicle designer, Christian Faber, that also worked on some Pirates material (+/- 53:00).
He still has that material in his private collection, so it seems, so maybe some of the other (Pirate) designers still have some undisclosed Pirates material....

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5 hours ago, CvS said:

Island of Mist is the black and white one, right?
What is the other, second cancelled Pirates comic?

That's correct! The third pirate comic was outlined and possibly scripted, but it didn't make it to the illustration phase. Per Sanderhage didn't have his notes or script (if there was one) for this anymore; but I would imagine it had one or both of the story ideas he mentioned: a giant crocodile controlled by a flute playing castaway and Will and Redbeard encountering a similar duo of prate women.
 

5 hours ago, CvS said:

Does anyone know why Pirates is the only LEGO theme that has such an extensive lore?
With elobarate, reoccuring characters with specific names, comics, books, audio etc.

I'm not sure why Pirates in particular has so many examples of this that actually made it into publication. I think part of it probably was that Pirates was the first new LEGO theme in close to a decade years, and they wanted to publicize it as much as possible, which probably made getting approval for publishing projects easier. Most of the other themes at the time had similar efforts though. Space had the Jim Spaceborn comics and Castle had the aforementioned Castle Kids comic, both of which were conceived and produced by LEGO publishing around the same time as the Pirate comics were commissioned under what I understand was the same initiative.

5 hours ago, CvS said:

I would think it's possible with Castle as well. A specific king and queen etc. for the Crusaders/Lion Knights, Black Falcons etc.
A nice name and accompanying story for a Wolfpack leader...
Castle Kids: Robber Baron comic was a one time thing?
The only Castle character I know of with a name is Majisto. But there 's no story to go with it, for as far as I know.

It's interesting that you mention that, because Sadie's conversation with Per also yielded some concepts for another Castle comic as well. This would have incorporated the major Castle players still active around 1992, including the Black Knights, Wolfpack, and the yet-to-be-released Dragon Masters. The majority of these characters and situations actually made it into the two Castle episodes of the German LEGO audio drama series in 1995. By the time these were produced, the Royal Knights had been released and that faction and its King Richard were integrated into the existing backstory very smoothly.

 

5 hours ago, CvS said:

More info on the Pirates lore should be able to be found in the LEGO archives, I suppose?
Maybe filling in the parts that Per Sanderhage doens't remember.
Assuming such archives exist. LEGO has an archive with al the sets, so why not.

Duck Bricks met with the Bionicle designer, Christian Faber, that also worked on some Pirates material (+/- 53:00).
He still has that material in his private collection, so it seems, so maybe some of the other (Pirate) designers still have some undisclosed Pirates material....

Maybe! It's entirely possible. Christian Faber in particular is full of surprises; he casually drops things on his Instagram like revealing his original model for the time machine car that inspired all of Time Cruisers, and a 1996 map that, among other curiosities, appears to reference the Castle world of Avalon which as far as I know had previously only been mentioned in the 1983 Captain Indigo magazine comics.

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Thanks!

So there was some material, that only partially 'made it'.
That comic would have been really nice as well.
It's a shame; can't understand why LEGO didn't develop and release it...
It really worked with Pirates -I think directly on the time of release / '89-'90(?)- so why not copy it to the (later) Castle sets / factions of that time?

After digging up my childhood sets about a year ago -almost to the day- and using that as a start to complete the Classic Pirates sets from '89 - '95,
I thereafter did the same with my childhood Castle sets. I recently completed my Crusaders/Lion Knights, Black Falcons, Forestmen and Wolfpack :pir-love:.
(and to think that at first I was thinking about selling them, since Pirates is -still- my absolute favorite)
With Wolfpack (and Forestmen) being the favorite faction within Castle. Wolf! 

Do you know of any lore for the Forestmen? (or is that off topic ;)

The lore etc. really adds to a theme. Thanks for your work and effort!

Edited by CvS

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On 1/17/2024 at 3:43 PM, CvS said:

Do you know of any lore for the Forestmen? (or is that off topic ;)

There is a bit! Obviously the Robin Hood influence is heavy here; in the UK the leader of the Forestmen was even Robin Hood himself! (Other regions named the character Leo Lawless.) The character Little John was also used for another forestman in an advertisement. In Captain Indigo we learn Robin Hood lives in "Sherbert Forest", still near Nottingham, and that the evil sheriff is actually Captain Indigo's old galactic adversary Garth Raider. The American Brick Buildmore comics also visit the Forestmen a few times, (now in Sheerbrick Forest) again fighting the expected sheriff ("Naughty-Ham"). The Forestmen are one of the factions in the giveaway game "The Quest for Power", and are reimagined as the Forest Guardians in the recent Lion Knights Castle.

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Posted (edited)

This topic is about the Pirates Comic(s), but wasn't there also a topic on the Lady Bird Pirates Books??
Or a topic in which they are mentioned?

I've downloaded them once, I think from one of the topics on this forum. Can't find it anymore...

 

Edited by CvS

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