A look into the art of Sigrdrífa: Interview with José Vega

Back in January, when I posted the official announcement for the Sigrdrífa novel, I included the first sketches for the character drawn by artist José Vega. Since then the character has been developed and the cover finished. That final version won’t be released yet (after all, there is still plenty of time before the actual novel is released), but I will present here part of the progress, plus a short interview with José.

José Vega

José Vega

Q: What got you into art?

A: Well I was not the typical artist who has been drawing and painting since being a kid. I got introduced to drawing in senior year by a friend and we used to redraw anime drawings back in the day when DBZ was popular. I decided to go to the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale where I got exposed to different types and realms or “art” from Animation, to 2D Illustration, traditional painting and 3D. I got my major in Media Arts and Animation and started working as a 3D Visualization Artist doing architecture and Interior Design. I was more into the 3D world building models due to my work and because it was a more technical approach, however I was always a gamer. I loved games and I always liked to see “The art of________ ” of the games that I liked and the more I looked at those books the more I got into the pre-production process of making games. So after a few years I lost my job due to the recession, moved around the states till I ended up back in my island (Puerto Rico) where I grew up and after a year of having digital painting as a hobby and doing it more and more I decided to go for it. I started getting more involved in communities, forums and with other artists and my passion for 2D Digital Illustration grew to the point where I am at now. Still evolving and defining.

Q: Any particular influences on your style?

A: Well, I was always attracted to the games I played like Blizzard games, Halo, Soul Reaver, many others. But I can recall 2 incidents in specific where it influenced my art in a tremendous way. The first was when I first started getting serious about my artwork and polishing my skills to become a professional. I found out about Feng Zhu video tutorials from his school. And by that time he had about 30 episodes of small and short tutorials on different topics on Digital Painting. And I remember watching one in the morning and one at night before bed for like months, even though I had watched them already. I learned a lot and my artwork took a leap forward due to the videos. The other incident was in early 2012 where I decided to go for a month to Canada to the Imaginism Studios workshop. It was an intense and remarkable experience. It was all about Art and friends. The lessons I took about foundation, rendering, style, imagination, etc., were very, very important in creating what I am right now. It was a great experience.

Q: If you could pick a film or franchise in which to work on as art designer, which one would it be?

A: WOW, this is a very hard one.

Ok so after thinking a lot I think it would be AWESOME for me to work in a new series for the Legacy of Kain games, Soul Reaver. It is a game series that I enjoyed a lot when it came out and it has been a while since they make a new game.

Q: What was the process behind the design of Sigrdrífa’s cover?

Character concepts

Character concepts

A: Well after reading the author’s description of an idea, usually what I do is do some research. And the first thing I look for is for a good color palette. There are a lot of ways I can go for that but after finding that then I start with more specifics like, research on armor, book covers, composition, etc. Once I have all that gathered up I start sketching, making thumbnails to play with composition and placement and look for the best possible image and design, which in my opinion is probably the hardest part because once I have that its all about rendering and spending time with the image.

Background sketch

Background sketch

Cover background, finished version

Cover background, finished version

For more on José Vega’s art you can visit his webpage below.

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NEXT TIME: What I have learned from reading the Völsunga Saga, Part 2

Chapter 3: What I have learned from reading the Völsunga Saga, Part 1

Oh God. Or gods. Either way, there’s something to be said about the customs of people around the world and history. The spartans, for example, are known for being really hardcore in their customs, gaining such a reputation that now “spartan” literally defines a very harsh way of life. On a slightly lesser degree the same can be applied to the samurai. Even today we have some pretty messed up customs and yet, reading the Völsunga Saga for research purposes I couldn’t help but be amazed at the… insanity displayed in its pages. Here’s a rundown of some of the tings I learned while reading the saga of the Völsung family:

1. Murder is like… meh. 

There is a separate category for this that involves children, so for now we will focus on wanton killing of adults. We get the first one right off the bat, on the first page (second paragraph) of Chapter 1:

Now it is to be told that, on a time, Sigi fared to the hunting of the deer, and the thrall with him; and they hunted deer day-long till the evening; and when they gathered together their prey in the evening, lo, greater and more by far was that which Bredi had slain than Sigi’s prey; and this thing he much disliked, and he said that great wonder it was that a very thrall should out-do him in the hunting of deer: so he fell on him and slew him, and buried the body of him thereafter in a snow-drift.

