This May Dark Horse will publish Sons of Ashgard: Ill Met in Elmgard, an original graphic novel created and written by Chad Corrie with line art by Matt Wendt, colors by Brian and Kristy Miller and the team at Hifi, and lettering by Taylor Esposito.

The story focuses on a group of adventurous squirrels in a Norse-favored landscape finding commonality in a bond birthed through mutual struggle and discovery. Full of action, adventure and some comedy and heart, this particular story introduces Erick Redfur and his particular challenges as he makes his way to Elmgard seeking a new life.

Dark Horse sat down with Chad and the rest of the creative team to dig deeper into the just what exactly this graphic novel is about as well as some of what went into its production.

We’ll start with Chad first. Adventurous squirrels in a Norse-flavored landscape isn’t the most common concept for writers to explore. What inspired you to write—let along create—Sons of Ashgard?

A big moment of inspiration came while I was looking out my parent’s picture window one day. They have been feeding wildlife for some time, squirrels, especially. Over those years word must have gotten out because as I stared out the window I watched as about ten of them, running in near perfect formation, made for the food.

I’d never seen that many before in one place at one time. It was amazing—almost like watching the scouting party of an army. And then the more I witnessed over the ensuing months the more I got to thinking just what sort of life these squirrels might live. This, coupled with David Petersen’s Mouse Guard series I’d recently discovered had me pondering what other concepts might be possible.

Did you have any inspiration for the story itself or was it more whole cloth in creation?

Right from the beginning The 13th Warrior movie was something that served as part of the influence for some elements of the plot.
The other thrust of inspiration was in seeking how best to showcase as much of the world as possible to readers without overloading them or running the risk of creating a meandering story. So the world itself was a strong bellows to the coals of creativity, as it were.

This story is told mainly through the eyes of Erick Redfur. What made you choose him as the voice of this tale?

Mainly because he was the outsider from the get go. We needed a way to step into the world and explore it through a newbie’s eyes and Erick was the perfect fit. And it also provided a means to share something about his past and what brought him to this point in time, having him work through that while also dealing with everything else as it all unfolds.

This graphic novel ends in a way that clearly could hint at future additions down the road. Is that something you’re planning?

Most definitely. The idea with Ill Met in Elmgard was to introduce readers to the world and the main cast, setting up their origin story, if you will. It also was written to be completely standalone. Should we get the chance to make a follow up what would follow next would be a deeper delve into their own unique stories woven into more of the greater narrative of the world as if continues to unfold.

Now let’s bring in the rest of the team. What did you all enjoy the most about working on this project?

Chad (CC): Seeing it develop from a working concept to finished work is always rewarding. And for something like this, which could have gone several different ways, it was also fun watching how the final flesh plumped up those bones in just the right places and colors.
Matt (MW): Getting to help create the look of the characters and their world and seeing the evolution as the project moved forward. These characters were so much fun to bring to life and develop their visual personalities.
Hifi (HF): All around, we enjoyed coloring the world of Ashgard! I think we found a nice bold look for the world with light painterly backgrounds, and clean cell shaded figures. The characters really pop off the backgrounds similar to traditional animation. The goal was to create visually distinctive colors to compliment the already stunning artwork.
Taylor (TE): The opportunity to do something outside of the usual. This genre isn’t something I usually get to do, so it was fun to play in a different sandbox.
Were there any surprises you encountered along the way—story or otherwise?

CC: Not that I could recall. They story was something that flowed rather smoothly from the beginning as did much of the process after that. Though I was pleasantly surprised by the final look of some of the main antagonists. I knew they would turn out well, just not how well in their final, fully colored form.
MW: Well, there was this global pandemic that was kind of a thing. To be completely honest, that pandemic turned into a sort of blessing for me in regards to this project. Being forced out of my day job for months actually gave me the opportunity to switch gears and draw all day and not just cram my drawing time into the after work hours and weekends.This afforded me more time to invest in the project, really focus on my art, and make the pages so much better. I absolutely hate that it took a tragic global event to make that a thing but I really can’t deny that there was a small blessing for me personally that came out of it.
HF: One scene in particular provided a fun challenge. Setting up the morning sun as the party begins their journey, then they disappear into the forest, only to have the sky reappear as they climb a very tall tree, and look out over the canopy.
TE: Frankly, I was surprised at how fully formed the characters were. Usually, because of monthly comics, you get bits at a time, but with an OGN of this nature, we really get to stay with the characters and get to know them well over the course of the adventure.
Until recently, Chad, you’ve written only prose stories, how have you found the process writing for graphic novels?

