North World Vol. 1

By Lars Brown
152 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press

You’ve no doubt encountered “fusion” cuisine, where two or more different styles of food are applied to the same dish. Japanese meets Italian? Mexican meets Chinese? You name it, it’s out there. I mention this not because I’m craving dinner, but rather because I’m surprised we don’t hear about “fusion genres” when it comes to writing. Take, for instance, Lars Brown’s North World, which takes fantasy and modern day settings and crushes them into one. And you know what? So long as you don’t think about it too hard, it tastes pretty good.

Conrad Lionel is a vagrant swordsman, taking jobs from his guild to vanquish different deadly monsters that menace the land. Once he brings back his proof, they wire the money into his bank account, simple as that. Things begin to get sticky, though, when a high-priced job in search of an evil demon-summoner takes him back to his home town. If the family he abandoned seven years ago wasn’t reason enough to stay away, there’s also his ex-girlfriend—who had just invited him to her wedding.

North World comes across to me as a nice, if a little goofy story. At a glance, throwing swords, magic, and monsters into our modern world seems to work pretty well. You’ve got people talking about repairing air-conditioners but wanting to move over to forging swords, and library book records used to try and track down evil sorcerers. It’s kind of fun and cool, these elements co-existing with each other. The only problem with North World‘s setting seems to be when you really stop and think about it for a while; it doesn’t entirely feel like having all of this technology side-by-side is thought out. After all, if our technology is still available, why would people use swords instead of more modern weaponry to defeat creatures? Conrad’s sword certainly has nothing special about it (no silver coating, no enchanted spell) and in some ways the antiquated weapon that forces you to get very close to a creature with massive claws seems a bit, well, backwards. It’s things like that which just stand out the more you really start examining the setting of North World. Now it could be that Brown has already lined all of these ideas up in his head, and if so I hope he puts it on the page at some point. For now, though, it doesn’t just quite click.

As for the story itself, though? It’s certainly fun. Conrad’s story is pretty straight-forward, with just enough pieces of mystery to keep the reader interested in what is yet to be revealed. He’s a pretty likable character, if perhaps a bit dim here and there, but you always get the impression that he’s trying. He’s certainly not afraid to make changes in his life, which was a nice surprise; so often a main character refuses to resolve a situation simply because it’s more convenient for the author, but Brown doesn’t fall into that trap, letting things slowly evolve over time. I wasn’t quite as thrilled with the supporting cast, though. They’re a little too one-note, a little too easily categorized. As an occasional guest character that’s not so bad, but with the amount of page time they’re getting, they’ll need some fleshing out the longer they stick around. In many ways it’s a scene towards the end of the first volume that really brought this flaw into sharp focus. It’s between Conrad and Emily, and it makes Emily seem so cliché (and also rather weak-willed and a little pathetic) that I hope there’s more to it than meets the eye—trust me when I say that you’ll know it when you see it. It’s frustrating because Conrad’s an interesting character that some more thought was clearly put into; the others suffer greatly in comparison.

North World‘s art can probably best be described as “relaxed.” It’s a loose, uncluttered style that fits the attitude of both its main character and the storyteller in general; it’s unpretentious, very much out on the table. I like how Brown draws action scenes; they flow really smoothly and are easy to follow and seem to happen naturally. Even better are the expressions of the characters during them, a combination of smiles and teeth-gritting that somehow just seems to work perfectly. It’s a nice look for the book, and I do like it. My one quibble is that here are some pages here and there that don’t seem to really fit with their surroundings; the line thickness suddenly shifts and the style is just different enough that if I didn’t know better I’d think someone else had stepped in to draw a page. It’s a little odd and off-putting when it appears, but at least it’s few and far-between.

The first volume of North World is a little breezy in places, and all nitpicks aside, I enjoyed the experience. There’s a lot of energy in Brown’s story, and there’s certainly enough potential here to carry North World onwards for many volumes without worrying about getting stale. It’s a good addition to the Oni Press family, and I definitely want to see a volume 2 before too long. It’s fun.

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