While Christopher Columbus gets all the glory for “discovering” America, Leif Erikson, a Norse explorer, led the first group of Europeans to American soil. To honor the first European to establish a colony in North America, the United States celebrated Leif Erikson Day on October 9. Erikson lived during the Viking Age, a turbulent era in which Viking explorers and warriors made a profound impact on European history. While historians and scientists are still trying to understand Norse culture, the image of the fierce Viking warrior wearing a horned helmet wielding a battle-axe or sword remains embedded in popular culture. Vikings have appeared in many comics throughout the years, ranging from comical newspaper strips to serious examinations of the Viking Age of history.
To commemorate Leif Erikson Day, here’s five of our favorite Viking-themed comics and characters:
Hagar the Horrible
A bumbling and boorish Viking, Hagar Horrible (yes, Horrible is his real last name) has appeared in the comics section of newspapers for over 40 years. When not leading his longship on Viking raids, Hagar is usually at home, dealing with the trials and tribulations of suburban Viking life. His family includes a wife, a quiet son, a ditzy daughter, a dog and a duck, all of whom wear the traditional horned helmets associated with Vikings. Dik Broome originally created Hagar and drew the strip for 15 years. After Broome retired, his son Chris took over the strip and still draws it to this day.
If you’re looking for a no-frills, serious take on Vikings, Northlanders is the book for you. Written by Brian Wood and illustrated by a rotating cast of arts, Northlanders featured standalone fictional stories set in the Viking era. Most of the stories used actual events from the Viking Age as a backdrop of sorts. Wood stated that Northlanders is a crime comic, as all the stories have a common theme of injustice and retribution. Northlanders ended in 2013, but collections of the trade should still be available at your local store or online.
Vinland Saga is a historical adventure manga by Makoto Yukimura. Vinland Saga focuses on the teenage warrior Thorfinn, who travels with the mercenary group who murdered his father planning his revenge. While Vinland Saga features many traditional components of battle manga, the story also features layers of medieval political intrigue and prides itself on a level of historical accuracy. I also find Vinland Saga interesting in that it looks at Western history from an entirely different cultural perspective, which adds new wrinkles and story layers not typically seen in Viking stories. Vinland Saga is one of the most beautiful manga on the shelves today and a must read for any Vikings fan. Plus, Leif Erikson himself makes an appearance in the manga as a friend of Thorfinn’s father and voice of reason in the village.
Head Lopper is a fantasy Viking comic that’s a mix of Samurai Jack and Dungeons and Dragons, with a dash of Adventure Time mixed for good measure. The comic, written and drawn by Andrew MacLean with colors by Mike Spicer, follows the Viking character Norglund as he wanders the countryside, fighting injustice and monsters one decapitation at a time. His only companion is the talking decapitated head of a witch, which he carries on his back. While MacLean self-published the original volume of Head Lopper, Image Comics recently picked up the series and is now re-releasing it in an oversized format.
The best known Norseman in all of comics, Thor isn’t really a Viking, but rather one of an advanced race of aliens/pseudo-deities worshipped by the Vikings as gods. As the Norse god of thunder, Thor spent plenty of time on Earth during the Viking era, assisting his worshippers in battle and keeping Midgard free from other Norse mythological threats. Jason Aaron’s recent run on Thor: God of Thunder showed some of Thor’s adventures alongside Viking warriors and the 2003 Marvel MAX miniseries Thor: Vikings featured Thor battling a band of undead Vikings with unlimited power who killed thousands after making their way to New York City.