The Book: Set during the 8th century AD amidst the tundra and glacier scarred valleys of northern Scandinavia, The Secret of the Aesir describes the journey of a contingent of Viking warriors, who guided by their knowledge of the far north, discover a mystery that is older than the Aesir, older than Odin himself.
The Review: Fighting Fantasy books and 2000AD “Future Shocks” fans may recognise Alan Langford‘s name as the creator of The Secret of the Aesir, but for many comic reqders of today, I suspect his name might be a mystery. Which is a shame, because his comic art is, to be frank, pretty jaw-dropping.
Better known now as an equestrian artist, a full member of the Society of Equestrian Artists specialising in Equestrian, Fantasy and Historical art, Alan, who lives in the New Forest, began his artistic career in 1979. Back then, he was working as a full time illustrator of topographical scenes in pen and ink, which were transferred on to copper plaques. After three years, he went freelance, working through a Fleet Street artists agency, mainly illustrating comics, including 2000AD, Eagle and SuperNaturals.
Since his comics days, he’s illustrated history books, encyclopaedias, the aforementioned fantasy game books, adventure stories, and more, also also working for the BBC illustrating the stories of Romulus and Remus and Androcles and the Lion for the children’s television programme, ZIG ZAG.
Clearly, however, Alan had an itch – and that itch was writing and drawing his own full-length graphic novel, a medium for which he clearly has a great love, noted in the the preface of The Secret of Aesir, and more than evidenced by the quality of the art of this SF historical adventure.
Consider that itch well and truly scratched, because The Secret of Aesir is very much worth your attention.
Largely told across a period of just a few days, The Secret of Aesir centres on a group of warriors heading northwards through what is now known as Scandinavia on a quest to “bear witness to … to the gods of our people”. What they actually witness turns out to be, as readers will recognise, the site of a spaceship crash – and from there, the adventures of the troop take a turn into wonder, from encountering dwarves through to lake-dwelling monsters.
It would be wrong of me to spoil the story, but running to over 120 pages of gorgeous black and white art, in terms of style The Secret of the Aesir harks back to a kind of devotion to craft some might argue is rarely seen, and the title is more than worthy of comparison with the epic feel of many European graphic novels. Yet, while harking back to Eagle, Lion, Look and Learn and “Trigan Empire”, what you actually get is a sophisticated, thoughtful take on “cargo culture” that is thoroughky modern and hugely enjoyable.
My artist friend Smuzz rightfully describes The Secret of the Aesir as “one of those ‘comics like they don’t make any more’ which is just very newly made”, which sums up The Secret of the Aesir rather perfectly. It is very definitely the kind of graphic novel many will enjoy, given opportunity.
It’s not without fault – for me, the storytelling sometimes jars, and this is for the most part very much a story of events, rather than a story of individual characters. But as a the work of one creator – writing, drawing and lettering the entire tale – such commentary is incidental in the face of such beautifully drawn pages, that proved a sheer delight to turn.
I’d urge you to head toward the The Secret of the Aesir official web site to find out more, or simply take a punt, having seen here just what is on offer and – go buy it!
ALAN LANGFORD – COMIC CREATOR PROFILE
Alan Langford‘s early childhood was tough, his family living in a small caravan on an ill-equipped caravan camp, close to the boundary of the New Forest.
“During the winter of 1962-63, everyone on that camp had a hard time,” he recalls. “Water froze in the pipes, so there were times when there was no running water. Our beds were hard against the caravan walls and we awoke in blankets damp and cold from condensation.”
It is hardly surprising that Alan spent a lot of his time outdoors and became fascinated by the New Forest ponies that roamed freely on the nearby heath.
Throughout his childhood Alan always sketched, trying to catch the movement of the animals and people who frequented his world, but his start in life did not favour a professional career in art. The first ten years of his working life, he did all manner of unskilled work in England and later in the Australian outback.
Following his return to the UK, he finally decided to pursue his ambition to become an artist, by attending night classes at Southampton Art College, while still earning his living working as a labourer in Fawley refinery. He succeeded in earning an A grade A level pass, and following a succession of interviews, finally found work as a full-time illustrator for a company called ‘Etchmasters’.
After three years there, he moved to work for Mike Fowler’s Fleet Street Artists’ Agency, who found him work for the regular comic weeklies, 2000AD, on “Future Shocks” such as Steve Moore’s “Once Upon An Atom” (Prog 235) and Alan Moore’s “Dr. Dibworthy’s Disappointing Day” (Prog 322) and “Dad” (Prog 329), Eagle and Warlord, and for the Puffin ‘Fighting Fantasy’ role-playing gamebooks. He also worked on Supernaturals, edited by Barrie Tomlinson.
Sadly, the popularity of the traditional British comic was now in decline, and since then, he’s illustrated many history books, encyclopaedias, fantasy game books, adventure stories, and also worked for the BBC, illustrating the stories of Romulus and Remus and Androcles and the Lion for the children’s television programme, ZIG ZAG.
Inspired by the example of some artists friends, Alan has also painted many landscapes of the New Forest on location, in oils and watercolour. He was particularly fascinated by the Romani Horse Fairs, and the traditional association between the Romanies and the New Forest since Tudor times.
He also followed the lives of the New Forest Commoners, who ride their hardy New Forest ponies in the famous pony drifts (round ups) in pursuit of their wild-roaming livestock.
Alan’s first book Welgora, published in 2015 by Little Knoll Press, is a condensed autobiography, illustrated with his paintings and drawings. It is a book of interest and beauty and has received very positive reviews.
Alan is a full member of the Society of Equestrian Artists and has exhibited and sold at the Mall Galleries on numerous occasions. He was invited to be an exhibiting artist at Southampton City Art Gallery in a popular exhibition called ‘Nags to Thoroughbreds’, where his artwork was hung alongside the paintings of the renowned equestrian artists, Lucy Kemp Welch and Sir Alfred Munnings, among other notable masters.
Alan continues to enjoy painting in oils and watercolours on location, usually in the open tract of the New Forest, the Isle of Purbeck and Dartmoor. He is also frequently asked to demonstrate his techniques to a growing number of amateur art societies.
The idea of creating a graphic novel of his own conception had long been Alan’s ambition, and in the winter of 2017 he finally began his dream project. The Secret of the Aesir is the result of three years of intense work, almost without a break. Every one of his graphic novel’s 132 pages is an artwork in itself, successfully capturing the atmosphere of what is believed to be the dark ages of pagan Scandinavia, and powerfully telling the story of the Norsemen who courageously sought the answer to The Secret of the Aesir.
• Copies of his book of equestrian art, Welgora, are available direct from Little Knoll Press