It doesn’t really matter if your world contains strange monsters or holds the promise of great battles because, in the end, the biggest battle you must always face is within yourself–that’s the theme of Lars Brown’ wonderful graphic novel North World.
The book tells the story of Conrad, a member of the Greater Northwest Guild–a fraternal order, of sorts, that engage in quests and missions, just like the heroes do in legends. However, when Conrad checks in for his next assignment, he’s assigned to the worst place he can imagine: the town where he grew up.
It seems that someone in the town is summoning a demon in little old Coeur du Lac, and Conrad has no choice but to accept the assignment. Mythical heroes can’t refuse quests and all that. So Conrad journeys to the town, only to find that things are both better and worse than he expected.
This is a charming comic full of twists and turns. Conrad’s return to Coeur du Lac is both surprising and wonderful. I felt an interesting sort of recognition at Conrad’s situation. Before returning, things in the small town were fixed in his mind. His memories were living things that seemed to surround and almost suffocate him.
However, as usually happens in real life, people have moved on and changed. Things are no longer even close to the way they were when Conrad was younger. Many people, including his ex-girlfriend, have grown and changed in ways that are surprising. The town is upsetting and disconcerting, but in different ways than he had imagined.
Most significant is Conrad’s bittersweet reunion with his father. There are some issues that exist between the two men–the terms of which both men struggle with. There’s no clean TV movie-styled reconciliation between the two men, and their relationship forms the core of what makes this book so wonderful.
Brown’s art has a nice, light style that keeps the story moving. Characters are drawn with the right amount of detail, and are neither too cartoony to seem real nor too detailed to seem resonant. Brown also has a good eye for emphasizing the most important moments in the story with cut outs or smart use of blacks.
Lars Brown never loses sight of the fact that no matter how many talking bears he puts in his comic, the core of the story lies with its human characters. As readers get to know Conrad and everyone in his life, we see glimpses of people we know and situations we recognize. That’s the power of a wonderful comic like this one–that and, you know, talking bears are kind of neat.