This week I am going to talk about a book that I was really excited for: Book One of Saga of the Northmen, Black Jack Press’ collection of short stories focusing on Vikings. Each story in the anthology, edited by Sean Fahey (of Tall Tales from the Badlands fame) is written by a different author and illustrated by a different artist.
This volume holds seven different stories, each told from a different perspective, ranging from that of children, to women, to warriors, from different points in time and space spanning the breadth of Viking history. They range in topic as well, some being a little more fantastical and religious and some being rooted in the social and legal customs of the Viking people. They all have something different to offer, and most of them are more or less solid. However, there are three that really stand out.
The first of those stand-out stories is written by the editor with art by Borch. Titled “No King But the Law,” it focuses heavily on the laws and legal practices of the Viking people, and tells the story of a man who is cast out of his community. While in exile he tangles with any challenger who tries to kill him, as Viking law permits for those who have been sent out from their tribe. The writing is very factual and tells a great story that is beautifully drawn. I am particularly fond of the opening “court” scene.
The second stand-out is entitled “Ascension,” written by Derek Fridolfs and Ken Jones with art by Michael Kennedy. In this tale we witness the death of a leader, followed by a traditional Viking funeral, where his men place him on his boat and set it alight it as it drifts off to see. Little do they know his still living son is also aboard. People in the surviving band have doubts about the son’s ability to lead, but these are laid to rest when the son not only survives the burning boat, but experiences a true hero’s journey back to his group. I really loved “Ascension,” as it was a great story told with very few words. Every panel said a lot without saying much. It was a well-rounded comic in that there was as much emphasis on the visuals as the story, and the art served the script in a really seamless way.
“The Emperor’s Wineskin,” written by Sean Fahey with art by Marcelo Basile, is the third story I want to spotlight here. Also the final story in the volume, “The Emperor’s Winekin” showcases the Viking sense of honor in a foreign land as a group of Viking bodyguards are approached to kill the person they are being paid to protect. Again I felt the story was really well-written and the art was well done, if at times a little cluttered.
There is some really good work in this book, but overall there just seems to be something missing. Many of the stories feel awfully dense, almost as if there was an emphasis on the nonfiction aspect of things instead of telling a great story. The art was not always the greatest either; often the pages felt either full to the brim or like rough sketches. I feel like going with black and white interiors may have been a mistake, as some of the art could have really benefited from color to hide a few lines that should not have included in the drawings. I also kind of feel like this book was instantly at a disadvantage when it came to me. As soon as I saw this book I started comparing it to the likes of Vertigo’s Northlanders Series by Brian Wood or Kodansha’s Vinland Saga by Makoto Yukimura, and it doesn’t hold up to those titles. I am also a History teacher and avid fan of the History Channel show Vikings, so not only did the art and story need to be on point, the history needed to as well, which it was–though often at the cost of the art or story.
This book is very well made and not a terrible comic by any means. There are issues with it and at the end of the day it wasn’t really for me. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t particularly great either… it kind of just was.
Also note that the artwork above is not from the comic, it just looked cool!