Written by Gary Proudley
Illustrated by Jake Bartok, James Brouwer, Mitch Collins, Holly Fox, Scott Fraser, Katie Houghton-Ward, Marc Noble, Skye Ogden, Craig Phillips, Sarah Winifred Searle, Trev Wood
Gestalt Comics, February 2020
Save for Groo the Wanderer and Cerebus, sword-and-sorcery warriors tend to be big hulking fellows in loin clothes, or angry women with bladed weapons. In this title, we instead have a barbarian fighter who is clearly handy with a sword, but is also clever at making his way through a world of opportunistic hoodlams and angry gods.
The starting point for rendering fantasy barbarians – many of whom were created by Robert E. Howard in the 1920s – is that they visually stand out from their opponents during illustrated melees.
Conan the Barbarian and his literary forebear Kull the Conqueror are both enormous men, each with his famous mop of straight black hair.
Red Sonja is improbably dressed in a chain mail bikini, her loose red hair whipping about so as to add dynamism to the art. 2000AD’s
Sláine carries a visually striking axe called “Brainbiter”.
Frank Thorne’s Ghita of Alizarr is just as likely to be nude as clothed.
Talgard is in contrast an unassuming bearded man – fully clothed, despite that cover page – who takes on various jobs as a mercenary. There is a notched sword, but there are no sinewed muscles. There is nothing physically extraordinary about him. Even his beard is trimmed. We follow Talgard into a land of barter, snow, revenge, and stolen underwear.
This title consists of a series of vignettes, easily consumed and very to the point. Such short five to six page stories require some admirable economy of both text and art. As a consequence, we are delivered a plot with speed and skill, but we do not know much about the man.
Talgard is plainly a tactical master and knowledgeable about topics ranging from pharmacology to dealing with the unearthly. He good to his word – just as well for his clients, who he could easily abuse if he was less honourable.
But he is also coldly vindictive, and not above facilitating the death of one man – admittedly, a bold torturer – in cold blood. Otherwise, Talgard, by reason of the delivery of the stories within the title and the clever avoidance of a backstory, is a mystery.
Many creative teams mean many potential versions of the character. But the delivery is tight, and the artistic rendition of Talgard is never accentuated into something more than he is.
Compendia of comics, whether published by Western independent publishers or whether a tankobon anthology, tend to be a mash of different types of stories. (Your reviewer arrived in Osaka in September 1996, and visited a Lawsons corner store to buy a tankobon as a way of learning colloquial Japanese. The volume consisted of a story about a baseball game, a story about an aspiring Sumo wrestler, and a story about a Christian nun skewered by a Japanese sword. Startling stuff.)
But Talgard is a template, which the creative teams can use to tell a story, but in a way so as to not not give too much backdrop about the key character so as to dictate the outcomes of future stories.
Reading this very entertaining comic reminded us of Bronn, the amoral “sell sword” of the extremely successful book and television franchise, Game of Thrones. Talgard has no qualms about cheating to achieve his aims. But Talgard has no apparent ambition, and is certainly no insatiable whoremonger.
Where Talgard is going, and where he has been, is as yet a mystery.
Talgard is available on Comixology – https://www.comixology.com/Talgard-Vol-1-Tome-One/digital-comic/840706