and several other, not as good, writers, from 2006 onwards, and maybe they should stop, but it started great, and continued strong, for three decades 🙂
When I was a kid, I did not have easy access to Marvel, or DC, comics. Some Batman storylines, The Amazing Spider-Man published in Poland by TM-Semic… I’ve actually only come to really appreciate comics in my early twenties. On title that was always around though – Thorgal. One of a few comic book series hugely popular in a comic wasteland that Poland was, and perhaps still is – we have notable authors, sure, but the scale is small.
Thorgal is a science fiction Viking fantasy (!) series written by (first, and best, 29 issues) a Belgian author Jean Van Hamme and illustrated by a Pole, Grzegorz Rosiński. Belgian, part of the big universe of Francophone comics, the biggest force in the European comic book scene and well worth your while. Smart, pretty – often in a rough way, less polished, and less uniform, than their American counterparts and also less prudish than American publications. I would argue – on average, more sophisticated. With no luck in the film adaptation department, as recent unremarkable Tin-Tin and messy Valerian prove.
This is a series of stories about Thorgal Aegirsson Viking-raised child of space travelers, his wife and Viking princess Aaricia and their kids – Jolan and Louve, with some other recurring characters, friends, enemies and frenemies… including Kriss de Valnor (“of” Valnor in English translations… really, is this a kind of thing that should be translated?) , manipulative bitch, great warrioress and a ruthless mercenary who might have a thing for Thorgal, but I will not get into spoilers here.
So, it is pretty eclectic. Starts in almost-accurate early medieval Scandinavia (but in a world where the gods and creatures of Nordic mythology actually walk around), but pretty soon we start to learn about the s/f side of the saga – the Atlanteans in space part, and later we will visit, among other places, Mesoamerica, Byzantium and various fictional locations in universe where historic epochs mix together and magic coexist with ancient technology. It also combines elements of multiple genres, being mostly heroic fantasy with s/f elements, but including mystery, horror… it sounds like a lot, but spread throughout 30 tomes – is just enough. Post-Van Hamme spin-offs concentrate on the Viking part and repeat most popular themes of the golden era, so I’d say they are optional.
Thorgal is, predictably, a very able warrior, and also a person of great personal integrity. But most of all, and this is unusual, he is a family man, readily foregoing his great destiny and ceaselessly struggling to keep his wife and children safe and happy. He fights for freedom to live the life he wants with people he loves and he remains a decent human being while doing so. Aaricia is the love of his life and it is a rare in the genre example of a long lasting, successful marriage. The wife is also a strong character, although not a warrior herself, an integral part of the story, not just an ornament. Kids also have their moments of importance and glory and this concentration on a loving family makes Thorgal really stand out.
Anna Karenina principle do not apply. They may be happy together, but constantly have to fight for it, the bliss of always on the horizon, but sometimes circumstances beyond their control separate them for a long time. When they are finally reunited, it’s always earned and uplifting for the reader.
I won’t go into the details of specific story-lines, just maybe add some picture-quotes:
One of the classic stories, and the introduction of Thorgal’s femme fatale, Kriss de Valnor, here paired up with Thorgal in an archery contest that required quite a lot of faith in one’s partner…
Alinoë, maybe my favourite, variation on the horror theme what if the lonely kid’s invisible friend is actually a murderous monster
But sometimes it gets crazy and colourful 🙂
and there are bits of fan-service, according to Wikipedia sometimes censored by prudish publishers of the English versions 😉
Yes, Kriss is often a kind of Black Sonja 😉
Sometimes there are starships…
… but overall it is a Viking story, with drakkars and horned helmets and stuff.
And some experiments with style, to be expected when one guy has to draw one comic for three decades.
It is a sophisticated, eventful saga with likeable protagonists, highly recommended. Do take a look 🙂
Score: overall 8/10 for volumes 1-29, personal favourites: Alinoë, The Archers, Lord of the Mountains (8,9,15)
And then there are the spin-offs, and they are still decent, but so repetitive and rather unnecessary… Kriss of Valnor is dumbed down as a character, Thorgal’s kids live through variants of his earlier adventures, it looks good, sometimes is quite witty, but really, let the guy retire and give his offspring some peace…
Not everything is available in English, publisher’s page offers volumes 1-18 with 19 to be published soon.