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Tattoo Artist Sarah Miller's Voyage into Comics

What would you do if a Valkyrie came down from Valhalla to take your best friend’s soul? Would you fight her and anger the gods or just let her win? Not all noble actions come with good outcomes. This is The Valkyrie’s Wode.

This tale of a Valkyrie-fighting Viking girl thrown into a whirlwind of Nordic mythological power is the collaborative effort of tattoo artist Sarah Miller and writer Anthony Moreci. You probably remember Miller from her incredible portraiture work as a finalist on the second season of Ink Master, but now she’s switching things up by working through Ascension Comics to present the company’s first release, The Valkyrie’s Wode. Alongside Miller and Moreci is an incredible team of artistic gurus, including artist Damien Torres, inker Tony Kordos and colorist Halo Jankowski, also of Ink Master fame. This year at New York Comic Con, INKED sat down with Moreci, Torres, and Miller to chat about the launch of the first installment of The Valkyrie’s Wode and all of the amazing plans the group has for the series.

How did The Valkyrie’s Wode initially come together?

Anthony Moreci: Originally, we set out trying to make a short animated film. Sarah wanted to do something about Norse mythology, specifically Valkyries. So I started thinking about what Valkyries do. They reap the dead souls and they bring them to either Valhalla or they send them down to Helheim. They’re sort of a cross between Saint Peter and the Grim Reaper. So I thought an interesting concept would be if the Valkyrie went against her orders and stole a soul. And things went from there.

Sarah Miller: So we took this idea that we both came up with and I was like, Why not have a girl, who is human, somehow get the powers of a Valkyrie without the permissions of the gods? From there I sat down again with Anthony and we fleshed everything out and came up with a pretty good plot line. Once I had everything where I wanted, I handed it off to him and he started writing it for me. He took all my ideas, words and the stuff that I didn’t have actual time to sit down and put to paper. He made an amazing script taking his experience in animation and cinematography and put that into laying out the script in a very illustrative fashion with a lot of flow, almost like a TV show. Then I met Damian Torres last year at New York Comic Con.

Damien Torres: I met Sarah buying a print for my sister. I stopped by the table and we talked. She saw my portfolio and we made a connection right then and there. We’ve been in contact since and then it started taking off.

When did production of The Valkyrie’s Wode officially start?

Miller: Well, I guess you would say it started in May of this year. We finally fleshed out the first issue and I got a team together. I didn’t have time to pencil the whole thing myself. I originally wanted to do a lot more with it, but had time constraints with my tattooing and everything else. Damian’s art just spoke to me, so I knew he was the best man for the job. I reached out to him and we got Tony Kordos doing the inking. I met Tony last year here at New York Comic Con. He’s worked with a lot of the big name companies, like Top Cow, and he did some work with DC and Marvel; he’s an amazing inker. Then to kind of tie everything together I was able to get Halo to color the book for me. He’s so down to earth and humble, and when it comes to painting, he is so fast. Without him I don’t think this comic would have been able to get done.

Color sample from The Valkyrie's Wode issue 0.

Color sample from The Valkyrie's Wode issue 0.

Were you all always into comics or is this a new venture for you?

Moreci: Always. I was a big fan of the Star Wars comics when I was younger, but I really got into manga around high school, especially some of my favorite artists, like Katsuhiro Otomo’s work on Akira. I never knew that art could look that good or a story be that sprawling and epic. It blew my mind as a kid.

Miller: I’ve loved comics since I was little. I was raised conservative Christian, so I didn’t really get too much exposure but the 7-Eleven across the street from my house started carrying comic books. The very first title I picked up was Spider-Man, and the second one was Witchblade. [Laughs] Of course, not exactly the best for a super Christian household, but I started following story lines and whenever they would get a new issue in I would be over there reading, saving my pennies so I’d be able to buy myself a copy.

Torres: For me I grew up in the ‘90s, so I grew up watching the Batman, Spider-Man, and X-men cartoons. From a young age I fell in love with it all. One of my first comics was, weirdly enough, Guardians of the Galaxy, which at the time wasn’t the roster you see in the movie. It was a completely different team. Then I started noticing the artists and the different art styles. When I hit the age of 12 or so I decided I wanted to do comics for a living. So I went to The Kubert School because I saw it in ads in comics. It was definitely some of the best experiences of my life.

Who would you say were your major influences when working on The Valkyrie’s Wode?