A “thrall” is a slave, or servant. Now, of course we all know that, historically, slaves are the lowest of the low, but killing one for out-doing you at hunting – especially when it doesn’t seem anyone else actually saw it happen – is pretty messed up. I was still quite innocent at this point and attributed it to Sigi being a very sick person and a very big asshole. Boy oh boy, was I wrong! Some of the characters that show up later will make Sigi’s murder seem almost justifiable by comparison.

At this point let me note that the Norsemen in general – at least a millennia ago – didn’t have much moral regard for human life. They had what they called “weregilds”, which were monetary values appointed to a person in case of injury or murder, according to their place in society’s hierarchy. I’ll give you examples in modern terms: let’s assume I kill a janitor, a profession which would probably land him/her in the (upperish) poor class. If the weregild system was enforced in my country, and the janitor’s weregild was $500, that means I would have to pay his or her family $500 as compensation. If I couldn’t pay that amount then I would be banished. If, instead, I managed to kill the Governor, the weregild would probably be something like $100,000. (I’m not taking inflation into account here).

That'll be $400 for Mr. Smith's uncle.

“That’ll be $400 for Mr. Smith’s uncle.”

This is important to explain, to a degree, the way they behaved with regards to killing others. They just didn’t give much of a fuck.

2. Killing your own children for revenge’s sake is like… meh.

Point 1 established how human life wasn’t worth much more than a few coins (well, kings were worth a lot of coins). Point 2 will show that even motherly love isn’t strong enough when vengeance is required.

There are, at least, three instances in the Völsunga Saga in which a mother killed or had someone else kill their own children for the sake of revenge. Let’s see Murder Mom #1: Signy.

Signy was King Volsung’s (the Volsung) daughter. She had nine brothers, eight of which were killed by her husband, King Siggeir, along with Volsung himself. The why of this isn’t important to this story; what’s important is that one of the brothers – Sigmund – survived with the help of his sister, and hid in the forest. Signy, of course, wanted revenge on her husband for slaying most of her kin, and she’s counting on her brother Sigmund to achieve it. When one of her sons with Siggeir turns ten years old she sends him to Sigmund to help him out (in secret), but the boy turned out to be kind of a wuss, and Sigmund informs her of this. Now let’s quote from the book:

Then said Signy, “Take him and kill him then; for why should such an one live longer?” and even so he did.

So this winter wears, and the next winter Signy sent her next son to Sigmund; and there is no need to make a long tale thereof, for in like wise went all things, and he slew the child by the counsel of Signy.

Got it? You better, or you die.

“Got it? You better, or you die.”

This wasn’t even actual revenge, just a complete lack of morals and love. She was killing her two sons because they were useless to her designs. Since they were Siggeir’s also I guess she hated them, but it is never stated that way. She just doesn’t care at all. Siggeir’s reaction to his sons’ disappearance is never followed up. Those poor kids apparently had no one who cared for them.

Anyway, Signy solved the useless sidekick problem by having a witch transform her into someone else, then go to Sigmund, seduce him, have him fuck her brains out for three nights (seriously), then go back, have a bastard incestuous son, name him Sinfjotli, and when he turns ten send him to Sigmund to pass the test of usefulness. He, being of pure Volsung blood, of course passes the test, but since things are never easy the kid had to endure torture along the way:

… and he was hardly yet ten winters old when she sent him to Sigmund’s earth-house; but this trial she had made of her other sons or ever she had sent them to Sigmund, that she had sewed gloves on to their hands through flesh and skin, and they had borne it ill and cried out thereat…

(Oh, I guess that explains their uselessness; they were busy feeling excruciating pain)

… and this she now did to Sinfjotli, and he changed countenance in nowise thereat. Then she flayed off the kirtle so that the skin came off with the sleeves, and said that this would be torment enough for him; but he said-

“Full little would Volsung have felt such a smart this.”

