While the landscape of the American comics market is dominated by books with super hero themes, the variety of genres represented in comics has expanded greatly in the past five years. Pirates, horror, science fiction, fantasy and more have all made tremendous inroads in an industry that's not always been welcoming of outside genres. In February of 2006, Swedish creator Peter Bergting will be melding fantasy and horror to bring you the bi-monthly, ongoing series "The Portent" from Image Comics. We spoke with the Scandinavian creator to learn about his background and the world he's created.
As you might expect, "The Portent" is a bad omen and in the case of this book, it heralds the end of the world. Bergting acknowledges that theme has been explored countless times before in comics, but with "The Portent" he'll be taking readers inside the heads of the people who have to live through the event and see it through to the end. "Really, it's not the most important theme in the story as it's actually secondary to the people who inhabit this world," Bergting told CBR News from his home in Stockholm, Sweeden. "What happens after that is, in my opinion, even more interesting since I'll explore the psychological realm of these characters and how they respond to what's happening. There's a huge revelation at the end of issue two that will hopefully turn peoples heads. But what the Portent actually is in terms of how it's going to appear I will leave up to speculation until issue three."
"The Portent" takes place in a romanticized norse country with mist-filled valleys and towering mountains. "It doesn't have a name. At least none that's mentioned," said Bergting. "I worked long and hard to try to come up with a name and finally settled on something I liked. Then I went onto the Internet and, of course, there were about 10 places in the real world that had the same name. So, to keep the setting a little bit more elusive and to avoid people associating it with something they're familiar with, the name had to go. Tolkien went wild with that kind of stuff. Gandalf, for instance, is a dwarf from Swedish mythology. Just like with 'Lord of the Rings' taking place in an alternate history of England, 'The Portent' takes place in a mythical version of northern Scandinavia. But it does bring in other elements, especially East Asian design and mythology
"It's a beautiful world. Big forests, sweeping valleys and a mixture of cultures, old and new (as reflected in the architecture). Houses, in particular, are a mix between Asian architecture circa 11th century and old Norse buildings. Due to the events that take place, it's also an empty world and filled with sadness. Most of it takes place during the autumn and I've worked a lot with the colors, timing the changes in saturation and hues to bring out the different moods.
"The story will go from the top of a sleeping volcano where we first meet our hero, Milo, where there's a house of spirits and a first encounter with two benevolent spirits. It goes from there to the oldest city of man, also being the only road (actually bridge) to the world of men from the spirit realms and the worlds beyond. It goes from there to another city that sees the first blast of the apocalypse, over the mountains and into the forest where the plot originates. It's supposed to be a beautiful place of magic and wonders, but when the hero arrives there it is twisted and turned into a nightmare that, I hope, will be a memorable encounter for the readers."
The star of the series is Milo, a terrific warrior and swordsman who's really a good guy at heart, But then something goes wildly wrong. "At some point in his life he looses everything and, by a chance encounter, he's given the option to return, essentially, back to life with powers beyond those of mere mortals," explained Bergting. "But he was already too far gone at that point and decided to take the opportunity and basically do whatever he felt like with it. So, he set out on a journey to live life to the fullest and he would let no one come in his way. He's not a bad person, just the most egotistical bastard you could ever dream of. It's at this point that we meet Milo, but he has no clue that he is already playing a part in a bigger play and that his actions will set about the end of the world. You'll have to wait until issue three to see what happens to him-something that can perhaps inspire him to become a bigger man."
The world of "The Portent" is also inhabited by the aforementioned spirits, who Bergting says are a mix of Chinese spirits and Swedish svartalfs or "black elves". "Call them what you want, demons, svartalves, draug... They are the restless spirits of the dead," explained Bergting. "Some take over humans, others inhabit the trees, the lakes, others just continue in the bodies they wore when they were alive. They have long sought to take back what was stolen from them, which is the world of the living. To do this they must wipe out every single human on the planet.
