Published on January 20th, 2016 | by Lauren McPhee0
Heathen Vol 1 by Natasha Alterici – Review
I’m really excited to be writing this review of the first volume release of Heathen by Natasha Alterici. I couldn’t ignore the comic when I saw it on comixology, with its remarkable red cover featuring a young Viking girl wearing a helmet adored with antlers. The art style was beautifully and impressionistically evocative with its rough lining and brushed colouring; even though I knew nothing of the story or the characters, I knew that this enigmatic girl and her story spoke to me. That and, I loved the title. Heathen: pagan, barbarian, irreverent, wicked, heretical. All things, which as a contemporary feminist, I gleefully aspire to be. By the first page, with its allusions to story-telling and Viking mythology, as well as the ghost-image of the Valkyrie of legend, I knew I was not to be disappointed.
A story of the bending, moulding, breaking of mythology and tradition, Heathen takes as its subject the patriarchal control and undermining of women by using the backdrop of old Viking society to tell the story of a young girl exiled from her village for the crime of kissing another girl. Angry, ambitious and just a little bit naïve, Aydis, our heroine, is spurned on by the very legends of Viking mythology to confront the Godking Odin in defiance of his decree and of those put down by the elders of her village. By attempting to prove her ability and bravery in the completion of a quest, freeing the Valkyrie Brynhild from a curse Odin had placed upon her for disobeying his law, our young warrior fights for justice for all those oppressed by the Godking’s patriarchy.
I particularly love the way that Heathen uses myth and story. The stories Aydis’ father told her are the inspiration for her quest. The lives of the immortal gods are defined by the repetition of history and the cyclic nature of Norse mythology spanning from the primordial void to the death and rebirth of the world through Ragnarok. And yet, Aydis is avowing a break from tradition, a violation of the rules, and herein is why this book carries the name, Heathen.
However, it is not just plays on story-telling and a clever adaptation of myth that endears me to this comic. It is Alterici’s enrapturing art and colouring. With its imprecise lining, thick brushstrokes and muted, pastel pallet, the art captures the imaginative quality of myth and memory set amongst Nordic forests, villages and great halls. Gods and mortals, alike, share the slightly wild appearance, adorned in their winged helmets and fur capes, of wolves, horses and bulls. Meanwhile, animals, even in a realistic impression, have distinct personalities and recognisable emotions. The characters are all fantastic in their design and execution. And the landscapes, often snow-veiled in light, cold colours, have a vast and timeless quality to them, and stick in the mind with the formless and beautiful intangibility of a dream. In this sense, even the art shares in the impressionistic and nebulous beauty of narrative. In fact, everything about this comic is mystic and magical, but with the feeling, light-heartedness, comedy and social realism of classic fantasy.
Originally developed through a Kickstarter, Heathen has already been received so positively that, as a result of this project, you can expect a lot more from Alterici in 2016. Although Volume 1 of Heathen only features the first 4 issues of Aydis’ story, this collection is a full and fun introduction to the character and her story and I look forward to further issues hopefully coming later on this year. Volume 1 also includes an excellent selection of bonus materials, including a gallery of Heathen’s gorgeous covers, as well as sketches and stories from the book’s creation and Alterici’s time at NYCC 2015. One of the most rewarding aspects of reading smaller press is the intimacy and empathy felt for the author as they reveal the creative journey their book went through in development and production, and that is especially true of this Kickstarter project. All of the extra material feels selflessly and generously given, including pieces that Alterici dubs as fan art of her own characters, as well as a tribute to the Supreme Court ruling in favour of marriage equality in the US.
If any of this has appealed to you, as if well-established, thoughtful writing and extraordinary, emotive art wouldn’t, then you might consider picking up this first volume of Heathen from Comixology, out on the 20th of January. It’s worth noting that not all of the extras are in the Comixology version, so if you want all of the exciting extra’s pick up the print version. In addition, if you are more than a little interested, you might also check out Alterici’s Patron, the Dinosaur Project, and follow her on Twitter (@Alterici) or Facebook to keep up-to-date on the amazing work that she is doing and the astonishing progress she continues to make as a developing comics creator. And hopefully it won’t be too long before we can read more of Aydis, our young Viking warrior and her incredible challenge to the Godking Odin, kicking his ass on behalf of feminists everywhere