Happy holidays, fine readers, and welcome back to The Infernal Reviews. To celebrate the holiday season and as a way of making up for lost time, every Tuesday and Friday of this month will feature a different webcomic that I feel might make an enjoyable read for the winter season.
With the advent of winter, thoughts begin to turn towards adventures and quests, thanks in no small part to great storytellers like J.R.R. Tolkien and George R. R. Martin (both with R.R. in their name, curiously enough). There’s just this sense of grandness to winter, to snow-covered peaks, frosted woods, and icy winds that lends itself almost naturally to adventure and few people knew this like the Vikings. Any Viking worth his salt knew that one should always carry the proper materials for a journey. For our next expedition, we’ll need some thistle, some mistletoe, and a casket. Or, in other, more Scandinavian words…
When first we lay eyes on young Coal, a 15-year-old Viking from an ancient Nordic land, he’s lying dead in his funeral boat. This doesn’t stop the story, however, as he is quickly revived by the Norse god Odin, who has a particular interest in the young boy and the relic that he carries about his neck. Someone has stolen pieces of the gods’ weapons, and thus, their power. When Coal’s relic is revealed to be one of those pieces, he is given a choice; retrieve the other pieces in time for Ragnarok, the final battle of the Norse pantheon, or suffer an eternity in Hel (one “l”). To do this, he must first find Loki, the trickster god that stole the pieces in the first place.
Thus begins Coal’s journey across icy seas and ancient lands.
The art for Thistil, Mistil, Kistil is certainly unique. While at first it might seem crude, it’s reminiscent of the runic carvings and picture stones of Scandinavia, thus fitting the concept of the comic perfectly. The largest downside to this is that the comic often appears flat and without perceptual depth, though I feel that the comic more than makes for it with the quality of the art in general. The choice of rich colors, beautiful panorama’s, and commitment to form makes it feel almost like a woven tapestry. As a whole, the comic follows a similar aesthetic to works like The Secret of Kells or Samurai Jack. The characters are given charming designs that help endear them to the reader, and facial expressions, while simple, are wonderfully adept at conveying the desired emotion. I chiefly believe that when it comes to things like aesthetics, less is more in terms of complexity and Thistil, Mistil, Kistil has just about the right amount of it to work, in my opinion.
Being a Viking, Coal is, naturally, the young warrior type of character. He tends to focus on whatever task is at hand and while he doesn’t always think things through, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t think of things at all. Despite his brooding, lone-wolf nature, he doesn’t hesitate to do what he considers right, though what that is may depend on what he feels is honorable. Something happened to him while he was alive, though the exact nature of the incident has yet to be revealed. Whatever it was, it left him wary of the Aesir and led to Loki saving his life. Even though he mistrusts the gods, however, Coal is compelled to serve them by his desire for a proper Viking afterlife which he feels he’s been denied.
As one of the Norse gods, Loki is a powerful being with great magic at his command. However, his trickster nature and Jotun heritage make him different from the others. As infamous as he is, Loki has an air of mystery about him that could deceive even the sharpest mind. While he was the one who initially stole the weapon fragments in the first place, he readily agrees to help Coal find them again, though his reasons for doing so are not yet known. Sly, playfully manic, and with just a hint of wickedness, he’s a lot like the con-man uncle that children like to hang out with despite their parents’ warnings about how he’s always up to no good.
On their journey, the two meet quite a few other characters, including Loki’s family as well as a young Christian slave girl named Hedda. A fourth cast member named Ibrahim is listed and given a biography, but he has only just appeared in the comic, so not much can be said of him just yet, other than it appears he’s an affluent scholar, which will undoubtedly set him up as a counterpoint to Coal.
The writing for TMK is rather good, utilizing a healthy pace that keeps the story interesting. The characters are well-
crafted and very likeable, though still a little enigmatic in some cases, particularly Loki’s. The dialogue is all in all very good and the story does occasionally foreshadow things that are surely coming down the line. My chief complaint, however, is that there are too many references to things we as readers don’t know yet. We kind of expect things to be revealed dramatically at some point in the future, but with no definitive set up concerning the characters’ pasts, we’re effectively left in a vacuum of context. Characters do not do well in a vacuum, which is a shame, because these guys are very interesting and would most likely benefit from a little more definition.
All in all, with enchanting visuals, good dialogue, and loveable characters, Thistil, Mistil, Kistil is, in my humble opinion, an all-around excellent series with which to start off the holiday season.
Thistil, Mistil, Kistil is written and drawn by Sarah Schanze, a self-proclaimed chocolate milk aficionado. The webcomic, including all images used here, belongs to her. It currently updates every Thursday Thor’s Day. If you have any questions, a general FAQ page about the comic can be found here.