Powerful Panels: Northlanders #17 by Vasilis Lolos

Save for a few sound effects and angry yells ("Fucker!") from Snorri the Black or Egil the Sledge-Hammer, the latest issue of Northlanders, "The Viking Art of Single Combat", an issue-long fight scene, is entirely buttressed by Vasilis Lolos' radiant art and a constant, pitch-perfect narration from Wood.

Lolos' work captures the whirl and confusion of a lengthy battle while remaining clear and comics-grammatical enough to make sense and the issue could really stand alone without Wood's narration, though it wouldn't have the emotional resonance. Wood's concern is with the tiny details, ritual, thoughts, worries, back-history, and everything else of viking lore, casually translated into a language closer to our own. It's like an issue of Tor with a college degree.

Much the way Kubert wrote Tor, a caveman comic, in something resembling the hard-boiled detective style, Wood adopts current slang and modern-day analogues to his viking tale, but not to simplify the story or dumb-it-down but to tap into some of the emotions at-stake: "For the common man, it's all too easy to find yourself in the middle of a levy, conscripted into service by your fucking landlord. Surely the taxes you pay means the lord and his bodyguards have an obligation to see you don't eat an axe?".
Part hip history lesson, part formal exercise in comics writing and art, and all raw, oddly affecting emotion, "The Viking Art of Single Combat", is like a comics version of Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait--an intense dive into brawny athleticism and ritual, with no tiny detail spared. And that's the brilliance of Lolos' work here, a perfect balance of visual narrative that occasionally freezes or shifts to hone-in on the tiniest detail. Something, in a previous Powerful Panels post, I showed Lolos to do expertly.

Above is a perfect example of Lolos and Wood working together. Wood's line ("the central concept of "Striking where he isn't") exemplified in the main image of Snorri striking Egil, a strip of pale orange whirling around the characters to indicate the motion of the blow that indeed, strikes Snorri where he isn't. At the same time, Lolos complements the main image here with two smaller panels of intense detail. The panel in the upper left is a close-up of Egil's armor with a slash of motion across it--or that's what I think it is. It's an odd but awesome choice, Lolos zooming-in something that's not visibile in the main image (this is from the opposite angle, presumably showing Egil's front, left side) but oddly, illustrating the motion or action line as well. Of course, if Lolos didn't illustrate the line of motion, he'd have to draw some kind of damage or something because the panel without that visual suggestion of Snorri's striking would lack the kineticism necessary.

But it's the other small panel, in the lower right side of the image that's especially fascinating: An image of the sky with small pieces of metal and debris flying through the air. Standing on its own (below or at the top of this entry), it's completely abstract, and even within the narrative of the story, it's pretty jarring and initially confusing. Confusing because, Lolos' drawing captures something that couldn't be captured in any other artform. In movies for example, this kind of close-up of debris (or blood or whatever) flying off of someone/something would be a quick cut-away or a slow-motion, kinda stupid Matrix-like image that slows the scene down for a second and calls attention to the detail. It's similar to the Panels post I did on Mike Mignola's illustration of the 1/8th of a second when a match is struck and it lights up the room. A similarly strange and impossible-to-present image in any artform other than comics.

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