In my quest to get some Pagan and/or Viking era related comics into my library, I routinely scour Kickstarter and Amazon for new titles I have not seen. One of my favorites so far has been the work of a artist/writer named Volkmar Fleckenstein out of Germany. We corresponded for a while after I reviewed his first Wife of Freyr comic, and I’m always excited to see pretty much anything he is working on. What makes his work different is that he is not interested in making cool pop-culture Viking stuff for guys that think Paganism is an excuse to drink and get rune tattoos (not slamming both but you know the type). Volkmar has a goal to try to recreate Norse Paganism in it’s most primordial form, hopefully excluding any Christian influence from Iceland. That means that he does TONS of research and tries to visualize Pagan rituals as they would have been in the past instead of vague Christ allegories placed into the mouth of Gods that would never had said them. His ideas are refreshing for this niche comics genre as a whole.
Volkmar has a new comic currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter called The Saga of Bödvar Bjarki Vol.1 – The Real Beowulf and Grendel : Bödvar Bjarki – uncensored that is in it’s final moments this week. We discussed many topics including the comic itself and his aspirations for his work, as well as what brought him to the comics medium.
This interview was conducted via E-mail in late July 2021, purchase links for products by Volkmar can be found below. If you’d like to help out his Kickstarter campaign please look HERE.
Can you tell us something about yourself?
“I am a Norse Pagan who reads a lot of comics and likes to draw stories. But my main job is to make technical drawings in a big company. I am married and have three children.”
What made you want to start drawing comics?
“When I was 7 years old, my father and I regularly accompanied my grandmother to the bus station. We waited there with her until her bus came. To sweeten the waiting time at the next kiosk, my father bought me a comic book every time. It was Conan the Barbarian. I was fascinated by the story and the drawings and started to trace them at home.”
Was that a big influence?
“I´m a huge fan of Conan the Barbarian! The artists who had a great influence on me: from U.S.A. John Buscema, Ernie Chan and Michael Turner, from Europe Milo Manara, Enrico Marini, Rocca & Mitton”
What is your art training background? Self-taught, or did you go to school for illustration?
“When I was 19 years old, I had the confirmation for the enrollment at the joe Kubert’s graphic art school in New Jersey, but for financial reasons I didn’t do that. So its 100% self-taught.”
With your company, Pagan Comics, what is your goal? Any future plans?
“There are some stories and Sagas which, in my opinion, are very important and informative for the explanation of the ancient Nordic cults. I want to bring these Sagas and the Pagan view of the Norse Pagan religion (not the Norse mythology of Icelandic Christians) into comic format. With my first book “Wife of Freyr” I concentrated on the fertility cult of Yngvi-Freyr and tried to visualize the most important fertility god and his cult according to tradition. With my second series of books, Bödvar Bjarki, I focus on Woden Cult during the Migration Period and its establishment in Scandinavia, its transformation from a purely consecration god of a warrior cult to the supreme god of the Norse pantheon in the Viking Age.
I also want to explain my view of Aesir-Vanir War, i.e. competition between the existing and newly arrived cult in Scandinavia. I also wanna do the real story of Ahmad ibn Fadlan’s voyage to the Rus Vikings – already known by the Movie “The 13th warrior” starring Antonio Banderas – in the future. Of course, I will also focus here on the original transmission of Fadlan’s travel book, so that it will be clearly different from the film.”
I’m assuming you are a practicing Heathen/Norse Pagan/Asatrur of some nature, am I correct?
“Yes, I am a practicing Norse Pagan and am a very spiritual person. In my opinion, an existing or established belief is very important for one’s own identity and personality. Ancestor Cult and Vanir Cult dominates my personal beliefs, so it is important to me to reconstruct the everyday rituals of that time as well as possible. I also involve my children in this, as it is important to me to pass this form of spirituality on to them.”
What is your “origin story”, or what brought you to Paganism?
“I was born in 1982, in my generation Norwegian black metal was part of youth culture here in Europe. That was the main catalyst for the development for the Norse Pagan beliefs in me. But of course it all started with Conan in my childhood. then I read Tolkien´s LOTR, that’s how I got into to Beowulf and other Nordic sagas. My enthusiasm for the indomitable polytheist barbarian from the north kept growing. The coronation was of course Norwegian Black and Death or Viking metal. Then you can no longer leave this corner, because you notice that for a free soul who abhors authority and collectivism, there is no other conviction than the old gods and the “Fornsidr”.
What God(s) do you identify with?
“Absolutely Thor and Yngvi-Freyr. These two are the most important and primordial gods for me and probably for old pagan Scandinavia! For daily life they are indispensable. It is no coincidence that both gods influenced the naming of my two sons…”
I randomly came across your first Wife of Freyr comic on Amazon, what was your experience with getting published there?
