“Northlanders Book Four: The Plague Widow” by Brian Wood, Leandro Fernandez (Vertigo, 2010)

Plague Widow

In the fourth volume of the fantastic Northlanders series – on the incredible world and story of the mighty Vikings – Brian Wood once shows two important things: 1) The time of the Vikings was an incredibly complex one that many have misunderstood; 2) Wood has some incredible stories to tell about them.

In the style of Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, Wood seeks to tell a lot of story and happenings on a large scale under the microscope of a small setting.  In this case it is a lone Viking town on the Volga River circa 1020, which has been beset by plague.  The bodies are piling up and are taken away to be buried in the icy ground.  There are some that think they know ways of protecting one from the plague, while others turn to their Nordic gods for saving.  Then, as winter settles its icy embrace upon the village, everything changes.

Gunberg has had it with the people of the council, who dither and dally and never decide on anything to his liking, so with his posse, he has plans to change all that.  With the constant fear of the plague, the freezing winter and famine taking place, he take matters into his own hands and intends to carry out his worst hopes.  Meanwhile the plague widow of the story must do what she can to survive and suffer through incredible odds and extremes to survive, both the harsh weather and the evil Gunberg.

With some incredible artwork from Leandro Fernandez, The Plague Widow is a great test-tube sample of what can happen when a village is put under harsh weather conditions and infected with a contagion: who will stand and fight, who will cower and die, and who will just watch by the wayside, doing nothing.  The time of the Vikings was a fascinating and complex one, spanning many years and a large portion of the world; The Plague Widow is just one incredible insight into this unforgettable time.

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Originally written on December 22, 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

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Blood is in the Snow Cross and the Hammer Northlanders

An Interview with Brian Wood

Brian Wood

Brian Wood

Brian Wood is a graphic novel writer and illustrator.  He is the creator and writer of such popular graphic novel series as Demo and DMZ.  His most recent series is the great story of the Viking age, entitled Northlanders.  The latest book in the series is Blood in the Snow.

Alex: When did you know you wanted to write and illustrate comic books?

Brian: At some point during my time in art school (Parsons School of Design) – probably junior year.  This was when I was discovering comics in general and saw them as a unique blend of a lot of different disciplines.  There’s really nothing like comics in that respect.

Alex: Did one skill develop first?

Brian: For a really long time I only wanted to draw comics.  I was not a writer at all and the short comics I did write (and draw) for school projects were only out of necessity.  Later on, I grew to appreciate writing.

Alex: Do you prefer to write or illustrate more?

Brian: These days, I’m a writer.  I barely illustrate.  I’ve been writing comics since 1997 and it’s been my main source of income from around 2003 onwards.

Alex: Do you remember the first strip you wrote?

Brian: It was a single page comic for a school assignment adapting the Dead Kennedy’s song “Don’t Lynch The Landlord”.  I still have it, and really like it despite its massive flaws.

Alex: What was the first comic book you got published and how did it happen?

Brian: In school I self-published a comics anthology with some other people I knew who did comics.  We each had 8-page segments and we published it solely for the purpose of getting “real” work – it was a printed sample.

The first book that was published by an actual publishing company was Channel Zero, the publisher Image Comics.  It remains to this day the only book I both wrote and drew in its entirety.

Alex: Who are some of your influences?

Brian: Russell Banks novels, these days.  I also read a lot of non-fiction, research for my ongoing projects, and in a technical sense those are my biggest influences.  Early on, during school, I was really into Korean comics and that was easily the single biggest influence on my art at the time.

Alex: When starting a new comic project, how involved are you in choosing an artist?

Brian: Totally involved.  I generally have the first and final word, although my editors are talking about it with me and we come to a consensus.  It’s important – well, crucial – for me to know what artist I’m writing the scripts for from day one.  Who the artist is dictates how I write the stories.

Alex: Where did the idea for DMZ come from and how did it get started?

Brian: I created DMZ while living in San Francisco (I tried it for a year, it didn’t take) and feeling very homesick.  Combine that with current events and a familiarity with the city from my years as a bike messenger, and I got DMZ.

