Natasha Alterici (words & art)
January 20, 2016
“Feminist lesbian viking comic book.” That phrase was in the first sentence when author and artist, Natasha Alterici, reached out to us about her latest creative endeavor. I was hooked immediately, and I snagged the comic for review.
(Note: This review is based on an advanced review copy from the author and may contain spoilers.)
Our viking hero is Aydis, who is cast out of her community because of her “unnatural” desires. The condition of this outcasting is that her own father is to kill her, but he turns her free rather than kill his daughter. Motivated by the heroic tales she learned from her father and her former clan, Aydis sets herself out to prove she is as strong as any man by going on a quest to free Brynhild, the leader of the Valkyries. Brynhild, like Aydis, has been exiled for breaking the rules of tyrant-god Odin.
I find myself particularly drawn to stories like this—the epic narrative Joseph Campbell wrote about in his work on myth and man. The man is called to action, he goes on the quest, and then he returns to his community with new knowledge, often of the enlightening sort. Campbell’s work is based on some of the most famous myths of our time: Buddha, Jesus, Odysseus, all men, as these are the stories that have been recorded and retold over and over again. He even goes so far as to call it a “monomyth” (which has garnered sharp criticism).
I adore these stories, the epic nature of them, the big questions they grapple with, the knowledge imparted. I find it fascinating how the same themes pop up across different cultures like the flood myth. I can still remember the delight of reading the Epic of Gilgamesh in college and first learning about the common occurrence of this myth that I had previously only known via biblical texts. These epic stories highlight a universality to human culture while also highlighting the fascinating distinctions of our different cultures and time periods. I suppose it’s the blurred line between the universal and the multiplicitous that fascinates me so. But as an intersectional feminist, I want epics with female leads, and fortunately Heathen fulfills that desire in a big way, while also adding its own unique touch with themes that are as contemporary as they are timeless.
There’s Norse gods and immortals: Odin, Freyja, and the Valkyries. There’s a lone warrior hero. There’s the absent mother as seen in classic Western fairy tales, and there’s talking animals. There’s barbarian-style clothing that barely covers both men and women. There’s a girl and her horse, which is a story I am always a sucker for. There’s the encroachment of a new religious order from one group of people onto another. And there’s the social rules and will versus the individual.
One of my favorite twists on the traditional monomyth is that Aydis’s “Initiation” (the call to action) is not a call from outside, nor a beckoning from a divine force. It is her own choosing. After being cast from her community, she willingly chooses the mantle of lone hero by seeking to rescue Brynhild. Further, Brynhild is not a passive recipient of Aydis’ heroic actions. She asserts her will and choice over whether or not she will leave Mount Hinderfall with Aydis.
The art is painterly with natural earthtones throughout. The lines of the characters are active, scratchy with hatching while the background is minimal with thin lines. This style brings the characters to the forefront and adds a warmth when the cool colors and climate of the wintery backdrop would feel cold and alienating. At the same time, the expressions and body language of the characters experience touches of zany cartoonish-ness without detracting from the epic tone of the comic. Breasts are frequently on display as an aspect of barbarian costuming as opposed to inexplicably bulbous flotation devices. Many other comic artists should take note.
You can buy the first volume of Heathen on Comixology or order printed copies via this link.