“Amazon has very strict moral codes and is not a good place to publish a book about the ancient Scandinavian fertility cults. I had to censor a lot of things on the cover to publish my book on amazon and for that, censored stuff is moved backwards directly by the algorithm. That makes it extremely difficult to find readers.”
Was Wife of Freyr your first publication?
“Yes, before that I didn’t dare to publish anything.”
After Amazon, you have had a few successful Kickstarter campaigns, what made you decide to try crowdfunding?
“My experience of censorship was the decisive factor on this matter. I want to visualize everything and not miss out on scenes because of the moral code. Back then you sacrificed animals or did certain things, which you find pretty obscene these days. With crowdfunding you also have the advantage that you get printing and shipping costs in advance and you can see how many people are interested in your story.”
Sounds like Crowdfuding is definitely preferred
“Definitely prefer Kickstarter or other crowdfunding sites. Nothing is censored here.
And I also plan to run parallel campaigns with Indiegogo in the future.”
Wife of Freyr was based on “Ögmundar’s death and Gunnar’s half”, and as you stated on Kickstarter “Bödvar Bjarki is based on an Old Norse Poem “Bjarkamál”, an Icelandic rhyme “Bjarkarimur” and Hrólfr Kraki’s saga.” You are one of the few writers I’ve seen dipping into Saga material for comics, how did you decide on that?
“I don’t publish to make money primarily, but to attract people’s attention to forgotten sources about Norse Pagan religion and not that constantly read and consumed Norse Mythology written down by Christians. The Norse mythology that was written down by Icelandic Christians, has little to do with the true, ancient Norse religion.”
Prior to reading your synopsis, I was unaware of the Beowulf connection with that Saga – Now that I have read the material, I can definitely see the connection. What brought you to these characters?
“Beowulf is my favorite character from literature. I have always been fascinated and interested in whether Beowulf and Troll Grendel really lived. If you deal with this question, at some point you will come across Bödvar Bjarki and his king, Hrolf Kraki. The more you deal with the matter, the more interesting it becomes. For example, some scholars claim that Grendel’s mother is nothing more than the goddess Gefjon of Denmark and Beowulf actually embodies the new warrior cult of Woden / Odin against the existing Gefjon cult. Of course, I have incorporated all of this into my own version.”
Do you have a favorite book on this topic that you think everyone should read?
“The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki from Penguin books (1993) or the adaptation of the Hrolf Kraki’s Saga from Poul Anderson (1973)”
It is a shame that the poems are incomplete, do you get sad that so many texts were lost through time, maliciously or not?
“Yes of course, Complete reconstruction is impossible, but you can still immerse yourself quite deeply in the comparable sources or read non-fiction books on these topics and look at the interpretations of different scholars.”
Beowulf has been made into films many times; do you have a favorite version? Least favorite?
“Beowulf and Grendel with Gerard Butler as Beowulf. It´s no Hollywood Blockbuster, a boring European production, lol. But the equipment and scenery is very well done with high authenticity and the story of Troll Grendel is also explained very realistically. It`s another view on the Story of Beowulf and Grendel.
My least favorite, I have to say, is Beowulf from 2007, directed by Robert Zemeckis.”
With this comic, you are planning on doing multiple issues, will those also get their own Kickstarter campaign?
“With this current campaign, I will do 4 campaigns that belong together. I have to split it up because it’s a long story and I don’t want to shorten anything.
The real Beowulf and Grendel: Bödvar Bjarki s Saga Vol1
The real Beowulf and Grendel s Mother: Bödvar Bjarki s Saga Vol2
The real Beowulf and the Battle of Ice Lake Vänern: Bödvar Bjarki s Saga Vol3
The real Beowulf and the Dragon: Bödvar Bjarki s Saga Vol4″
What has been the hardest thing about this project?
“The hardest part is finding time to draw and color. I work in a full time job that has nothing to do with my project. In addition, I am the father of three children, which is why it is very important to me to spend a lot of time with them, especially at a young age. For this reason, I only have the few hours of the evening around midnight to draw – knowing full well that readers usually don’t like to wait too long for new publications. Without help and support from my wife with writing and proofreading, I would never be able to finish my comic projects on time.”
Finally, if you could travel to any point in history, where would you go?
“Definitely at the court of King Hroar (Hrothgar) between 500-540 AD, I would like to see the Beowulf in real life. lol”
Be sure to help me extend my thanks to Volkmar for taking time out of his day to do this interview, and swing by his Kickstarter page for The Saga of Bödvar Bjarki Vol.1, There are nine days left and it’s pretty close to the goal! If you want to see my reviews for wife of Freyr, look here and here. and for purchase we unfortunately have to venture to the Dark Lands of Bezos. Both are pretty affordable eBooks. Stay tuned for the eventual review for volume 1 of The Saga of Bödvar Bjarki Vol.1!