As a lifelong reader of Norse mythology and Icelandic Sagas, this book was always going to attract me, but stories about subjects we love disappoint more often than they delight. Could King Of Winter evoke the feel of the source material or would it just be one more hypertrophied fantasy tale?
I sat on this review for a month or two waiting for the chill of winter to really kick in. Because it’s that kind of story, based on the historical tale of Erik Torvaldsson leaving Iceland in 982 and settling the newly discoverd island he misleadingly named Greenland (possibly the first tourism marketing ploy in history). Best read in the depths of Winter.
The brutal Erik ~ he was not called THE RED for his russet hair! ~ ruled his new colony in pretty much the manner you’d expect of a hard viking lord… and if his people didn’t exactly prosper in their harsh unforgiving land, they were at least their own masters, free from the creeping influence of christianity back on the mainland. But, by the year 1000, the new religion’s priests were spreading The Word further and wider and Erik’s old-time religious foundations were shaken as his people and his family are tempted by the stories of forgiveness and protection. His son, Leif Erikson (the real life Icelandic explorer) was seduced by the new god and the ensuing fallout between father and son pricks the heart of this story like an itchy scab ~ not the cause of conflict but a constant background irritation for the protagonists.
Gods and monsters existed in the old days
So, there’s magic and violence; history; flashes of mythology; personal and societal upheaval and a clash of religions. That’s some story! It’s a credit to the author SØren Mosdal that he can pack in so much of a narrative in just 136 pages and make it feel epic rather than crowded.
And it’s a beautiful book, too. Mosdal’s drawing style is very European, although readers of UK/US comics might feel some connection to the work of Mike Mignola…
Like Mike Mignola, Modal’s compositions lead the eye smoothly between his panels and his placement of text is a graphic exercise in its own right.
Greenberg and Modal use similar motifs and stylisations to convey a sense of reality that more literal drawings cannot manage.
or Dave McKean when he’s feeling inky.
You can feel the use of tools in these drawings.
It doesn’t look out of place in such company.
Some pages have violently contrasting colours held together by Modal’s blacks and pastels so they never throw the reader out of the world he’s created.
The rich, flat colours show a mastery and maturity of technique, concerned with enhancing the story rather than rendering a distorted illusion or reality. Blacks feel deep and tactile, skintones are evocative and negative spaces of vibrant colour or pure white make the pages dance energetically.
Narrative beauty in a single page.
There’s a carved, hewn quality to these drawings that fits the subject matter like a (chain-mail) glove. Giving yourself over to the pictures is a little like exploring the drawings made by a sculptor. The suggestion of actual physical exertion required to make the images adds to the atmosphere of an unsophisticated colony scraping a living from an unwelcoming landscape.
Spaces between figures are stretched and condensed to juxtapose elements.
Through it all, Modal’s compositions and panel transitions make for clear and rapid storytelling, but unlike most modern rush-through plots, his use of silent panels enables a pace and timing to the exchanges between character that is rare and intelligent. He plays with the elasticity of space that comics offers to add background narrative to panels and increase the density of his story in a deceptively elegant manner.
Cold and wild and mad.
Skies and tundra are always going to loom in a story set in Greenland, and in Erik The Red the midnight sun and the north wind are tangible forces. Rocks are jagged and sharp. Cheekbones are high and looks can kill… not as qucicky as a knife though!
Erik the Red is one meaty beast of a book ~ recommended for readers who like a good yarn, for admirers of quality illustration and for students of the comics form.