Leandro Fernandez talks the art of THE PLAGUE WIDOW Part 1
I always wanted to draw a Viking tale.
Since I was a little kid I felt special attraction to this topic. I felt an obsessive admiration for these guys who had the guts to jump into the sea and sail across unknown waters, travel long distances on a very different and dangerous world, conquer countries, know different cultures, and so many other things they did along a very wide period of time in history.
I used to read some very nice and interesting Viking comic books when I was a kid, some of them published in an Argentinian comic magazine, written by a very popular Paraguayan writer called, and what a funny coincidence, Robin WOOD. I especially recall some quite impressive drawings of Zaffino on those stories. I remember how much I loved them.
Then I had the chance to steal some Asterix books from my dad’s collection from time to time, like the “Asterix and the Normands” and “The Long Journey” (I’m not sure if this is the right translation), which had Vikings as the characters playing a role in them, and my interest was increased even more.
I remember looking at history books, TV documentaries, movies, some funny arrow points and tools in the Dublin city streets--the subject was always chasing me from time to time. I even called a raft I built with some friends when I was a kid “Viking” to sail the river in my home town...
So, it happened that I saw some of the first issues of NORTHLANDERS on Will Dennis’ desk, and I just jumped into it. He explained to me what the project was about, the historic content it would have, the interesting thing of having separated story arcs of the length each one had to have depending on the story, with different characters and situations, in a different place of the Viking era geography, each one drawn by a different artist... and written by Brian WOOD!! I just loved the idea of doing it.
My mind was in only one direction at that moment:
I WANT to do this.
Better said, I HAVE to do this.
Better said, I NEED to do this.
So, I had the luck to join Brian on this ride, a very interesting story taking place in an area which had been very influenced by the viking presence, somewhere in the actual Russia, along the Volga river.
This is a drama story.
We wanted to tell how life was in that time. This isn’t about sort of barbarian muscled guys throwing axe strokes against each other... it is supposed to be a graphic novel with a deeply human story to be told.
I had fun doing this. I must confess, I enjoyed every single day when I was doing it just because of it, and the result of it is a book I can be happy about. I can even recommend it to readers thanks to the excuse of the great story Brian has written!
So, since before the start, Brian sent me lots of visual references. He’s been to Norway and some of the places the Vikings lived and were, so this wasn’t just about researching through the web for it (even though we did, of course). I’ve jump into some reading of the topic before starting, just to try to give the book the most realistic view possible.
As an example, I especially remember a shot on the story where a woman is hit by an arrow and the food she’s carrying in a basket fell into the air... I had drawn some potatoes in it in the first version of the page... then I’ve realized potatoes were brought to Europe AFTER the discovery of America, so it wasn’t possible Vikings of that time could have used those. I had to do some research to see which kind of vegetables or food they used just to get the most realistic approach.
Something similar happened when I designed the characters. People were different then they are now. Even if the Vikings were tall guys, they were short compared to today’s average man’s height. So, I tried to figure out how they should look and put some special attention to little details, as the teeth, for example. The lack of them should have been something very common in those times. Same thing with the eyes, or fingers, above all between warriors. As they use gloves most of the time, this is something we don’t see that much in this book.
Other thing that was determinant on this book is the color. As it takes place on a very hard, long and iced winter, I wanted this to be the “white book” of Northlanders. If this had to have a color, it should be white. And it had it, mostly. It was Dave who proposed the page streets and margins be colored ochre so all of the pages don’t look so white. I think this was a good call, as it unifies the book and makes it easier to read.
One other very important fact was this should mostly be an urban story. The idea was to show the life of a former big city. That’s why I’ve tried to make it a setting with a living metropolis, with its people moving around, and having their lives there.
Check back later for Part 2!