Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Joëlle Jones, and the comic is Helheim #1, which was published by Oni Press and is cover dated March 2013. Enjoy!
Jones did some nice work between You Have Killed Me and this comic, including some color work, but I wanted to show this because it’s not only in color, but it shows more of her growth even though her fundamental style doesn’t change. I don’t own all of Jones’s work from 2010-2012, but I own enough of it that I think this book is a pretty good step up for her. Plus, it has Vikings. So, you know, duh. (I should point out that they’re not exactly Vikings, as the book takes place in AD 580, before the first confirmed Viking attacks. Cullen Bunn probably deliberately chose a date before the Vikings because the historical record in Scandinavia is so spotty before the eighth century that he could write this without worrying about including historical figures, which is fine, but technically, they’re not “Vikings.” Still, it’s fun to call this a Zombie Viking – Vombie? Ziking? – comic, so I’m calling them Vikings.)
Jones’s style is still fairly angular, although she’s using a bit more nuance with her faces and figures, perhaps because of Nick Filardi’s coloring. She’s using a nice combination of thick and thin lines, which gives her artwork a bit more subtlety and is always good to see. Rikard’s face is a bit sharp, which makes it look a bit tougher, and that’s not a bad look given that he’s a Viking. Notice that she’s using a lot more lines in Rikard’s hair, and Filardi’s nice coloring makes his hair look smooth and thin. Jones does nice, detailed work on his armor in the vision, making him a more regal figure, and Filardi’s coloring means she doesn’t have to draw in the blood, because Filardi can add it during his process. This shows an interesting progression from Jones’s older, sharper work to a slightly softer style.
This is a nice little sequence where Rikard drops the corpse he’s carrying (the dude wasn’t quite dead in the beginning, but he is now!) and leaves him while the bad guys chase him and his father. The layout of the first page is nothing inspiring – the five-panel stack is a staple in comics – but it serves a purpose here, as it keeps the focus on a broad stretch of the river, so that we stay there until the other tribe show up. So Jones shows Rikard wading ashore and heading up the bank, and then we focus on the dead dude for a few beats until the leg lands in the water next to the corpse, therefore giving us a decent idea of how close the hunters are to the hunted. Then we turn the page and get the tribe in all its glory, running up the slope to get Rikard. We can see that Jones is using a lot more lines, which makes the characters messier. The Vikings and their pursuers live in a rough age, obviously, so their faces are marked and their clothing is rough and ragged. The tribesmen in the final panel are done really nicely. Jones makes the men gruesome and angry, while their dogs are even worse, with the thick lines, spot blacks, wide noses, and gaping mouths turning them into true hellish terrors. Filardi does really nice work on the water – Jones uses some light lines and blacks to show the ripples, and Filardi uses a combination of blues to add more texture to the ripples and small waves. It’s very neat.
I haven’t shown a lot of action in Jones’s comics, because most of the ones I own prior to this one don’t have a lot of action! The one relatively action-filled story I own by her before this is her brief chapter in Ultimate Spider-Man #150, and I decided to skip that. That doesn’t mean she can’t draw action, just that she didn’t do it much early in her career. Recently she’s gotten to do more of it, and as this comic is about an undead Norseman who wreaks havoc on many manner of enemies, you can bet Jones gets to draw some fightin’ and feudin’! Here Rikard and his tribe decide to fight their enemies rather than running from them, and of course they kick ass! Jones lays the fight out well – Panel 1 leads us nicely to Panel 2, and the heads in Panels 2 and 3 are linked, so we move easily between them, as well. In Panel 5, Jones uses the silhouette of Rikard to good effect, as he watches the others fighting and thinks about which enemy he’s going to carve up. Jones’s figure work isn’t as fluid as some great action artists, but she acquits herself well. She gives us good faces on Rikard in Panel 1 and the dude in Panel 3 as Rikard slashes him with the axe, and the fact that the one dude in Panel 5 is a bit portly makes me happy, and I’m not sure why. I guess because it’s nice to see dudes who aren’t in the best shape kicking ass. Plus, I always like seeing digital blood spray. It’s a big improvement over old-school blood!