Alex: Do you still have a lot of story left to tell with DMZ?

Brian: It’s a massive concept, DMZ, and I could never tell all the stories I might want to, even if I had a decade.  So, yes, but I’m planning on completing the series in a little less than two years time, which was always the plan.  In the end, DMZ will be a six-year project, a 1600-page serialized graphic novel.

Alex: What made you want to write Northlanders?

Brian: A combination of being interested in the history and the format I was proposing the book take.  This format – short stories within a larger framework – is the culmination of a lot of experimentation on my part and as a result I’ve never been as creatively energized as I am working in that format.

Alex: How much research did it take, and are you continuing to do research?

Brian: Research is an ongoing thing.  It ebbs and flows but it’s safe to say that I’ve been researching since I first began to write the proposal for the book, back in 2006.  Northlanders lives or dies on how carefully it handles history, so it requires a lot of work in that respect.

Alex: Can you recommend some further reading on the Vikings?

Brian: Yeah, absolutely.  I think the best blend of ripping story and history is the Saga of the Icelanders, this big collection that Penguin puts out.  Best to go right to the source.

Alex: Did you always intend to tell lots of different stories on the world of the Vikings or was it ever just going to be just about Sven?

Brian: From day one it was always my desire to cover as much ground as possible.  Right now, I have stories that span from 760-1100 AD, from Russia to Greenland, from the perspective of men, women, and children, from the Vikings themselves to the people they conquered (or tried to).  That breadth of story is what makes the book what it is.

Alex: Can you talk about some future storylines you intend to tell in Northlanders?

Brian: In the near future we’ll see a foot soldier’s take on the famous Siege of Paris, as well as something about the lost Greenland settlement.  Coming up shortly, though, it’s a take on the “young lovers on the run” concept, seeped in what I like to call a Norse Mythological Fundamentalism.  The story’s called “Metal”.

Alex: What other projects are you working on?

Brian: Demo, a miniseries at Vertigo with artist Becky Cloonan, and DV8, a superhero revival at Wildstorm, another DC Comics imprint.

Alex: When working on a project is it mainly just you writing the script, deciding on the layout, and giving some art direction and then letting the artist draw and color, or is it a group effort?

Brian: There’s always a lot of art direction in my scripts, but with the understanding that the artist or colorist has the leeway to adjust as needed.  It all goes really smoothly, though, there’s never any conflicts or major disagreements.

Alex: Is there are a lot of back and forth with edits and changes?

Brian: Once a series is up and running and everyone is in the groove, there is really very little.  Often none at all.

Alex: Apart from you, the writer, and the artists, are there other people involved in creating the finished product?

Brian: There are editors, usually a primary and an assistant, the colorist, the letterer, and the cover artist (if the interior artist is not also drawing the covers).  There is a small army of production, marketing, and sales people working behind the scenes, of course.

Alex: Do you have a set schedule you keep to each day in writing and illustrating?

Brian: I try to keep normal office hours, an 8am to 5pm type of thing.  There are many interruptions, though, so most nights and every weekend I am working like any weekday.  I’ve found this is pretty common amongst my peers.

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Brian: Whatever free time I have is spent with my daughter.  My existence is very routine:  writing, childcare, sleep, repeat.

Alex: What are some of your favorite current comics being published?

Brian: I read Scalped, Detroit Metal City, Vagabond, and, until recently, Young Liars.

Alex: Since you know quite a lot about the world of the Vikings, do you think there was an ideal place to live during these times?

Brian: I honestly don’t feel there was anything ideal about living in those times, to be honest.  It was a rough, brutal time, with very short lifespans and high infant mortality rates.  I live in New York City and enjoy all that provides me, and wouldn’t adapt well to subsistence farming on some rocky patch of land somewhere.

4/12 On the Bookshelf . . . “Northlanders Volume 3,” “The Bloodstained Man,” “Starfishers,” “The Loving Dead” & “Fritz Leiber Selected Stories”

A welcome hoard was received today .  . .

