Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Lars Brown's "Northworld"

I finally got around to reading Lars Brown's third Northworld book, Other Sagas. I should note that I'm not a big fantasy fan, at all.  I tried to read the Narnia books as a kid, and found them irredeemably dull.  I felt like Lord of the Rings was far too ambling and aimless, I never tried any of the Robert Jordan stuff, I never cared for Conan the Barbarian, I never played Dungeons and Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, or Heroquest.  I liked the ideas, I liked the subject matter - big monsters based on those found in mythology (which I loved), medieval settings (which are fascinating to me), and swordfights, which are right up my alley.  Yet the way the stories were presented were entirely unpalletable to me.  There are the occasional exceptions - I loved T.H. White's The Once and Future King, I very much enjoyed the Harry Potter books, and I liked the Spiderwick Chronicles a lot.  But none of these are written in the psuedo-mythic language you find in post-the Hobbit Tolkein and his emulators.  Pyle is the only writer whose embrace of this affected language I can remotely stand.  But, on the whole, me and fantasy are hardly comfortable bedfellows.

Which is why I was so surprised at how much I liked Northworld, ESPECIALLY this newest volume.  It would seem to rely heavily on a readers' familiarity with the tropes of the fantasy and fantasy gaming genres... and yet, to one so unfamiliar with those tropes, it still reads clearly, without ever making me pause to collect myself and try and figure out what Lars is talking about.  Part of what makes this work so well is that he is (presumably) writing what he knows - people his age, trying to make a splash in a world which may or may not be open to them doing so.  People dealing with going back to their hometowns.  People dealing with less-talented "peers" getting far more acclaim than deserved.  People dealing with the changes from late adolescence to early adulthood, seeing friends change, responsibility, burgeoning romance... all thematic concerns that any reader can relate to. 

Though it deals with the day-to-day of life with these other elements, this isn't Magic Realism in the vein of Eternal Sunshine or Be Kind Rewind, or many of the best stories from Tugboat's Papercutter anthology - make no mistake, this is genuine fantasy.  But it's really, really engaging to someone not easily seduced by the genre, as well as fulfilling those genre requirements... the fantasy folks with whom I'm friends enjoy it a lot, too.  My biggest regret with this book is that it is the perfect comic for a friend of mine who passed away a couple of years ago, and the whole time I was reading it I was thinking about how much he'd like it.

I don't often use the blog to schill the works of other cartoonists, but I was on a reading high from this one last night, and resolved to write something up.  Lars' draftsmanship, storytelling, and dialogue continue to sharpen with each new project he releases, and, though I very much liked the 2-volume Epic of Conrad, this book surpassed it in terms of reading enjoyment.  It's a collection of short stories set in Northworld, a land in which pizza delivery places and supermarkets coexist with wizards and manticores.  It may sound anachronistic, it may sound like it wouldn't work, but it does, and I strongly reccomend anyone looking for a fun read - or looking to give their kid a fun read - pick it up.
He's got a number of the comics contained in the book on his website, including what may have been my favorite (it's hard to pick one): In the Mall of the Mountain King. 


Andrew Wales said...

Have you ever tried any Terry Pratchett books? It is like Tolkien meets Monty Python. The best one is "Monstrous Regiment".

Chris Schweizer said...

I haven't read any Terry Pratchett. I'll give it a try. I like good British comedy as much as the next fella.

Sean McGowan said...

Yep, North World is great. I know it's on holiday at the moment, but I've heard rumors from a reliable source that there might be a lot more North World in the not-so-distant future.

B. Morris said...

Yeah I love North World too. I just finished up volume 2 and I can't wait to pick up a copy of volume 3.