Sinfjotli on his way to Sigmund's earth-house

Sinfjotli on his way to Sigmund’s earth-house

Yep.

So now that she has her brother equipped with their scary son, revenge is eventually achieved, but not before… wait for it… more sons are killed!

Two other sons of Signy and the king discover Sigmund and Sinfjotli as they enter the palace to slay Siggeir, and they tell their father. So of course Signy goes to Sigmund and says:

“Lo ye! These younglins have bewrayed you; come now therefore and slay them!”

Sigmund says, “Never will I slay thy children for telling of where I lay hid.”

But Sinfjotli made little enow of it, but drew his sword and slew them both, and cast them into the hall at King Siggeir’s feet.

At least Sigmund tried to be decent this time.

The cake, however, is taken by Murder Mom #2, Gudrun. In fact, when I read the creative way in which she did it I laughed, not because by then I had become a monster like these guys, but because I had recently seen an episode of South Park in which Cartman does something very similar (so similar I wondered if Parker and Stone were deliberately parodying Gudrun, but more possibly it was the Shakespearean clusterfuck Titus Andronicus).

Here’s a very short summary of what happened: Gudrun’s family had been almost completely annihilated, the last of her kin falling in battle (or killed as prisoners) to King Atli. Obviously revenge was imperative. I’ll let the book take over and tell the rest:

But Gudrun forgat not her woe, but brooded over it, how she might work some mighty shame against the king; and at nightfall she took to her the sons of King Atli and her as they played about the floor; the younglins waxed heavy of cheer, and asked what she would with them.

“Ask me not,” she said; “ye shall die, the twain of you!”

Then they answered, “Thou mayest do with thy children even as thou wilt, nor shall any hinder thee, but shame there is to thee in the doing of this deed.”

(Very mature way of accepting your own murder)

Yet for all that she cut the throats of them.

How you like my cooking, honey?

How you like my cooking, honey?

Then the king asked where his sons were, and Gudrun answered, “I will tell thee, and gladden thine heart by the telling; lo now, thou didst make a great woe spring up for me in the slaying of my brethren; now hearken and hear my rede and my deed; thou hast lost thy sons, and their heads are become beakers on the board here, and thou thyself hast drunken the blood of them blended with wine; and their hearts I took and roasted them on a spit, and thou hast eaten thereof.”

It just occurred to me that this is the emotional equivalent of the Japanese kamikaze; it’s ok to die so long as you take the enemy down with you.

There’s still some other things I learned reading their crazy story, which I will address in the next chapter.

NEXT TIME: some sketch progressions by José Vega!

Chapter 2: Entering Valhalla

Norse mythology has always held a certain fascination to me. Now, while technically that’s true of most mythologies from around the world, Valhalla and friends have a special place thanks to their intrinsic coolness and inevitable tragic endings. It’s no coincidence that Stan Lee and Marvel Comics added Thor to their superheroes roster (Thor being, incidentally, my favorite of the Norse gods). Not only did they have consumate warriors, giants, dragons, elves, dwarves, trolls, and tricksters, but those gods were destined to die in a grand final battle, and they knew it. These are gods devised after a manner of people who not only did not fear death, but actually welcomed it. Their Ragnarök was a sort of beautiful tragedy, where death and oblivion meant the most glorious ending to one’s life.

Thor battles the serpent Jörmungandr. At the Ragnarök, they kill each other. Thor also had considerably more clothes than as depicted.

Thor battles the serpent Jörmungandr. At the Ragnarök, they kill each other. Thor also had considerably more clothes than as depicted.

It is this world that I have chosen to tell the story of Sigrdrífa. All the elements of modern fantasy are encapsulated in Norse mythology, and masters like Wagner and Tolkien drew from its legendary sagas to build their own epic stories. While I am not contemplating having Thor, or many of the gods, make an appearance in this novel, there will be plenty of fantasy to go around. And violence. And murder. And sacrifice.

Remember, this isn’t a happy place. Beware the faint hearted.

NEXT TIME: What I have learned from reading the Völsunga Saga