I’m looking at the document I wrote when I was developing The Plague Widow… Northlanders being designed the way it is, each time I start a new story what I’m doing is starting a brand new project. So there’s a lot of proposal-writing and outlining and collecting of reference.
Here’s the working list of titles I had for this story:
THE WINTER OF THE PLAGUE
THE PLAGUE WINTER
THE PLAGUE YEAR
THE YEAR OF THE PLAGUE
THE FALL AND THE DEATH
DEATH OF A VILLAGE
I remember the first two were the ones I presented to my editor Mark Doyle at Vertigo. The others are more stream-of-consciousness, just writing stuff to exercise the brain sort of thing (you should see the titles list for The New York Four - close to a hundred ideas). “The Plague Widow”, the actual title, came later, in an email exchange with Mark. Not sure how or why, but as soon as I typed it I knew it was the one. I changed a few things around in the outline so the story more closely followed Hilda, our widow.
The Rus, as they are called, camped above the river
trading furs from a log hall, axed out by slaves.
The men—tall as date palms, blond, tattooed—
had set a pole out front carved with gods
to which they offer things to bless their trade.
This was all I saw of their piety or conscience.
Caliph, they are the dirtiest creatures of God.
- Ibn Fadhlan, On an Arab Mission, Encounters Vikings Volga River, 922 A.D.
A great passage I found while researching the Rus. I remember noting down a reminder to make more of the characters blond.
According to F. Donald Logan (The Vikings in History, cit. Montgomery, p. 24), “in 839, the Rus’ were Swedes. In 1043, the Rus’ were Slavs.” The Scandinavians were completely absorbed and, unlike their brethren in England and in Normandy, they left little cultural heritage in Eastern Europe. This almost complete absence of cultural traces… is remarkable, and the Slavicists therefore call the Vikings “cultural chameleons”, who came, ruled and then disappearede. This seems to suggest that these Rus’ were a small group, less than a people in the nation sense of the word; less than an ethnos.
“the last of the vikings?”
That final line was a note I wrote in response to the paragraph above. For a moment I contemplated saving this story for the end of Northlanders The Series, but I’ve always known the final story would be about the famous Lost Greenland Settlement.
Original character notes (Hilda was initially called Hild):
HILD – she is a small woman, pretty and delicate but more towards the boyish than the supermodel (a blond Bjork?). Her strength is an inner strength and anyone would be surprised to see such stamina and resilience in such a small person. KARIN, her daughter, is just an 8yo version of herself.BORIS – dark features, and immense sort of Moses beard. Wears a woolen cap on his head at all times. Vaguely religious in appearance, like a crazy renegade monk that makes people laugh.
Hild has white-blond hair, long to the waist. Married Norsewomen always wear their hair up in public, and free-flowing hair on an adult is a sign of a single woman. So at first she will wear it up, but then probably cut it short to circumvent the whole thing.
Hild is probably only 25, but that means something different in those days and she looks more like 37 – wrinkles around the eyes, a world-weariness about her. Possible model: http://tinyurl.com/r8x6rc
GUNBORG – like a small-town cop, he is a big beefy guy losing the war of muscle vs. fat. His gut is growing, but no one would doubt the power in his arms and back to deliver some damage. Like any Viking, he hair long hair tied back, a big beard, and maybe a busted nose.
He’s older, maybe 40, which is retirement age. He might have been a warrior once, but now he’s living in the sticks, trying to start over. Or give up?
His main weapon is the battle axe, which is one of those serious ones mounted on a 6-foot pole: http://www.ydalir.co.uk/gallery/2004/elvaston/axe_fight_big.jpg
http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/4436400/jpg/_44364703_russiabeliever_afp416.jpg (this is fantastic, but with jet black hair)
Sergei Kirillov’s The Holy Rus Trilogy:
In 2006 I went on a research trip to Iceland (okay, it was also my honeymoon) and brought my shitty old Holga with managed to shoot one last roll of 120mm before crapping out. I got the film developed into negatives, and, long story short, it was ages before I got them scanned. Here are a few shots from that dying plastic camera, only slightly adjusted for contrast and with some double-exposed frames pasted together. I love them, weird and dreamlike and pretty much exactly how I remember the sun-drenched summer days I spent there.
The Vertigo Comics: Graphic Content blog has a post up now about something they are calling “Brian Wood Month”, where I’ll have four books released in February 2010. Up there is the cover to Northlanders #25, but click through to see the art for NORTHLANDERS BOOK THREE, which will be called "Blood In The Snow", collection all the short stories to date:
"Lindisfarne", art by Dean Ormston (#9, #10)
"The Viking Art Of Single Combat", art by Vasilis Lolos (#17)
"The Shield Maidens", art by Danijel Zezelj (#18, #19)
"Sven The Immortal", art by Davide Gianfelice (#20)
It’s a wonderfully understated cover, but, to me, is a perfect representation of the series. I’ll post the final cover once its designed. It is, as always, painted by Massimo Carnevale.