Cartoonist: Katja Vartiainen
Publisher: Self Published
WHAT IS IT?
Well, it's called "Bloodsucker." You get three guesses, and the first two don't count.
Mix your favorite vampire story with a healthy dose of folklore, and you'll have a good idea of what Bloodsucker delivers.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
There is a legend, standing half-shadowed at the crossroads of the Catholic Church and Nordic tradition. Eight hundred and sixty-three years ago, blood spilled steaming over ice when the mysterious Englishman, Saint Henry, met a Finnish man known only as "Lalli," on the frozen surface of Lake Köyliönjärvi.
Folklore – and the church – tell that the saint was falsely accused of being a thief, after which Lalli ran him down under an evil sky. Bloodsucker is the comic of that story, told with a very different point of view.
Only one aspect remains the same; that Lalli slew Henry on the spot. You'll have to read the comic to see the rest of the new spin on this folkloric classic.
At its best, Katja's inkwork and aesthetic are delicious. Black ink is a visceral medium, and the creator implements it richly. They implement it in service of a faux-historical style with some modern quirks, perfect for the politically metaphorical retelling of a legend.
The atmosphere is on point. Moody, macabre, and fatalistic. In the short time we spend there, the Finland of Bloodsucker comes across as a despairing world abandoned by God.
Some strong design choices. Details such as vampires with Satanically cloven feet, abstract evils leaking into the air and landscape, and compellingly odd figures foregrounding a nice one-point perspective drawing of a modern street at the end have a potent effect.
It succeeds in its goal of conveying something Mythic. We live in a modern media ecosystem of overwrought worldbuilding, lore, and wiki-bait story infrastructures. From Glorantha to the Elder Scrolls**, It seems like every fantastic secondary world possesses dense mytho-historical canons built carefully to resemble the hallmarks of real-world analogues. They rarely succeed. There's something intangible about the real stories and legends that a lot of fantasy writers ape, which is captured more effectively here. The creator's strong cultural connection to (and viewpoint on) this reinvented tale is critical.
Good hierarchies. Even at its shakiest, the artwork is very clear. This sort of stylistic approach can sometimes end up looking like a vague mess, which is a pitfall the creator avoided.
Iconic. There are moments here, purely symbolic and diagetic both-- floating fire over snow snuffed out in the darkness, a vision of death appearing on a night walk for the viewer's benefit, an act of violence that banishes instead of rends, the metaphor of the bear-- whose immediate impact sticks with you.
Achieves its goal. It's hard to argue that this comic doesn't successfully convey a local legend to foreign readers, and its continued relevance.
**CAVEAT: The Elder Scrolls writers deserve credit for one extremely true-to-'life' story in their invented canon, wherein one godlike figure tricked another into entering its mouth, before shitting it out as an entirely new entity. That rings true in comparison to the weirder esoterica found in a lot of real-world folklore. Glorantha is also better than most secondary worlds with its invented mythology, but ultimately flies off the rails since it's an unapologetically strange bowl of wackadoodle bananabrains salad with extra pepper. God Bless.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
The execution seems to have been spontaneous, resulting in some poor visual planning in places. A good example would be the page where Lalli receives his iconic axe. The characters' arms are crammed-in afterthoughts, detracting from the panel compositions. There's a charming artistic appeal to be found in these instances, but they clash alongside more confident drawings. Another example would be the panel where Henry's carriage sled first embarks into the frozen landscape in the fourth panel of page eleven – the simplified carriage, horses, and nightbirds are exquisite, but jar against the slapdash trees and castle behind them. Correct interpretation or no, it gives the impression that the artist did not alot the same amount of attention to all aspects of their rendered spaces.
While a decently suitable font was chosen for spoken dialogue, the translation font/text placement/size/integration could generously be called perfunctory.
What may not work for you: It's a tidy, grim little vampire story that takes a dim view of the Church. The story is also so simple that it amounts to little more than a scene with setup and postscript. Further, the symbolism and commentary are on-the-nose. I felt like it all worked, but its very strengths can be viewed as weaknesses depending on the reader.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Bloodsucker is a bite-sized, old-world vampire fable well worth the attention of anyone into ink drawings and folklore. It's also recommended for anyone who prefers unique, one-and-done contained comic books to serialized work.
It's also recommended as a touchstone for future efforts by this artist. There's no telling how long it might be available. Speculative collecting may be fairly painted as mercenary, but I've certainly missed out on early work from artists I watch currently and the blank spaces on my shelves drive me crazy.
WHAT SHOULD I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Trickster: Native American Tales by Matt Dembicki
Nae Gaisgich by various creators
Wild Creatures by Emily Carroll
If you like the art:
Elves Get Organized? by Katja Vartiainen
Scallop by Erin Kubo
And Then Emily Was Gone by John Lees and Iain Laurie
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Katja Vartiainen – Cartoonist
Multi-talented: Katja seems to be a jack-of-all-trades, with associated work on graphic novels and film projects, but their bread and butter seems to be illustrative work.
This book seems to have been an apertif. Katja is making another comic book, also in ink wash and similarly horror-based. It will supposedly be longer.
Most of her work – links to Amazon, ComiXology, etc – can be found through their website.
HOW DO I BUY IT?
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The image(s) used in this article are from a comic strip, webcomic or the cover or interior of a comic book. The copyright for this image(s) is likely owned by either the publisher of the comic, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the comic. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner in order to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.
All Katja Variainen's characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright Katja Variainen or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED