Thursday, May 28, 2009

Northlanders: Vikings were people too

To begin, I should let anyone know who hasn't heard that I'll be at the MoCCA festival next weekend, so let me know if you want to try to meet up.  I'm very excited about the whole thing, especially considering the programming and all the creators that will be there (here's Fantagraphics' signing schedule, for a sample).  If you're going to be there, hopefully I'll see you!

Speaking of Fanta, they've got news of a cool-sounding Dash Shaw animation project that's coming this fall on IFC.  Wow.

This has already been linked around a bit, but David Brothers talks about a Hulk manga that Kazuo Koike wrote back in the 70s, and it looks pretty awesome.

Also on the manga front, here's some discussion of Mickey Mouse imagery in Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis.  Crazy.  I haven't read that manga (although I did see the anime adaptation), but I might need to check it out.

And in a completely different bit of depravity here's some nightmare fuel: images (don't worry, they're safe for work) from a live-action porn version of Sgt. Frog.  Yikes.

Okay, here's something that just came out today, I think:

Northlanders #17
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Vasilis Lolos

Brian Wood is calling this issue of his Viking comic one of the best things he's ever written, and even if it's not quite up there with my favorites of his work (Demo, DMZ, Local), it's still pretty damn good.  Instead of a multi-issue epic, this is a done-in-one story detailing the one-on-one battle between the champions of two warring tribes, with narration provided by an unnamed onlooker.  It's riveting stuff, full of fascinating, well-researched details and some excellent, visceral artwork by Vasilis Lolos.

And while that art is quite beautiful, the captions are the meat of the issue here, full of information about the Vikings' hardscrabble life in the harsh North, lending a real personality and humanity to the people of the series.  We learn about what it's like for a farmer to be pressed into service in a war, about weapons and battle tactics, and how the warriors tend to favor crafty Loki over pompous Thor when worshipping the gods.  But these aren't dry recitations of historical facts; Wood lends a real, lived-in feel to the voice, putting the reader right there among the people watching the fight.  And he gives plenty of information about the fight itself, from the circumstances leading up to it, to the backgrounds and styles of the fighters, to the emotions rushing through their heads as they battle to the death.  It's gripping stuff, making us realize that these characters weren't the cartoonish brutes we often see in entertainment, but real people struggling to survive like anyone else.

And yes, Lolos really drives home the fight itself, limiting character details almost exclusively to the two fighters and making sure we get in close to see their expressions and the effects of the attacks.  They're on a windswept beach, cutting background details to a minimum and making the confrontation all the more intimate, although the clouds that are defined by thick brushstrokes lend an ominous air of death to the scene, and Dave McCaig's pallette of light blues and greys seem to preemptively drain the blood from all concerned.  Those same brushstrokes also detail swooshing weapons and the clanging bursts that break panel borders; we definitely feel every blow.  It's wonderfully done, perfectly complementing the narration.

Yep, Wood is certainly right about this being a good one.  He took on a challenge to stretch himself and tell stories outside of his normal range with this series, and he's obviously giving it his all, doing the research to get the details right and still bring characters to life in a setting far removed from our present experience.  And he succeeds; this is a really good comic.

This review was based on a PDF provided by the author.  You can see some preview pages of the issue here.

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