BRIAN WOOD'S BEEN on a tear lately.
Well, longer than "lately." For the past decade, Wood's been cranking out some of the most noteworthy and varied comics out there, like the indie hits Demo and Local (illustrated by Becky Cloonan and Ryan Kelly, respectively); the sci-fi adventure Supermarket (illustrated by Kristian Donaldson); and the Manhattan-is-a-warzone thriller DMZ (which is illustrated by Riccardo Burchielli), which just saw its seventh trade paperback collection hit bookstores a few weeks ago.
No, by "Brian Wood's been on a tear lately," I mean he's been kicking ass in the past few months—with Northlanders, his brutal, gorgeous, gripping comic about vikings. Taking place in Northern Europe between the eighth and 12th centuries, Northlanders just saw its 20th issue hit comic stores, where it joins issues 17-19 and the two trades that collect the series' first 16 issues. Kinda like 100 Bullets with swords or 300 with brains, Northlanders is one of the best books currently on store shelves, period.
"I don't mean to insult anybody, but what I liked in vikings wasn't represented," Wood says from his home in New York when I ask where the book came from. "My editor and I have the little jokey inside phrase, 'This isn't your daddy's viking comic,'" he laughs. "No one's ever gonna talk to a god in my book, the way they do in Thor or whatever." Attributing Northlanders' hard-edged realism to "OCD" levels of research (including reading every nonfiction book on vikings he could find, and spending chunks of his honeymoon in Iceland in museums), Wood notes that the book's influences range from samurai sagas to black metal to crime fiction.
"I've always called it a crime book, and I know I define that word differently than other people might, or I'm a lot looser with it," Wood says. "But I always felt [the book] had that underlying vibe, to one degree or another.... I read a lot of crime fiction, and try to figure out how I can bend it to my will in this book."
"I remember at the beginning, Northlanders was a really tough sell until everybody kind of figured out what I was doing," Wood continues. "Right off the bat, my main character doesn't look like a viking. He doesn't even want to be a viking, and that's how I started off the book. I don't think I would have done it that way if the book wasn't structured [in a way] where I can start brand-new stories all the time."
Indeed, Northlanders' unique format—in which story arcs span a few issues and then end, allowing Wood to switch up the book's setting and characters whenever he feels like it—grants the writer what he calls a "real creative bonus," not to mention a killer reason to have some of comics' best artists, like Davide Gianfelice and Vasilis Lolos, try their hands at different arcs, with the book's rich palette remaining constant thanks to colorist Dave McCaig.
"The strongest thing Northlanders has to offer is such a large concept—vikings, and a huge part of the world, hundreds of years, all different kinds of characters," Wood says. "I can change genres, which I do a bit, and location, and [still] kind of be all things viking. When all is said and done, I'm basically gonna have a fictional, second set of sagas. It's gonna be something that does span hundreds of years, and touches on every major point in time."