Vengence Be Thy Name, the stunning collection of the adventures of the warrior woman with a name born of the black rage that filled her heart, Black Beth, came out on 8 June – here we talk to Alec Worley, the man pretty much responsible for bringing her back for a new generation.

It’s a collection that really does span the generations, beginning with the original 23-page story of Black Beth, with art from Spanish artist Blas Gallego, first developed in the early 1970s and eventually published in the Scream! Holiday Special 1988, a comic bought by a young Alec Worley at the time. And, although his copy has long since been lost, his love for Black Beth continued over the years until he had his own chance to bring the character back with artist DaNi.

In Black Beth: Vengence Be Thy Name, we get absolutely everything published of Black Beth, the original 23-pager by Gallego and all of the Worley/DaNi material published in the last few years – a spectacular sword & sorcery saga completed for the first time right here.

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Blas Gallego’s original Black Beth tale – complete in Vengence By Thy Name

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So, Alec, the first thing to ask I suppose is what does it mean to you to have the complete Black Beth out, including that gorgeous Blas Gallego original story?

ALEC WORLEY: It’ll be the first time the original has seen print in 33 years, which is quite something! (Beth saw a reprint a year after her debut, in Quality’s Slaine the King #21-22 in 1989.) For me, it’s especially nice as I loved the character so much as a kid, and if I hadn’t bugged Keith [Richardson] to let me revive her, she may well have remained languishing in obscurity.

That original Scream! Holiday Special that set Worley off on this path!

It does mean that you no longer have to mourn the loss of that Scream! Holiday Special! you once owned and loved for the original Black Beth.

AW: Absolutely! Still super-annoyed at having lost that. But this being such a beautiful quality reprint more than makes up for it.

Alec, you’ve talked about first discovering Gallego’s Black Beth on some dreary summer holiday, only adding to your love of Scream! But what was it about the Black Beth strip that really stood out to you?

AW: It stood out for reasons that are just so ridiculously idiosyncratic on my part. At the time I was hooked on Hawk the Slayer and the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and was just getting into Warhammer and Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion books. I would devour any fantasy I could get my hands on.

But I think it was all the unanswered questions surrounding Black Beth that really made her stick for me. Like, what was a sword opera strip like this doing in a horror comic like Scream!? What else was going on in Beth’s world? And most importantly, what happened next…?

Thankfully… now we know what happened next, all thanks to you and DaNi!

Black Beth: Vengence Be Thy Name, the first Alec Worley & DaNi collaboration
– originally published in the Scream! & Misty Special 2018

One thing that does remain a mystery is the identity of the writer of that one and only Black Beth, something that no-one involved with the collection has been able to get to the bottom of, although there is that possibility that it was Gallego himself who wrote and drew it.

AW: Yeah, I did a lot of detective work on this and reached out to a bunch of great people, including Dez Skinn and Barrie Tomlinson. I found a really cool little clue in the fanzine ArkenSword, in which Ian Gibson mentioned in an interview that he’d worked on a female-led sword and sorcery strip in the ‘70s with Blas Gallego. So I reached out to him and he confirmed that he had only worked on the pencils. It was more likely that Blas himself had been the writer! But again, I reached out to Blas and he told me it definitely wasn’t him. It seems that Beth’s original co-creator was most likely some overworked freelancer on the IPC books.

It’s funny how you perceive these things as a kid, isn’t it? When you discover these characters for the first time, they seem land in front of you like gifts from Olympus! You’re so swept away by the romance of it that you have no idea of the grubby reality of all the sweat and graft and deadlines and invoices that actually went into making them.

Black Beth: The Witch Tree, the second Worley & DaNi strip
– originally published in the Scream! & Misty Special 2020

So, fast forward 30 years and young Alec Worley is now somewhat older Alec Worley, comics writer, and there’s suddenly the opportunity to push for the return of Black Beth.

Was it something that you’d always hankered after doing or was it the Treasury of British Comics beginning to publish new Scream! Specials that set you about pitching?

AW: I love sword and sorcery adventures full stop, so would have jumped at the chance to do anything in that vein. But Beth has a really special place in my heart, so I got Keith in a headlock as soon as I heard she might be up for grabs.

But at the same time, I didn’t want this to just be a self-indulgent nostalgia-fest. Weirdly enough, Garth Ennis (an idol of mine, just a brilliant, brilliant writer) seems to have found his own retro sword-and-sorcery passion project with the Hawk the Slayer series he did with Henry Flint. Now THAT comic is another great example of how not to get caught in the nostalgia-trap and play what you love as the straight adventure story it’s supposed to be.

From Black Beth and the Devils of Al-Kadesh
– the full-length Worley/DaNi collaboration included in Vengence Be Thy Name

As for the pitch itself, aside from the headlock, was it something that took a lot of pleading/begging/bribery (after all, Black Beth isn’t standard horror stuff that we’d expect from Scream!) or was Keith convinced by you pretty easily?

AW: I’m eternally grateful to Keith and the powers that be at Rebellion for giving me the green light on this, as they really didn’t seem to take much convincing.

And of course, that pitch included you asking if you could work with DaNi, as you’d already worked together on Fate of the Fairy Hunter in a previous Misty Special.

AW: Yes! We’d worked together before and Dani was part of my pitch from the beginning. She’s just perfect for it in terms of bringing that woozy, exotic feel I was after. Plus, her storytelling is always just so spot-on!

One thing that’s very noticeable from the collection is just how together the whole thing seems, with the transition between the ages practically seamless – even though there’s 30+ years difference.

AW: Well, we did make a few changes and that began with the readership. The readership of Black Beth in 1988 is very different to where we are now. I didn’t want to aim it exclusively at the same kids who were now in their forties, but rather recapture that original energy by aiming it at young adults, the kind of readers who enjoyed books like Six of Crows and Children of Blood and Bone. So I did my homework (lots of homework), made Beth younger and Quido hotter, thought through their relationship, their values and so on, and off we went.

More of DaNi’s evocative art from Black Beth and the Devils of Al-Kadesh

You and DaNi have taken things in a somewhat magical direction, as Gallego’s original was grounded in vengeance, a very human tale. You and DaNi have taken her tale into sword AND sorcery – although of course, it all keeps to the idea of fighting evil in all its forms.

AW: Yeah, the original is really more like a historical drama than a spell-slinging fantasy, though it’s got that witchy folkloric feel, which I wanted to crank up in our short The Witch Tree. And when the chance came to broaden the scope even more with Devils of Al-Kadesh, I really wanted to take it into the realms of a Harryhausen-type Saturday matinee swashbuckler.

Obviously, artistically, things are different but the tone of the art is sympathetic – was there a conscious decision on your part here to make those first B&W stories flow artistically with what had come before?

AW: Definitely! In opening up Beth’s world, I modelled it somewhat on Moorish Spain. Not only as a tip of the hat to Blas’s country of origin, but because Almeria in south-east Spain was where they filmed the Spaghetti Westerns and the original Conan movie. It’s got all those scorched rocky landscapes you see in the original strip. But again, I wanted to keep the sense of witchcraft and mystery. For me, creating a sense of wonder in fantasy is about keeping things hidden and letting the reader’s imagination come out to play. It’s a two-way thing, not just about you explaining how the world works.

More from Black Beth and the Devils of Al-Kadesh – Beth in all her glory!

Now that you’ve had the opportunity, I’d imagine, to see the final collection with your work sitting so comfortably next to Gallego’s, what’s your final take on the project that you’ve taken on, bringing an artist and his character back in print, expanding on what was a simple character, and bringing her back for a modern audience?

AW: I’m feel really privileged to have been allowed to do everything we’ve done so far. The reviews have been great and the collection has been in the top ten of an Amazon Best Seller’s Rank for the last couple of months (‘Fairy Tales, Folklore, Legends & Mythology Comics & Graphic Novels for Young Adults’). It even hit number one last time I looked.

Also seeing other artists join in and bring their own vibe to the table, like the brilliant Andrea Bulgarelli who drew the back-up strip Fairy Tales. (Fun fact: Since Andrea doesn’t speak a great deal of English, I had to write the script in Italian!)

I couldn’t be happier, really.

And now that everything Black Beth is all collected together, do you both have plans to continue the saga at all?

I would drop anything to keep writing Beth and vanish off into her world for a bit. Reading comics like Jason Aaron’s Conan and Garth Ennis’s Hawk the Slayer makes me realise just how much I adore this genre!

The final panel of the original Blas Gallego Black Beth
The End? Oh no, not at all – not when we have Vengence Be Thy Name!

Thanks to Alec for chatting to us – you can see his Black Beth collaborations with DaNi, together with the original Blas Gallego story, in Black Beth: Vengence Be Thy Name, out now from all good comic shops and the 2000 AD web shop.