There are some pros and cons, like any process. But I’ve enjoyed working in both mediums, finding how best to use each for the various stories suited to them. Sons of Ashgard is a clearly more visual story—it’s more fun to see our squirrel protagonists engaged in their activities rather than describing things by prose alone. So, for me, it was an obvious choice on that route.
In terms of writing story itself. Comics and graphic novels are much more collaborative than prose. You’re dealing with a creative team who is taking your words and turning them into sight. So having someone you can team up with to convey the best version of what you’re seeing in your head is always a welcome thing. And that, is one of the major enjoyable aspects of writing for comics—seeing the final VISUAL result—which is often lacking in prose, outside the cover art.
That said, I’m still a fan of prose work and will continue telling tales in that medium for as long as I’m able.

Matt, your particular style really lends itself well to this sort of story. Is that something you had to develop for this project or is it part of how you normally draw in general?

With any project in development like this there is an evolutionary period as an artist. Often times it’s a perpetual thing. My art style does have roots in cartooning so it definitely helped me with crafting the look of these characters and this world.
However, if you were to look at my initial sketches I did for Chad years ago, before work on the book got underway, you’d think a different artist worked on that stuff. It definitely took some time and a lot of pencil lead and eraser dust to find the right designs and overall look for these characters. So much of that was in drawing them over and over and finding that one little “thing” every so often that really worked and added to the overall appeal of the character design and then adding that to the ingredients list. By mid book I think I was really starting to find my comfort zone with these characters to where they could almost draw themselves.

Brian, what were some inspirations behind the colors you, Kristy, and the team crafted for the characters and surroundings? Are you able to provide a little insight, perhaps, on style choices or a take on the process or even the purpose or symbolism of things?

As a team we conducted a good deal of research into Nordic buildings, habitats, armor, weapons, clothing. Some of us also enjoy historical podcasts and videos which can inform the coloring. One area where we focus is using warm and cool color combinations to enhance the mood and visual storytelling. We also put a ton of effort into establishing the locations with unique visuals so as the story moves from one scene to the next you can subtly see and feel the change in location.

Taylor, are you able to share a bit of the process on how you went about lettering the graphic novel? Were there any particular aspects or look you were trying to achieve for the story/work overall?

Really, my only goal, as is with all projects, is to properly live in the world we are crafting, so as not to take the reader out of the story. Once I’m there, everything just flows naturally from there. I let the art and story dictate what I’m doing in the moment.

Do any of you have a favorite character from the story?

TE: Rolf, I’m a sucker for archers haha.
CC: I’m rather partial to a certain squirrel who’s seen arm-wresting Gorm early on.
MW: That’s kinda tough because I really dig them all. Each one has a unique personality and I really tried my best to reflect that in each design.
I guess, as far as being really fun to draw based on character goes, I’d go with Henrick. He’s the “Wolverine” of this group so getting to draw him unleashing his “berserker rage” on the enemies was a highlight to drawing the battle scenes.
My favorite to draw based on design might be Bruna. I think it’s mostly because she’s the most unique in face and form amongst the group. I was drawing, what seemed like, a sea of mostly male combatants with similar face and body structures in this story so when I got to draw the warrior shield maiden in the mix, it was was a nice change of pace. Plus, I’m kinda proud of her design.
HF: My [Kristy’s] mother flats for us (the first round of putting color on the page) and she said she liked flatting Gorm and Bruna best (because of the art).
Thanks to Chad, Matt, the Hifi Team, and Taylor for taking the time to answer our questions. You can explore more of this story here and sonsofashgard.com where you can enjoy an excerpt among a few other things.

Sons of Ashgard: Ill Met in Elmgard publishes May 10th, 2023. Pre-orders are available through book and comic stores across the nation (and world).

Dark Horse Comics
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