Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Northlanders #4, which was published by Vertigo and is cover dated May 2008. Enjoy!
Brian Wood’s Viking epic began with “Sven the Returned,” about which you can read here. Wood’s a decent artist, so I imagine he had some input on the design of the series, but I don’t imagine he had much to do with this page. “Make it squalid,” he probably said to artist Davide Gianfelice, “and make it big.” And so we get Grimness!
In the first place our eyes fall, we get the place and the time. That’s always handy. Gianfelice lays out the village so that the long house – the symbol of authority – lies directly under the caption boxes, making it the focal point of both the settlement and the page. Notice the tentacle-like road system spreading out from the long house, which ties everything to it. Gianfelice puts all the houses haphazardly within the walls, which is historically accurate but also symbolizes the rough-and-tumble lifestyle of the Vikings in the Orkneys. The wooden wall helps stop our eyes and move them around the settlement, while it, the road leading out to the left, and the rock formation high above the village to the right help frame Grimness nicely. Gianfelice turns the rock formation into something almost human-looking, so that he fools us into thinking the next page will show someone standing above the town looking down, when in fact he heads down into the village. The rocks, however, not only block our eye and frame the page, they show both the strength of Grimness (it’s surrounded by foreboding rocks) and its weakness (if you get over those rocks, it’s easy to rain arrows down into the town).
Dave McCaig does a good job coloring this, giving everything a blue-green hue, which lends coolness to the scene – not surprising given where we are – but also denotes a sense of danger and darkness – the shadows are creeping in, and no one can stop them. Throughout this story arc, McCaig uses this color palette in contrast to Sven’s brighter, more “civilized” mien, so that Grimness becomes something older, more savage, and more primitive than the “returned” Viking. This symbolism is expressed nicely on this page – the blues and greens ground this in the earth, so that Grimness almost seems to be rising up from a primordial soup. The fact that the colors of the houses are indistinguishable from the surroundings help create this mood, and it’s something that McCaig plays with throughout the arc.
“Sven the Returned” is a fine story, and artistic choices like the ones evident on this page help make it that way. As usual, it’s always nice to see professionals at work creating comics!
Next: A tiny little insane comic that has quite a tale attached to it! Be here to find out what it is! In the meantime, here are the archives.