Northlanders: The Sea Road
Or, THOUGHTS ON HAULING STINKING SHEEP PELTS DOWN THE AARHUS/HEDEBY CORRIDOR.
Looking down the barrel of another Northlanders one-shot is a daunting thing. I tend to feel that with #17’s “The Viking Art of Single Combat” I wrote something that casts a pretty long shadow, and that was certainly the most ambitious script I had written to date. So when we needed another single issue to help line up schedules, it required a similar sort of out-of-the-box thinking.
What I came up with seemed simple on its surface: an entire story set on a Viking ship. Of course, right? Vikings and their ships, one and the same. But thinking about that further: fifty-odd men on a ship not much bigger than the average Manhattan junior one-bedroom apartment, with miles and miles of nothing but ocean all around? Now what? If Northlanders was a manga series I’d love to fill three volumes alone on rowing techniques and optimal ballast positioning, but, sadly, I can’t do that.
(Actually, what I’d REALLY love to do is put in a scratch-and-sniff patch that lets you see just what fifty filthy Vikings on a small boat smells like, but that would likely be even less well-received than 600 pages of rowing comics)
Anyway, my mind starting thinking about the notion of Vikings on boats as being something of a grind. Sure, there were the sort sailing off and burning foreign towns to the ground and getting rich, but what about the workaday Norsemen hauling cargo around the familiar routes i.e. the “sea roads”? No adventure for them – instead they have deadlines, labor costs and overheads, taxes and tariffs, and tidal delays, all in the pursuit of a narrow profit margin that allows them to, sigh, wake up the next day and do it all over again. What about those guys?
That’s Dag, our main guy in Northlanders #29, an old sailor worn down by the monotony of it all, entering his autumn years, realizing he’d done very little with his life but help make other people rich. No adventure, no deviation from what’s required. And so, one day under cover of a storm, he turns the tiller one way when it should have been the other, and sets off into the uncharted Atlantic.
Fiona Staples blew my mind with this one. I’ve known Fiona a little for many, many years and have always loved her work. But she’s a painter, really, and unless I’m mistaken this is her first job drawing a comic in just pen and ink... and one that’s about 75% water scenes. I can’t think of anything more difficult to draw and ink than churning water. Fiona knocked it out of the park. Check out a page here. Gorgeous, gorgeous stuff that colorist Dave McCaig worked his typical magic on.
Northlanders: The Sea Road – June 30th. A single-issue story, perfect for anyone familiar or new to the series.
Maybe we can do the scratch-and-sniff in one of the foreign reprints?