In addition, the cast of "The Portent" includes a seer and an aging warrior. "Lin, the female protagonist, absolutely hates Milo's guts. She's a seer and has seen the portent in her dreams and knows one or two things about Milo. She's also the one that has to push him in the right direction occasionally.
"The third member of the gang is Alkuin, an aging warrior who plays dual roles in the story, but I can't tell you more about him without giving away key points from issue #2."
While the story has roots in the fantasy genre, Bergting said that "The Portent" is much more a horror story than your typical fantasy epic. "The setting does have fantasy elements, but I would probably compare it to wuxia films instead." Translated from the Chinese, wuxia means "martial arts chivalry" and is most simply defined as Chinese swords and sorcery.
Bergting's been working on "The Portent" for years, but real life got in the way of it seeing the light of day until now. "I've always been developing my own comics, but being a professional artist I've never found the time to take them from idea to real project," said Bergting. "'The Portent' was one of those ideas. Originally it was more of a rock-opera, but the story evolved from that to what it is now. The first eight pages were published on the net probably five years ago and then scrapped because I didn't think it was true to what I had envisioned. So, I went back to the original material, rewrote most of it and did four pages that I showed to people. I already had some contact with [Dark Horse Editor] Scott Allie, having worked on the 'Hellboy Sourcebook,' and I got some very positive reactions from him that spurred me on. The story and characters stem from my love of all things epic and lyrical, from 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' to 'The Lion King.' I'm a huge sucker for big drama, big emotions, tragedy, all these things and 'The Portent' needed to be all of those things for me. I could cite everything from a Chinese ghost story to 'Buffy' as inspiration."
"The Portent" first came to life in a Swedish magazine 18 months ago. At that time, Bergting forwarded along his work to Image Comics, his publisher of choice, but never heard back from them. "I waited patiently since the approval process was supposed to take some time, but a whole year passed and I hear nothing. By this time I was getting queasy about my involvement with the current [Swedish] publisher since it ran four pages at a time and I felt the story was being butchered. So, I pulled it. The publisher wasn't too happy about that, but this is my baby and I had to take care of it.
"Two days later I get mails from my agent and from Eric Stephenson at Image. Turns out my agent had walked in there, dropped my name and they had already made a decision to publish 'The Portent,' but had lost my contact information. So, all things sort of clicked into place right then and there. A few weeks later I had a signed contract in my hand."
As you might expect, a number of European artists have influenced Bergting's style, with a number of American's thrown in for good measure. "My first influences were pretty archaic, [German painted] Albrecht Dürer for instance, but then I got hooked on comics so basically all of the great Marvel and DC artists of the '70s. Later, when 'Heavy Metal' came about, I discovered Moebius, Bilal, Mezieres and all of those guys. But there have been so many influences over the years. When I started out professionally I was like a sponge and tried to learn from everyone like Frank Miller, Mignola, Brian Bolland... too many to mention. Of the new guys, I really like Marcello Frusin. He's doing some amazing things. But I also get inspiration from classical art like Carl Larsson, Ivan Bilibin and others."
As our interview came to a close, we asked Begting to introduce himself to his American audience, which he was happy to do. "I was born 35 years ago in a small town in Sweden. I spent a lot of time alone when I was growing up, either out in the woods, fishing, walking or at home reading comics. Much of my inspiration for the places in the comic comes from my childhood. Mist covered valleys, dark forests, all those things that were both scary and beautiful when you were young.
"I moved to Stockholm in my 20s and began a professional career as an illustrator working for mostly games companies doing everything from concept art to covers and the likes. I co-owned a web company for a while and dabbled with computer games, but that really burned me out. I work constantly, probably 14-15 hours a day, with all my free time spent with my darling daughter and wife. I have a complete collection of 'Hellblazer' comics and am a Mac evangelist (I've been using Macs since 1989).
"Regarging previous comics work, not too much in the US, except my stint on 'Hellboy' ('The Astromagnet' and the sourcebook) and my comic strip, also called 'The Portent,' running monthly in Dungeon Magazine. I've done a couple of books for the Swedish market, but it's nothing I would want to revisit."