Writer: Martin Dunelind
Artist: Peter Bergting, Henrik Pettersson, Joakim Ericsson, Magnus Olsson, Lukas Thelin
Cover Art: Lukas Thelin
Published By: Dark Horse Comics
September saw the release of the much anticipated “The Dark North”, a full-colour volume featuring the best of Sweden’s concept artists and illustrators. In association with Dark Horse Comics, Martin Dunelind provides the prose which in many ways act as background to the smorgasbord of images on offer in the collection. Initially funded through Kickstarter, the original is re-released here with an eye-catching new cover, and at over 200 pages, acts as a must-have for readers whose comic palette craves nothing more than fantasy and science fiction.
The collection opens with a foreword by renowned writer, film director, and visual artist Clive Barker, though paradoxically this is one of the more disappointing aspects of the product. Barker, a renowned wordsmith, delivers a meandering introduction, which unlike the images that follow, says very little with the space given. If anything however, the typo-ridden text does end on the perfect note:
Coming to these images has been a beautiful revelation
Overall, that’s what the combined effort of Scandinavian artists Bergting, Ericsson, Pettersson, Olsson and Thelin gives us – an almost sacred glimpse of the people and places that these stories are home to. The Dark North is not a conventional comic, and often struggles to find the mark in terms of plot or word choice. But while fans of a fast-paced, glossy-slick superhero strip may be disappointed, those who crave a deeper story will look a second time. Dunelind weaves his words through pages of perfect illustration, often operating with an almost lyrical style you’d nearly put music to. At times his narrative pauses to take a long breath, while at others it moves so fast it is gasping just to keep up with itself. At no point however, does the text fall out of sync with its parent illustration, which is indeed the ultimate challenge when compiling a collection such as this. Neither on the other hand, is the writer afraid to dip his toe between genres, carving out plots everywhere from a dystopian world to a haunted forest. Yes, at times, this experiment does fail, as is the case in the Mother!-esque sci-fi story “Archon”, where biblical and geopolitical references hit us so hard over the head we forget what Jennifer Lawrence looks like. For the most part though, the team behind “The Dark North” cut frighteningly close to the bone, and to the truth.
Overall, that is why the first volume in this Swedish artistic endeavor is so fully deserving of praise. Rather than shy away from uncomfortable topics, it grabs them by the collar and hauls them close, then smears them over a too-real layer of fantastical imagery. Per Strömbäck touches on this in his afterword where he explains the concept of “Hemmablind” (or homeblindness) – a Swedish observation on how we as people take special things for granted when we see them all the time. Of course, he’s talking about both the natural and creative wonders of his homeland. Even so, he inadvertently talks about the world of writing and illustration too. Because with all the white noise out there in the form of season finales and special effects and blockbuster series, it can be hard to focus on just one snowflake in the storm. But the “Dark North” is such a unique product. From the vivid Nordic poetry on display in “Daughters of the End” to the morose outlook of the stories in “The Way of All Things”, this collection certainly won’t warm you as would an evening fire.
But why would it?
After all, these are the stories of a wolf-world, a place where history is buried and legends roam free.