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North World Vol. 1: The Epic of Conrad (Oni Press)

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northworld-header.jpgNorth World plays like the unholy union of Lord of the Rings and Garden State, but what's surprising is how well the combo works.

 

 

144 pgs. B&W; $11.95

(W / A: Lars Brown)

 

Genre mash-ups are nothing new to any form of pop culture and certainly not to the world of comics, where many creators seem happy to smoosh together disparate story styles in the name of the almighty "high concept." After all, what better way is there to put a new spin on a tired cliché than to blend it with something completely unlike it? Why not have a zombie western? Or a superhero romantic comedy? Or a sword and sorcery epic packed with modern twentysomething ennui?

The cover to North World Vol. 1 by Lars Brown. Click for a larger image.The latter is what Lars Brown brings to the table with North World Vol. 1: The Epic of Conrad, the first collection of his ongoing webcomic (which you can read at http://www.north-world.com/). Conrad Lionel is an adventurer in North World, a place where cities have all the touches of a modern metropolis but the wilderness between them is plagued by monsters and demons. Conrad seeks fame and fortune as a demonslayer, but how is he ever supposed to get bards to sing of his glory when the guild (read: temp agency) keeps giving him the rookie jobs, slaying bears and other easy prey? A cherry assignment finally comes his way in the form of a magician who must be stopped before he can summon a vicious demon. Naturally, there's a catch: the summoner is in Conrad's old hometown, which he left seven years earlier and never looked back. Also, conveniently enough, the homecoming comes just in time for Conrad's ex-girlfriend's wedding to her new boyfriend.

North World plays like the unholy union of Lord of the Rings and Garden State, but what's surprising is how well the combo works. Brown's story hinges much more on Conrad's coming-of-age than his swashbuckling but the book still stays on target, thanks to a rich cast captured with excellently written, conversational dialogue. Conrad, in particular, comes off as realistic and instantly relatable, and his likeability goes a long way toward selling the drama.

North World is both Brown's first long form work and also his first work to see print, and it's fascinating watching him develop as an artist over the course of this first volume. His inking style varies wildly from page to page, from thinly drawn, simplistic drawings to a thicker, chunkier line to a fine line style packed with detail. The constant shifting can give the book a haphazard feel, but as you watch Brown's cartoony style develop, you get a sense that this beginner will be a force to be reckoned with down the road. His style is well-suited to the digest format, using bleeds on every page to take advantage of every inch of real estate, and his layouts read briskly and are excellently paced.

The only frustrating thing about this first volume is it's just that: only the first volume. The book reads as if it's heading toward a very specific destination, and as the fifth chapter (of six) wraps up, Brown gives the impression that things are going to come to a head. But they don't: some story elements get a satisfying ending but most do not, leaving the book as a unit moderately unsatisfying. It's a mild complaint to have for the first volume of an ongoing series, but it's only noticeable because Brown seems like he's aiming for a bigger payoff. | Jason Green

 

Click here for a 24-page preview, courtesy of Oni Press! For more, visit http://www.north-world.com/.

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