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The Viking Age as a Comic Eric Knipper


Concept art for Mediafarm, the Virtual History project, 2013. A Visualisation of Roskilde 1040 AD.

The protagonist Saxn么t, Concept Art for Berserker

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Content 1. Introduction 2. The Viking Age as a Comic 3. The creation of a Comicpage Frankish tripod sword mounting

Page 3 Page 4 Page 12

Introduction This Ebook gives an insight to the thoughts and workflow, which are the foundation of Berserker, my current comic project. It´s meant to be a peek behind the Curtain, so that the critic or other reader can get an impression of, how the world looks like from the artist´s desktop, and which considerations there were during the concept, manuscript and designphase of the project. Of course from my point of view, but also to mediate knowledge about the workflow of comic artists in generel. I don´t know where this project gets me, but I´m searching for new paths, while I´m honouring our ancestors at the same time. The Illustrations contain a few finished pages from the Berserker project, as well as design- and research drawings. Have fun with this presentation.

Detail from the Oseberg ship

Eric Knipper Mail: eric@thesyndikate.dk www.thesyndikate.dk Copyright © 2014 - Eric Knipper - All rights reserved.




The Viking Age as a Comic An essay and a treaty between the artist and the art. Here are my poetological Thoughts during the work on my Comicproject Berserker. It´s written as an essay, so I will appear as a guide on these pages, which describes my pact with the muse of art. The new project is building upon experiences with the work on my comic Germania and the cooperation with the danish National Museum. The Iron Aga as comic I created Germania in 2010-2011 for the National Museum. During my career, I mostly draw humor comics, here I will emphasize Nørrebronx and Jørg, both of which are appealing to young readers, and they are underground style comix for real. But I´ve always dreamed of making action/ adventure/scifi stuff, because there is an opportunity to tell a long, epic narration, and with the help of the National Museum I could establish the Germania project, which mediates our knowledge of the Iron Age. Germania is telling the story of the Cimbrer warrior Hariuha and his adventurous life as a Roman mercenary and warlord in Iron Age Denmark, in the 3rd century AD, when northern Europe was dominated by the south. I´ve always been interested in history and archaeology, and as an educated cultural mediator I´m enthusiastic with joining the ever ongoing battle against ignorancy. It´s been a pleasure to be part of a competent community and to be a part of the museum´s dayly life. Therefore I decided to deal with the Viking Age after finishing Germania, because I was fascinated by searching the archives to get knowledge of the life during the Viking Age, through the sparse informations, we have. The Viking Age was the peak of the cultural development of the Iron Age, which has been heading for the Middle Age, and the Germanic tribes became kingdoms. I´m constanly surprised, and I have to assess different interpretations of the same sources to find necessary solutions to stuff, which is important for the images or the story. But the main factor is the modern media market: There are not enough comics, movies etc. depicting the Iron Age and the Viking Age, for instance compared to the Tudors or the Western genre, which is historical at it´s core. 4

The protagonist Saxnôt, first draft.


I can provide informations by myself, but I always have to create an overview of my studies. It´s the vision to create something, that makes a difference, and to design something, that´s more than just an action comic in a historical dress, and to deliver something, that´s different, but that still can serve as a hideaway from modern dayly life for the reader. Practice what you preach Where Germania at some point has been an experiment, where I tested my ideas, then the Vision for Berserker is to grab the gold and to use the new techniques on a big scale. I have teached Comics and Drawing, and I did take my own lessons serious, as I invested much in the initialconceptmanuscript- and design phase - teachers tend to be pedantic -but now I have a strong, wellplanned project, and from what I´ve heard it´s the right direction: Going berserk creating a powerfull showcase of the european Viging Age, and the path is the goal for the artist, to create and research, which for me is an intellectual Adventure into a strange world. The narrative of Berserker features the world of the Vikings around 800 embedded in our knowledge of king Godfred, and this demands epic proportions, an insight into Viking society from slave to king. This early and particularly heathen Part of the Viking Age isn´t commonly known, but at least as thrilling as the late Viking Age, where kings like Gorm the Old, Harald Bluetooth and Sven Forkbeard. And Godfred opposed Charlemagne and the frankish empire. Today this would be like a conflict between Denmark anf Russia!

Odinkar, Saxnôts Bruder

Between Scylla and Charybdis Under the flag “Graphic Novel“ there´s been made good and bad stuff, it´s a battle metaphor for at least a generation of artists. The Epic rules the novel, which is accepted as fine art. That´s the reason why Will Eisner laid the initial foundation of graphic novels, which is based on the epic aspect, where there mostly were dramatic comic narrations. I can use the term Graphic Novel to hold unto the artistic freedom of expression, and for comics as a worthy artform too, and that was Eisners goal as well. His own late comic stories like Journey to a far off thunder are straight narrated, but are not child litterature. His use of literary techniques like the inner monolog are carried by his sublime layout. And the layout is the nerve center of the comic medium, text and picture merges to forge the message of the comic, the story and the mood into a unity. 