Jones gets to draw skeletons rising from the dead, and Rikard has a nice Admiral Akbar moment. Jones’s bold and stark lines are suited well for the rigid and creepy skeletons, as her angular lines fit well with the fact that they’re made out of bones. Then they put armor on (it’s magic, so let’s not worry about how that happens), which also suits her sensibilities. She does a good job making the runes etched on the bones visible without being too obvious, and her preponderance of lines on the skulls shows how decrepit and ragged the bones are. This is the first time I’ve shown Bera, and Jones does a good job making her attractive without being too removed from the rough world she lives in – she spots blacks on her face and speckles her clothing with blacks, showing that Bera has some blood on her, and the thick folds on her clothing match the men’s, indicating that it’s as rough-spun as anything the warriors are wearing. She’s a fairly typical Jones female, but she works in context (and it turns out she’s a ur-femme fatale, too, so of course Jones does a nice job with her!).
The entire premise of the book is based on Rikard’s death, so here he’s about to get decapitated. Jones does a nice job getting us to that point (the actual decapitation is on the next page, because that’s what the pacing of the book needs), as Rikard’s father wants to sacrifice Bera, as he doesn’t think much of her (which, as it turns out, isn’t a bad instinct). Panel 1 is nicely done, with the point of view down low and looking directly at Bera, with Rikard’s dad in the background acting a bit crazed. It allows us to empathize with Bera, as Jones puts her very close to the reader and draws a nice, worried expression on her face. Rikard steps in between them, and Jones makes sure to put the silhouettes of the skeletons in the background to show that Rikard is in deep shit, which leads to the slash across his back in Panel 3. I’m a bit puzzled by Panel 4, as Rikard’s father seems to move past Rikard to grab at Bera instead of at least stopping for a moment to take out the skeleton that’s attacking his son – I mean, I get that he thinks the Night Creatures want Bera so he’s trying to give her to them, but couldn’t he pause a moment before his son gets decapitated? Still, the silhouettes in Panels 4 and 5 are well done, as Rikard can’t get out of the way of the sword. Rikard’s silhouette in Panel 5 is unusual – it appears that he’s rising onto his knee, but when his head actually gets chopped off, he’s back on two knees like he is in Panel 4. So was Panel 5 a mistake that no one noticed? I’m not sure. Anyway, the coloring remains strong on this page, with Filardi using the fire as a yellow light source, which illuminates the action, while Panels 3 and 5, with the preponderance of red, help make the violent scenes even more violent. It’s not terribly unique, but it’s still powerfully done.
It turns out that Bera raised Rikard from the dead and plans to turn him into a Frankenstein’s monster (he eventually ends up with wings, because why not?), and we get this cool final page as Kirk realizes that he was right about Bera, even though it’s a little too late. Rikard’s a bit bigger, but Jones makes the sutures on his arms fairly obvious, so it’s clear that Bera has been doing some sewing. Bera is smaller, so we can’t see her as well, but Jones still shadows her eyes and sets her mouth a bit, making it clear that she’s done pretending and has some work to do. Rikard is still Rikard in Panel 3, but Jones is a bit scratchier on his face and uses much thicker lines on his hair, making him look a bit more monstrous (and unwashed, but nobody could have been that clean in sixth-century Scandinavia). Jones shows more stitching, and she does a really good job making it look as painful as possible – she tugs at the skin and makes sure there’s enough black in between the edges to show that Bera is really not very good at this sort of thing. It’s a subtle way of showing how beyond this mortal coil Rikard has gone and how much damage Bera is willing to do to get her way.
Helheim is a pretty good comic, and Jones continues to do nice work on it (the second arc just started). I’m only featuring her for one more day, however, and I’m going to take a look at a fun story she did for everyone’s favorite digital-first series. Come back tomorrow, and be sure to spend some time in the archives!
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