Brian Wood on Northlanders: The Plague Widow

Over at the Vertigo blog, Brian Wood reminisces about the creation of the fourth volume of his Northlanders series, The Plague Widow.  It's a great inside look at what was a very successful arc in his viking series.  Here are some choice quotes, and a look at his notes.  It reads a little like an excellent DVD commentary. For more, get over to Graphic Content, the Vertigo blog.

He says:

I’m looking at the “bible” document I wrote when I was developing THE PLAGUE WIDOW.  I consider Northlanders to be the high point of my current output.  It’s certainly the title where I feel I am at my creative peak, firing on all cylinders, and a lot of that has to do with the format.  It keeps me on my toes constantly, always in a position to refine the concept; each time I start a new story what I’m really doing is starting a brand new project.  So there’s a lot of proposal writing and outlining and collecting of reference that goes along with that, and each story gets a bible document.
Here’s the working list of titles I generated:

I remember the first two were the ones I presented to my editor Mark Doyle, and I think we had agreed on The Winter Of The Plague.  The others are more stream-of-consciousness, just writing stuff to exercise the brain sort of thing (you should see the titles list for The New York Four – close to a hundred ideas).  The Plague Widow, the actual title, came later, in an email exchange with Mark.  Not sure how or why, but as soon as I typed it I knew it was the one.  I changed a few things around in the outline so the story more closely followed Hilda, our widow.  Before that Gunborg, the “crooked cop” was the lead character.
(Gunborg, a few observant readers have pointed out to me, is a female name.  I knew this pretty early on, after I had assigned it to the character, but I loved the way the name looked and sounded, so I kept it as a sort of joke.)

THE PLAGUE WIDOW came out of a bunch of notes I had written for a prose novel about the Black Plague.  I had it in my mind to write it, until I began to get a sense of just how many novels are out there already about the Plague.  So I moved the material over to Northlanders, thinking it would have greater impact as a graphic novel, even if I had to switch it from the capital-P Plague to a lowercase, fictionalized plague.  Beyond that, the story is pretty much intact.  Using the book A Prayer For The Dying as inspiration, I wanted to tell a story that detailed the fall of a village suffering under a plague, and every step they take to protect themselves just throws up new challenges.  Grim stuff, coming from a guy who has a history of writing, grim, depressing stories.  I started to refer to it as “survival horror”.  Viking-survival-horror-plague-drama, pretty much the book I know I’VE been waiting for, as a reader!
I wanted to make a change from past stories and set this one in a city, or what would pass for a city back then, as opposed to the Viking equivalent of a one-horse town.  I wanted streets and alleys and open air spaces.  I was lucky to have just returned from Oslo, Norway, on a research trip and had several dozen photos of period homes I took at the Folk Museum there.  I sketched out a really simple map for Leandro Fernandez with the city layout, as a guide.  So when I would write that scene where Hilda is forced to march across the city, he and I are both on the same page in terms of what landmarks she would pass and what would be in the background as she went.

Plus, we did mention maps.

Northlanders: The Plague Widow is on sale this week. It's highly recommended.


  1. I bought the first few issues and dropped the book, but like Unknown Soldier, I have got to get my shit together and read a couple of these trades.  This one looks fantasic.

  2. Great article! Northlanders is one of the best books out there.

  3. This book is great. I read the first two trades, and the third is currently on my stack.

  4. I read this in trades. Love it. I didn’t enjoy Brian’s Demo, but I still gave this a try. No regrets. It’s just goooood.

  5. Wood’s been kicking ass on this and DMZ for quite a while now. Looking forward to this trade especially as I really liked Fernandez’s art on Queen and Country.

  6. For sure picking this up

  7. I started on this book in issues, decided it wasn’t for me, then realized I was a fool and bought the first 3 trades. I think the issue about one-on-one viking combat may be one of my favorite single issues ever, absolutely can’t wait to get this in the mail for DCBS (coming Tuesday!)

  8. I thought the story started a little slow and was doubting it a little but then it definitely picked up pace as I got deeper in the TPB.  In the end it was a real page turner.  It surprised me with its twists and has a VERY satisfying ending.  Recommended.  The first TPB is very good too about Sven.