Shedding light on foster care with THE BALLAD OF RONAN

THE BALLAD OF RONAN is an upcoming six issues mini-series that mixes real world concerns with myth in a way that illuminates both. The story is about an angry Irish orphan escaping some of the issues of foster care only to become involved with a magical war in modern day Ireland. It’s the creation of writers John and Jim Walsh who have day jobs as lawyers and child advocates, with art by newcomer Remy Jackson.

It’s also being published by Action Lab, a company that certainly has a lot of issues of its own right now, including a lawsuit and long standing complaints from creators. Despite that, The Ballad of Ronan is a worthy project, and it doesn’t seem right to penalize creators who might have signed up there long before all the current problems became well known.

Here’s the blurb for the first issue, which goes on sale on May 11th:

Long ago a war raged to extinguish all magic from this world and magic has not been felt since. But when Aisling, an angry Irish orphan, runs away from foster care, she’s going to discover that the war isn’t over discover. And with the help of an ancient Celtic warrior, a rogue priest, and a dark ages fairy, she will find herself on the run from the darkest creatures of the. Her only hope – find out where the magic went and how to bring it back! Action Lab presents the next new series that fans of Once & Future have been waiting for!

We asked the Walshes some questions about the making of the book and how it ties into their work with the foster care system:

THE BEAT: I know you two – John and Jim Walsh – have been identified online as stand up comics but I understand that is not the case. Can you tell us a little about who you are and why you are writing a comic?

JOHN & JIM WALSH: Right! We are not stand up comics! Another site confused us with another set of Walsh Brothers. As kids, we started writing our own comics as soon as we learned to read. When we were young we created our own entire universe! We started out as musicians who wanted to stay in college longer and ended up in law school. Now we run a children’s law office where we represent foster kids. We blame Matt Murdock.

THE BEAT: While I was watching The Batman with (spoilers) The Riddler’s sad origin in a neglected orphanage I wondered to myself: do orphanages even exist any more? They certainly provide the origin story for a lot of fictional protagonists but my understanding is that the foster care system has largely replaced it here in the US at least. Can you explain the difference from your viewpoint as child advocates in the Florida foster child system?

JOHN & JIM WALSH: Well, they don’t call them orphanages anymore, they call them group homes. But it’s sort of a distinction without a difference. Especially if you’re the kid who is living in one. It is true that the majority of foster kids are in foster homes now, but teenagers often find themselves in group homes due to a lack of people willing to foster teenagers. And sadly, some kids do have the Riddler-type experience in these places.

THE BEAT: Which brings us to The Ballad of Ronan, which highlights both the pitfalls of foster care and the imagination of Irish mythology. Why did you choose to set this story in Ireland?

JOHN & JIM WALSH: The story is a modern fantasy that deals with the realistic elements of being in foster care and the magic of possibility. Irish mythology is really the source material for so many of the elements of fantasy literature. It’s a place where the belief in the Fae was a very real thing, right up into modern times. On the other hand, Ireland has a very sad history with foster care, with the Catholic Church being responsible for much of it. Our own ancestor was herself an Irish orphan who was brought to the states by a Catholic priest, or so the family story goes. All of that probably led us to Ireland as the natural setting for this story.

THE BEAT: The first issue we see a “changeling,’ which is a common theme in Celtic mythology – the fairy folk were really fond of switching out babies for some reason. How does that tie in with the theme of the comic and foster care?

JOHN & JIM WALSH: In working with foster kids, we’re dealing with kids whose childhoods have been stolen. The theme of a stolen childhood captures both the emotional experience of a modern foster child and the stories of the faeries switching babies for their own purposes. As we wrote, we came across the WB Yeats poem, “The Stolen Child”, and it became central to the story. The poem deals with the loss that child experiences and we wanted to tell that story from a modern perspective.

THE BEAT: Our heroine is Aisling, an orphaned runaway. Who is she and what is she up against?

JOHN & JIM WALSH: Aisling is drawn from many of the foster kids we’ve known. She’s funny, kind and compassionate but also damaged and angry. She’s an orphan who knows she’s spending the rest of her childhood in foster care. She’s going to find herself on the run from the darkest creatures of Irish myth as well as the dark side of the Church that raised her. She’s going to make some strange friends and some stranger enemies!

THE BEAT: What other elements of Irish mythology will we see in the book?

JOHN & JIM WALSH: We’re going to see some of the major characters from Irish mythology. Fans that are familiar will recognize them. We’ll see the Tuatha De Danann – the tribe that gives rise to the belief in Faeries, the Otherworld they inhabit, their Phantom Queen, their greatest enemy, and more. But this is a new story with a new take on these legends. What happened to them, where they’ve gone, is a big part of this book. We wanted to make this story accessible to readers who don’t have a lot of familiarity with Celtic myth but still fun for those who have a real love for it.

THE BEAT: I believe that artist Remy Jackson is actually from Ireland, so he brings a lot of experience to the setting, but I understand he almost didn’t get a chance to draw the book?

JOHN & JIM WALSH: Actually he’s not from Ireland but he did start drawing the book there. We all traveled there to do some research and Remy stayed on for awhile in Galway. He was taking off to travel the world a bit when we got news that Action Lab had picked up the book. So he started the book in Ireland but finished in Malaysia and Thailand where it was much easier to live and draw full time. We love his character work and Manga influenced style. It brings a real energy and charm to the story that we think is a perfect fit. This is his first comic work and we think he has a bright future!

THE BEAT: What do you hope people get out of The Ballad of Ronan?

JOHN & JIM WALSH: We’d love for people to just feel connected to it. It’s not just foster children who feel as if their childhood, or some part of it, was stolen. We hope that they can relate to Aisling and will join her on this journey.

Here’s a few preview pages from the first issue:

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