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A Grim Life On Brian's Black Road

by Vince Brusio

The life of a Viking couldn't have been easy. After all, there was no electricity. But even more ominous was the onslaught of new churches. Our interview with Black Road's Brian Wood and Garry Brown paints the grim picture. It was a time when change was in the air, and the old way of life was about to get crushed by a new world. And one man had to walk through all of it, making sure he kept his mind steady, and his sword ready. The walk along Dark Horse's Black Road #1 will be treacherous and unforgiving. This will not be a happy occasion.

Black Road #1 (FEB160460) is in comic shops April 13.

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PREVIEWSworld: For those readers who are just learning about this title for the first time, what’s the premise for Black Road, and does it relate to Northlanders?

Brian Wood: Black Road is about this Viking 'fixer' named Magnus, and all this stuff he gets mixed up in the middle of the Christian conversion of the norse lands.  This is a pretty ugly conversion, more like a violent takeover than anything else, and Magnus tries to take a pragmatic stance on it all, to make the inevitable conversion as peaceful as possible.  With mixed results.  In this first volume, he is assigned to escort a Vatican official up the "black road" — the dangerous, corpse-strewn path north — to investigate some strange doings.

Black Road, on some levels, will feel like Northlanders, but at that same time it really is its own thing.  Northlanders' main selling point was its strict historical accuracy, but we're relying less on that for Black Road in exchange for a faster, more action-oriented story, more of a historical "what if?" approach.  It’s an approach that I always wanted to do with Northlanders but couldn't —  a Viking thriller, a somewhat hard-boiled crime story.  Magnus is sort of a Viking Jack Reacher!

Garry Brown: Northlanders had lots of different characters leading the stories, so that's the main difference. In Black Road, Magnus the Black is the main character. We're following Magnus throughout the book. It’s his story. As Brian said, it's like warped history. I love 'what if' stories.

PREVIEWSworld: How long have you been working on this project, and what does it mean for you? How are you attached to it?

Brian Wood: I've wanted to do this ever since the day Northlanders ended, but honestly its good I waited.  I don't want to repeat Northlanders, Garry doesn't want that, and I really don't think readers even want that.  Putting some time between then and now means that Black Road is its own thing, and that's good.  

Garry Brown: We've been working on this project for a while. I think it was at a NYCC signing when Brian first mentioned it. We were there for The Massive, I think it was 6 issues away from its finale, and we talked about what's next. Brian mentioned a Viking book and I was sold. 

PREVIEWSworld: Describe the working relationship you have with Garry Brown. How did you two give this creation life?

Brian Wood: Well, I worked with Garry for years and years on The Massive and The Massive: Ninth Wave, and we have a good relationship, very simpatico.  The way the publishing history with The Massive went down, it’s not a book that Garry has an ownership stake in (legally) but with Black Road he and I are equal partners. It’s an entirely different beast because of it.  

And as for how it came about, sometimes it’s as simple as a couple guys saying, hey, wanna do a book?  

PREVIEWSworld: What can you tell us about the characters in this story? What vibe do they radiate? And how do you put their souls on paper? How do you make them breathe?

Brian Wood: Okay, so we have Magnus, sort of a lone wolf, and he occupies this space where he has allegiance to no side, Norse or Christian.  Note, there is a violent conflict going on and he deliberately tries to be neutral right in the face of it.  We get some hints early on about how he suffered some terrible losses in the near past, which helps explain, and will explain, his position.  He's a complex guy, quiet but with a quick temper, and very, very loyal when he gives his word.

The secondary cast is less easy to detail since it gives away story points, but we have the Cardinal as I mentioned, and we have his so-called guardian angel, a young Jewish woman conscripted from the servant class into a personal bodyguard.  We have a 'friend' of Magnus' named Kitta, but, you know, Magnus doesn't really have friends.

All in all, this is a small cast set in this dramatically unfolding, violent world.  The armies of Christendom, literal armies, are flooding in and building churches right in the face of all the locals, converting by force when necessary.  It’s a story about the individual facing off against these massive opposing cultural forces. Very juicy stuff.

PREVIEWSworld: If you could geek out over a particular scene(s) in this book, what would it be?

Brian Wood: We have a scene, a few issues in, where Magnus has to take down a pack of hungry wolves.  Who doesn't want to see a Viking fight a bunch of wolves?

Garry Brown: Yeah the wolf scene is really cool. Lots of snow and blood. Great fun drawing the whole scene. Playing up the tension etc.  In issue 1 i really dig the rain attack, the inciting incident. Brian's really good at writing atmospheric scenes and they're awesome to draw.

PREVIEWSworld: We’ll give you the last word on this one. What would you like to say about Black Road #1 that would make people want to put it on their pull list?

Brian Wood: I feel like what made Northlanders a critical success was how we took a genre that people had seen before and did something new with it.  And it stuck, both in the comic but also in the mass consciousness — its why we have a TV show like Vikings. Before Northlanders, Vikings were heavily fantasy-based, but Northlanders grounded it and went realistic and historical.  I think with Black Road we may see something similar: the Viking genre mixed with the crime thriller, similarly realistic, with this strong central character in the tradition of Jack Reacher, Arkady Renko, Inspector Remus, and so on.

Garry Brown: I think if people dig cold, cinematic, Viking stories then they'll be all over this. Through the ongoing nature of the book we really get to see Magnus get messed up, physically and psychologically.