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Heathen

Natasha Alterici
Literati Press Publishing
$15.00 (print) $6.99 (digital)
128 pages

Within the past several weeks I had the opportunity to read a novella titled The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson. Winterson happens to be one of my favorite authors for her evocative word play and exploration of gender and sexuality. The Daylight Gate is a fictionalized account of Alice Nutter, one of a dozen people most of whom were women, accused of witchcraft and tried during the Pendle Witch Trials. The secret ill fated relationship between Alice and another accused woman living on their own terms as much as they can in the wild and unruly Lancashire region of England a little more than four centuries ago spoke to my interest in period settings and hidden histories of LGBT people.

Such is the case with Heathen. Its premise of “feminist lesbian Viking story” as described by its creator Natasha Alterici certainly piqued my curiosity and as I discovered delightfully subverted the patriarchal paradigm. Heathen is the story of a girl named Aydis who is of marrying age according to her Viking village standards. Aydis has rejected every male suitor suggested by her father because she has no interest at all in men, a secret that when uncovered results in an ultimatum to her father: force Aydis in to marriage or kill her. Suffice to say here that she escapes both options and sets off on a quest to define her place in the world by freeing the Valkyrie leader Brynhild who had the great misfortune to be cursed by Odin with imprisonment atop a fiery mountain. Free Brynhild she does, but such a straightforward resolution would make for a boring story. After all, Aydis is on a hero’s journey and Alterici isn’t one to spare her character challenges to face and temptations to overcome no matter how alluring (and accepting) the goddess of love makes them for a young woman coming to terms with her sexuality making her an outcast. Joining Aydis in the cast are Liv, the girl who dared to kiss her; Brynhild who begins to regain her sense of confidence; Brynhild’s brave yet estranged husband; the beguiling goddess of love Freyja; Shannon who leaves Freyja’s domain to act as Aydis’s guide; and certainly not least, Aydis’ horse Saga who is much more than a trusty steed. Take this cast each with their own distinct voice and personality combined with skillful pacing in writing and art and I found myself left wanting more with each chapter’s conclusion.

Alterici’s style is at turns sketchy then painterly, always kinetic. At times her line work is so energetic that it breaks through panels. The art is enlivened by a variety of shots and angles. A conventional layout broken up by a wise use of panel breaking compositions has a similar effect. A good sense of anatomy informs her figure drawing and ensures the women she draws possess believable bodies while faces wear a variety of expressions. A dream like atmosphere is created with Alterici’s muted and restrained color palette and soft lighting. As a bonus rounding out this volume is a section consisting of a cover gallery, sketches, and several tidbits including a brief account Alterici had with a fanboy at a local art festival who quizzed her to establish her geek cred. Men, just don’t, okay.

Alterici’s efforts here are clearly a well crafted labor of love and she should have a memorable career as a comics storyteller if the work in Heathen is any indication. I hope you’ll give it a try and find it as enjoyable a piece of storytelling as I have.

Heathen is available in print at www.heathencomic.com or digital from Comixology. Retailers interested in stocking copies should contact sales AT literatipressok DOT com

 

January 21, 2016
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