The Last Viking Returns

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‘Where do the ideas come from?’ I hear you ask. Well, if you were about 11 years old you would most likely ask that that question. Most kids do at some point when I’m giving a talk to a class of school kids. That, and how much money do you earn?

My usual answer is that ideas are often borrowed, referenced, or we are paying homage, which is just a pretentious way of saying they are pinched from other favourite works, then reshaped a little to help disguise their origins. There is no shame to it. People have been rewriting Romeo and Juliet over and over for the past 400 years. Every film you watch will be using plots and scenes from earlier ones. What you have to do is try to bring a fresh approach to the story. Often, what happens is you use someone else’s idea as a starting point, but then as your story progresses, it takes on a life of its own and eventually the original is so far removed from its source that yours looks original.


One example I use from The Last Viking. In our version James and I have little Knut, the frightened boy, become brave by channeling the Vikings. He goes to the skateboard park, gets bullied and then, bravely and all alone, faces up to the three bullies. Although he doesn’t realise it, he is eventfully saved by the Norse gods.

The starting point for the sequence came from High Noon, the Gary Cooper western from 1952, directed by Fred Zinnemann. In that Frank Miller and two killers are due to arrive on the noon day train and kill Will Kane, the sheriff, in revenge for him sending them to jail some years earlier.

Will Kale tries to persuade the other town folk to help him, but they all cowardly refuse, so he is forced to stand up to the three killers (bullies) all alone. Whereas Knut is saved by the gods at the very last minute, the sheriff is also saved at the very last minute, but instead by Grace Kelly, a different sort of god (dess). Image Image
For The Last Viking Returns, or The Return of the Last Viking or Here be Dragons, as it has variously been called along the way (it is referred to TLV II in all my notes) we turned to Norse legends for inspiration. We wanted a dragon in the story because they look so majestic, dramatic and simply petrifying with their scales, big sharp teeth and breathing fire. The legend of Sigurd slaying Fafnir the dragon seemed perfect. Being a kids’ books though, we adapted the slaying to something not quite as deadly.


With James now finished illustrating Fafnir in all its terrifying glory, we are both a little worried that it might scare the living daylights out of our young audience. Fafnir scared the pants off me when James first revealed him. It didn’t take too much imagination to believe the dragon could have toasted me for breakfast with his furnace-like breath and the chomped into me with those sharp teeth. But then I’m not anywhere as brave as Knut, our little Nordic hero. In fact, I suspect that when Will Kane came to ask me to help him against Frank Miller, I might not have been as brave as Grace Kelly.

Norman? That’s him leaving town on the five minutes past High Noon train.





A Really Cool Competition


One of these photos is of the legendary creators of Asterix, and the other is of a couple of wallys.

To win a free book simply identify the correct photo.

Closing date for the competition is whenever I get bored.


I’m a great admirer of these two, (the Asterix ones, not the other two clowns) and I even based my first books, Ashe of the Outback series on the format they so successfully pioneered along with Herge’ and Tin Tin. James, however, is the psychic love-child of Goscinny and Udurzo. He doesn’t admit it, but it is obvious that to  him they are the French version of the Norse Gods of artists and look down on his every pen stroke and every colour mix  he ever attempts. I suspect  as far as he is concerned there are none better. I bet too if we were to see a picture of  James’  bedroom when  he was ten years old,   the walls would be covered in Asterix posters,  the bookshelves groaning under only Asterix volumes, and little Obelix and Getafix dolls would  litter every surface. And he probably spoke in a bad, pun-laden French accent, non?  And was just itching to attack hoards of  le Normans (or le Romans).

I suppose pretending to be Udurzo is a slight improvement on the ten year old Norman pretending to be Errol  Flynn all the time. Not much future in that.

Addendum from James (to be read in a French accent):

Excusez-moi, mon ami Nor-man, fer high-jacque-ing your blog poste, but I sought I woulde show you a little photograph of mon bureau, eh, my desk. When I was zhust a garcon, I did not have ze dolls d’Asterix as you say. But now Je suis un adulte, mon bureau has many of ze Asterix figurines upon it… zey are tres bonne, no?

mon bureau

Back to Norm:

And further more…

So James didn’t get his Asterix dolls until he was an adult, eh? Arrested childhood, perhaps? A tragic childhood? No toys, and only gruel to eat, so he’s making up for it now? However, I can talk. Here I am  half a century later still pretending to be Errol Flynn. The picture was taken a few years ago by my wife Jan  at  a medieval fayre in St David’s Cathedral grounds in Wales. To my surprise, as I’m usually hopeless at sport-like stuff,  I turned out to be a  right little Robin Hood with an Anti-French longbow. Loads of bullseyes.  I reckon could  have stood on Hasting beach in 1066 and  just about single handedly stopped the Norman invasion of England, my aim was so true. Though, with a name like mine I would have been on the other team, and then King Harold would have had something to really worry about .

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Designing the Norse Gods- Forebodin’ Odin, Therious Thor and the others

First off- apologies for missing a week! I’ve been pushing through the final artwork and attending family weddings. Busy busy busy.

The original story mentioned quite a few Norse Gods- Odin, Thor, Sigurd, Freya and Hemrod. Our brilliant editor Cate helped to whittle the text down, removing supplementary characters to focus on Odin and Thor (Check out this post by Norm for more info on Odin and Thor).

Here are my first sketches and notes on the Gods.

Thor on the left, Sigurd on the right


That's Odin right down the bottom, with some lumpy crows


Odin looked a bit like a pirate here

After a bit of research, I found out that Odin is an old old man. So the black hair wasn’t going to look right for his character. Also, Thor is his son, so they have to look similar.

Storyboard sketches began to take more form…

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Harald Bluetooth

Famous Vikings

and what great names they have.

King Harald Bluetooth, (No, true, that really is his name. Would I lie to you?)  ruled Denmark between 940 and 985 AD. He was the son of King Grom the Old and his wife Thyre Danebold, the daughter of King Ethelred of England. Harald’s grandson, Canute, went on to be the king of all of Denmark and England, and a mighty fine king to, according to all reports.

When still young Harald  developed the usual passion to go a –viking in search of gold, treasure and new lands for Viking settlements , and, like his fellow Vikings, Harald considered it honourable to plunder wherever and whenever he felt like it.

Harald’s sister Gunhild was married to a Norwegian King with the marvellous name of Erik Blood Axe, but when he was killed Harald decided to seize  Norway for himself, making himself king of much of  Scandinavia. (Well, why not.)

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