A Graphic Novel by Yann and F. Vignaux
Running since 1980 in various forms, Thorgal is a long running Belgian comic that takes place sometime during the Viking Era and deals with fantastical elements such as ancient monsters and Mythology. Being heavily into all things Viking and migration period Norse, I was excited to read this to see if it was worth going back to previous volumes. The Selkie is technically the 38th installment in this series, but the 30th to see release in English so far. I believe the 29th volume is now up for pre-order and I plan to read that as well. For the most part, this comic plays out in a somewhat similar manner to most barbarian comics (Conan, Red Sonja etc.) with a distinct Norse flourish.
“Thorgal’s daughter Wolfcub wakes up inside a cage in a fisherman’s hut, after being abducted. She sees only a strange-looking woman, a mute little girl, and a young boy terrified of his father, the kidnapper. And none of them are willing to free her… Meanwhile, Thorgal and Jolan are already on her trail, but to find her, they will have to brave the curse of the Selkie—the seal woman.”
This is definitely a Viking tale more along the lines of other “pop culture Viking” books, but not having it’s main source of inspiration the History Channel show, Vikings, is refreshing. Rather than walk around in brown furs brooding and calling each other Brother constantly, Thorgal seems to be actually living as a seafarer. Jumping on when I did is probably not ideal, but I liked the idea of Thorgal and his crew traveling around and settling in far flung areas as Vikings did. Being introduced to Faroese folklore creatures like a “seal woman” (or Selkie) is interesting, and I was happy to find out the plot was actually based on a real folk tale from the Faroe Islands.
The Curse of Kópakonan is a folk tale of a selkie who, along with other seal women, came to bask on the beach of The Faroe Islands, but as their human forms. They began to remove their seal skins, to reveal the bodies of beautiful women underneath. A man just happened to witness these hundreds of naked women dancing around and stole one of the skins. The Selkie could not find hers, and found that the man was holding onto it to force her to be his wife. She eventually escaped from her captivity, and the man drifted into alcoholism and seal hunting to cope with his loss. The Selkie warned him to avoid killing certain seals, but he ignored it and killed her entire family. It is said the Selkie cursed the lands with bad weather and other bad things.
I enjoyed that this book took the time to teach me some folklore as well as common cultural practices of the people of The Faroe Islands. For example, The villains in this book try to reverse the curse by doing a yearly massacre of all of the seals that migrate in. This ancient practice, called Grindadrap is still done today, but not with seals. It appears that there is a yearly “harvest” of pilot whales with the same name that gives the islanders more than 80% of their yearly food.
I particularly loved the appearance of a character that was obviously a god in disguise. A kindly old woman basically saves Thorgal and his son after almost being killed by the seal killers. Thorgal’s son remarks that she was “sent by the gods” to reveal her with two cats at her feet. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but I’d like to think that was Freyja doing the same sort of hijinks Odin is usually up to.
All-in-all, I enjoyed this book a LOT and need to go back and read more of this wonderful series. It hits my taste for barbarian comics and my love of Viking history. I particularly loved that, unlike other Viking comics, actually has a bit of Norse Pagan religious practice and folklore included. I was particularly happy with the degree of research the author obviously did, as well as the included footnotes. It helped me look information up as I was reading the comic which gave me a greater appreciation for it. I want to thank Europe Comics for showing me this, as I am now an instant fan.
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