The graphic novel craves for an active narrator for the comic to strenghten the epic aspect, whereas the main emphasis in socalled traditional comics lies on the dramatic and the dialog, not the narrator. The epic breath of Tolstojs War and Peace is based in comprehensive descriptions, and I shape this into Berserker by using splash pages and pictures filling an entire spread, where the dramatic action almost stops in favor of gourgeous scenarios, were the reader is dragged into. Comics today may be serieous and deep, the Comic medium can be developed and the artist has been set free. This freedom seems to appear as a curse, because the secureness of tradion is vanished, while the graphic novel term is establishing new genre conventions. As a tough comic reader, you´r not in doubt, if you are reading a graphic novel (Thick book, black/white drawings, depressive suburban teen on a monday morning in January) or a japanese, french etc. comic. Culture is always on the move, change is the only thing for sure, and of course there will appear an uprising against graphic novel as a genre and term, but the past can´t be reversed. I try to prevent beeing shrill modernistic, but I´m not just making an action product. You can be assured by old, sour Adorno, that the modern culture industry is making copies out of copies, quoting Adorno “an aura of decay“, as Adorno is using the term coined by Walter Benjamin, “Aura of art”, which has been lost in the clumsy mass culture of our modern world. But no matter how artistic and different a comic is, Adorno would never acknowledge comics as art, that demands the same sort of acknowledgement as Twelve-tone music and modern poetry. As an example, he condemned all movies. The avantgarde is delivering a kind of art, that in its extreme desire for shocking the audience has been incorporated into the culture industry, that now has canned shit or other good things to offer to the consumer, but Adorno has still the high ground with his term culture industry: The media consumer always gets the same story over and over again in uncounted Tarzan- og Robin Hood remakes. I´m extreme in another way: I´m looking for pathos as an expression of the exalted, a romantic but modern national epos, which “only“ has the purpose of entertainment and enlightenment, and not to get the reader killed in a war, but to encourage him to live his life. The 6

Monk with Irish tonsure. The Roman-Catholic haircut for monks is a tonsure in the middle of the head, whilst the irish monk is shaved on the forehead.

Radulf, Saxnôts father


Detail from a waggon, Oseberg

TheVølve (Sibyl) with buckle shaped fibulas from Gothland.

exalted position is tragic, because people are going to die for ideas, religion and gold, but the tragic is beauty, because there is a will for sacrifices, which is the greatest expression for the good, as self-sacrifice. Not to forget the humor, which can be triggered by contempt of death, the semiotic victory of Man against Death. The artist must construct his own faith, his own meaning of life and time, as Nietsche has declared the death of god. A comic can´t be put into a formula anymore, for example that it´s a genre for children, so there is no authority which decides what a comic can and may do. But the moral, the values that are the foundation of our knowledge horizon, are modern and permeated by christianity, if we like it or not. And we will never see the world as a Viking. That´s good, because the past is a mirror, in which we can compare the foolishness of today with an era, where life still was easy. We believe, because we don´t know so much of the ancient times. So the past becomes a Refuge for the tormented modern soul, which is longing for a time, when the gods have told Man, how to live his life. New nordic style With my drawing of the ancient times of Denmark and Europe I aspire a new nordic style - which is a powerful heir of the vikings ribbon- and animal ornaments. The architect and critic Adolf Loos has said, that ornament is crime. I´m a criminal in this regard, who not wants to live in this modern hell designed by architects, but as a child of my time I´m enthusiastic with the design element of the comic medium. As a comic contains text and pictures, it´s lucky that the epic tale of my new project Berserker is similar to one of the innumerable ornaments, which I´ve drawn already - Filaments of the narration are entangled and are moving ahead, just tu turn around in time and space. The pattern isn´t straight, some threads of destiny are longer than others. Representation of the past The Berserker projekt has emerged out of the same basic priciples as my comic Germania, which came from my cooperation with the national museum. I have to stick to the sources and pursue new artistic ways. Experimentation, not for the sake 


The daughter of the king of the danes, sigurd ring, finds the way across the sea and is called the Vølve of Viken.* *sybyl near Oslo




the king has sent his younger brother Godfred as commander of the attack. Radulf´s saxons want to revenge the down-plunging of their holy column , the Irminsul.