Miller: When working on The Valkyrie’s Wode, I would say some of my influences would have to be Mark Brooks and Michael Turner. I love Michael Turner, the way that he story boarded; he’s such an innovator. I definitely was referencing a lot of Witchblade. I also [was influenced by] J. Scott Campbell.

Speaking of J. Scott Campbell’s work, you decided to make one of The Valkyrie’s Wode’s main characters, Toben, an artist.

Moreci: I made a decision really early on that I didn’t want to have an omniscient narrator. I wanted it to be a little more cinematic. We had all of this exposition, back story and lore to set up so I thought if one of the characters was sort of a historian, it would be a good way to set up all the background involved in the story. The Norse people didn’t really have a lot of written history, so his idea wouldn’t be to make a book, it would be to create murals and illustrations. That’s how he would preserve his people’s legacy.

And he works alongside the comic’s hero, Rona.

Miller: Yes. She’s a young spitfire, about 14-years-old at the time. The only thing that she really wants to do is grab a sword, be a shield maiden and go into battle, but she’s a girl, she’s an orphan, and she has nobody to teach her how to fight. She doesn’t have enough money to actually buy a sword, so she’s really hindered and held back by the circumstances of her life. But then something falls on her lap that’s not wanted or expected. She beats the Valkyrie up and steals her sword. When she knock’s the Valkyrie’s sword out of her hand and picks it up, she actually steals the Valkyrie’s totem and gave herself the Valkyrie’s power. By rendering the Valkyrie almost powerless, she’s made everybody angry–Odin, Freya, all the gods–because now a mortal is in possession of the powers of the gods and that’s not a good thing. She’s going to have to figure out whether or not she’s strong enough internally to deal with all the consequences of her actions.

Your website lists one character, Hunter, as one of the comic’s main figures, but there’s very little else about her. What can you reveal to your readers about her?

Miller: She’s going to be a central character in the future issues. And there’s going to be a lot more to her than meets the eye.

Moreci: If Rona’s the Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, then Hunter is the Tommy Lee Jones. Hunter’s the one chasing them down for stealing her sword and defying Odin.

 Issue 0 of The Valkyrie's Wode with cover art by Alix Branwyn.

Issue 0 of The Valkyrie's Wode with cover art by Alix Branwyn.

What led you to want to work mainly with Norse mythology?

Miller: I love mythology, all mythology, Greek mythology, Roman mythology, oriental mythology. What I really liked about the Viking culture was just how progressive they were. Women were actually allowed to be shield maidens and the Valkyrie was such a prominent figure in their culture. We’re reinterpreting [the lore] a little bit differently in this comic book then in the actual mythology, but I just thought it was such a cool idea. I wanted to take it a little bit further; there are going to be a lot of different twists because I am going to be taking the back story of the gods to a whole new level that people have not seen before. It’s going to be a little mind blowing. Hopefully people are going to like it.

As a professional tattoo artist, would you say you had a tattoo artist’s mindset while working on this comic?

Miller: Tattoos have a huge part to play in commemorating things. And this goes all the way back to prehistoric times. One of the things that I thought would be cool with the Nordic mythology was to incorporate a little bit of tattooing into this comic book, making it a central focus. So it’s The Valkyrie’s Wode, “woad” is another term for “tattoo.”* The tattoos [in the comic] are also representations of the symbols of power, so in picking up the sword, a woad appears on Rona that will not fade; it’s a symbolic representation of the power that she now has. I thought that’d be a really cool twist just because tattoos have such personal meaning to people; why not make them mean just a little bit more?

New York Comic Con marks the launch of issue 0. What do you guys have planned out so far for the rest of the story?

Miller: We have about three issues scripted and we’re looking to launch the first full issue by Christmas.

Moreci: We have sort of an idea of where the story will end up. There’s a whole wide swath in the middle where we’re still thinking wouldn’t it be cool if they encountered some frost giants or wouldn’t it be cool if we started to show what the gods are up to and what they are thinking about during this adventure.

Miller: We want to work with the motivations behind some key forces, like Odin. He is the main force preventing Ragnarök,** but what if he’s lost sight of his morals in pursuing this one goal? And this idea will mirror a little bit with Rona and her own personal goal with Toben. So it’s going to be a little rocky and a little bumpy.

Find out more about The Valkyrie’s Wode on and look out for the Issue 1 coming your way this holiday season.

*Woad is another term for the body art that adorned the Celtic and Scottish tribes derived from the blue dye used to create these markings
**Ragnarök, in Norse mythology, is a series of apocalyptic events that result in the death of many Norse gods and causes the earth to be destroyed by several natural disasters