Blood in the Snow

The third volume in the fun and historically accurate Northlanders series from Brian Wood.

Bloodstained Man

The next book in the Netherworld series, after Pleasure Model which I’ll be reviewing in the near future.  I was pleasantly surprised with Pleasure Model, which didn’t go with my expectations.

Starfishers Fritz Leiber: Selected= Loving Dead

A nice trio from Night Shade Books.  And what a great cover for The Loving Dead.

“Northlanders Volume 2: The Cross + The Hammer” by Brian Wood and Davide Gianfelice (Vertigo, 2009)

Northlanders Volume 2starstarstar

Wood continues his powerful Northlanders series in this second volume, after Sven the Returned, with a look at two cultures fighting over one piece of land.  The year is 1014, the place is Ireland.  The Vikings have invaded, quickly taking over and subjugating most of the people, claiming what they consider to be rightfully theirs.  But there are some who disagree, including one hero, Magnus, who seeks to wipe out any Vikings he sees, while doing what he must to protect his precious daughter.  Magnus is a powerful warrior, who seems unstoppable, yet his one failing may be that he has lost his mind.  But Lord Ragnar Ragnarsson thinks little of this, stopping at nothing to end Magnus and clear the way for a full Viking conquest.

In The Cross + The Hammer, Wood takes a brief break from his main character, Sven, to address another part of the world where the Vikings are making themselves known.  Even with a different artist, the work is fresh and interesting,  maintaining an acuteness to detail and accuracy, while Wood does his work in telling a story that may well have happened at some time in the eleventh century.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on August 22nd, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Northlanders Volume 1: Sven the Returned” by Brian Wood and Davide Gianfelice (Vertigo, 2008)

Northlanders Volume 1starstarstar

In a new graphic novel series from Brian Wood, author of DMZ and Demo, and illustrated by Davide Gianfelice, comes Northlanders Volume 1: Sven the Returned. Northlanders offers up a fresh historical graphic novel, like that of Eric Shanower’s Age of Bronze and Warren Ellis’ Crecy, as Wood brings the world of the Vikings to light with the detailed and gory art style of Gianfelice.

Sven is a disowned Viking.  After his father is killed when he is a boy, and, as the heir apparent, he dishonors his mother by not protecting and defending her from his uncle Gorm who rapes her and takes control of the people and holdings, Sven flees from the north lands.  He is captured and made a slave for most of his childhood until he is set free and refers to himself as a Varangian: a Norseman who has left his home.  He spends his years in the great city of Constantinople as a member of the Royal Guard, until he is ready and returns to the north for revenge.  The year is 980.

His old home is in the Orkney Islands, and he finds it not much changed from when he left, but having lived in Constantinople for so long, he must learn to live in the harsh climes once again.  He also must gain the respect of his people.  Sven begins fighting back against Gorm, employing all the skill and knowledge he has gained.  The question is when he finally defeats Gorm and restores his family’s honor, will he still want to be king and rule?

Northlanders is a fresh historical graphic novel that is a little shaky at first with this new storyline, but there is good character development and potential for the future volumes.  With a fresh art style that captures the tone of the period, as well as being accurately detailed through the art, Northlanders is a series I look forward to reading in volume 2: The Cross + The Hammer.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on November 11th, 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

12/08 On the Bookshelf . . .

Received the following two books for review: The Vikings by Robert Ferguson, which looks to be a compelling and long history of the Vikings originally published in Britain with a better title of The Hammer and the Cross (which is interestingly what the second volume of Brian Wood’s Northlanders is essentially called, The Cross + The Hammer), but I look forward to reading it.  Also received The Customer is Not Always Right: Hilarious and Horrific Tales of Customers Gone Wrong by A. J. Adams, which is a book collecting 100 stories from the popular Notalwaysright.com site.  I have in face already read it over last night and today, having spent the last six years working in retail, to say I found it cathartic and enjoyable would be saying . . . well, let’s leave that for the review.
The Vikings The Customer