of the experiment, but to gain knowledge and experience. Knowledge as adventure and not as homework, and a tale about our ancestors, who have not always been nice. As I strive and seek in old books (Oelenschläger) then the reason is, that I got exiting experiences in museums, as a museum is a modern frame for the mediation of the past, and the past will get into the form of an aesthetic, synergetic experience, a rediscovery of the pain and the sublime in a hyperironic and self referring media reality. Reconstruction of history Where can we meet the dead? At the museum, in the shape of bog bodies and sculls. You can meet the proud ancient people, who fabricated things, that still have kept their exotic aura, while we are trying to grasp the meaning of symbols, shields, Fibulas and ships. I use parts of the museum mediation: Overview maps and dioramas as elements of the modern communication design, which are easy to embed into the comic media. The world is a theater, and can we claim, that we know our own time? Berserker and Germania are models of the past, which can gain new knowledge, as I am resampling all the stuff we know of the Pre-and Early History. It´s like drinking out of a bottomless barrel. Often I have to choose between two experts, and large areas are kept into the darkness, or there are centuries between sources and artefacts. By reconstructing the past it´s the goal to achieve, that houses, ships and landscapes are more than backdrops, but voices in the narration, to strenghten the epic aspect. The characters are not only dressed in exotic costumes, but they have to act according to the norms and values of the Viking Age. According to our knowledge today. I´m aiming at a psychological credebillity; even if Germania´s hero Hariuha is favouring slavery, he is still “our“ guy. In Berserker, the psychological aspect plays an important role: Will violence and devastation mark the 10

Bed pillar from the Oseberg finding, Norway

Frankish women costume


soul of the warrior? And which actions will this lead to with the mindset of the Vikings? I will explore this as an artist and culture mediator. It´s not about good or bad. It´s about survival. Borg stavechurch, Norway

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The creation of a Comic page Manuscript, Research and Layout sketch No matter what historical period my comic features, my research is very intense. This is also true for our own age, but research is much more important for historical comics like Germania. It´s about using as many informations as possible; it´s a bottomles barrel. Archaeological evidence can be interpreted in many different ways. The manuscript is the starting point for a comic, 12

Cover of the comic Germania, which is published by danish Faraos Cigerer in 2012. The workflow of Berserker is very similar. Comic artists and writers have their own workflow each, but most artists will follow the single steps from manuscript to inking and coloring, for some.


Weapon Votive gift from Nydam.

that contains text and images. Here is the text for page 47, but There are some ideas for the layout as well: Page 47, Frame 2-4 nested Frame 1, splash Frame 1: (100 warriors on the hill, comment) The Anglian warriors are silently waiting for the attack. Frame 2: (Nithijo) This is only a bunch of peasants, we´re not gone so far just to plunder one puny village. Attack with javelins! Frame 3: (Norwegians throw javelins) Frame 4: (Shields are cleaved)

The layout sketch is the first visualization of the final page.

The layout sketch is at left, which is important for planning and testing the visual idea. The drawing is very simple, but it´s enough to show the most important visual objects as much as getting a generel impression of the page and the flow of the story. I´m drawing every single image at double size of the final page. This helps me to forcus on each individual drawing, and I gain a generel impression of the page from the layout sketch. The research means, I can depicture each Iron Age warrior in my own style. I can draw simple objects like swords and shields freely from out of my mind, but I use photos for special artefacts like the Gundestrup kettel. Besides the narration, this page shows a battle technique from the Iron Age: Here on page 47, the shieldwall of the Angles is softened with javelins. It´s the goal to break as many shields as possible. Only a few warriors are killed, but without his shield, a warrior is vulnerable.

Pencil sketch of a single frame. 13


Inking and montage I do the inking on the lightdesk. All details are fixed, whereafter I scan the images and assemble all images for the montage at the computer , and I can fix small errors.

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The final page At the end there is the digital colouring, and the dialogue will be inserted. Page 47 can now be printed or it can be published on the web.

This is only a bunch of peasants, we´re not travelled so far just to plunder one puny village.

Attack with javelins!!

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the Anglian warriors are silently waiting for the attack.


(Next page) Nowadays I´m inking Berserker on my Ipad, because there I can do the inking digitally, so the black stroke can be corrected easily. I still do the colours on my Personal computer.

Vikingship of the Oseberg type, the orinal drawing is in theA2 format.

The helmet of king Godfred is drawn after a helmet from the Vendel Age from the late Iron Age. The Vendel Age is short before the Viking Age, but we found similar Viking Age helmets. There are only few helmets left from the Viking Age, and only the top elite of the warriors could afford them. Each of the Vendel helmet is unique, but we know from Beowulf, that the hero had the same helmet as his companions, and therefore Godfreds men got the same helmet as him, but in red. (Next page) 16


The king is always on the move, to control the warlords, but to get food, weapons, horses and ships for his entourage, too.

Sometimes the king is at a royal hall, sometimes he visits a warlord, who has to supply him and his entourage.

Godfreds wife, queen Aase, is sometimes travelling with the entourage. Her slave from the Lindisfarne monastery has become obedient.

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Eric Knipper is living in Copenhagen and is working on his comics, of which the last has been produced in cooperation with the danish national museum: The historical comic Germania, which is taking place in the Iron Age, before the appearence of Denmark as a national state. The Viking Age as Comic presents his new project Berserker, which he has been working on since the last stroke of Germania has been set.


The viking age as comic