I love Thrud. I remember picking up the first issue of Critchlow's self-published mini-series in 2002 and thinking it was okay, but for some reason I enjoyed it more in this collection.
First, some history. Thrud the Barbarian was created by Carl Critchlow in 1981 at art college, as a project for his tutor Bryan Talbot. Not long afterwards, Thrud became a monthly feature in White Dwarf for Games Workshop, back when the magazine was a great read. Just one-page strips, but the early years in particular would cram entire stories into a single page and occasionally ran multi-part epics. That lasted five years. Critchlow went on to other comics work, but people remembered Thrud. Eventually Critchlow self-published five issues of a full-length Thrud comic, now collected in this graphic novel. These are:
- 1. Carborundum Capers (2002)
- 2. Ice 'n' a Slice (2003)
- 3. Lava Louts (2004)
- 4. Thrud Rex! (2005)
- 5. Bungle in the Jungle (2007)
For those benighted souls who don't know Thrud, I'll explain. He's a barbarian. He's also funny. The joke isn't that he's stupid, surprisingly, although he's certainly no intellectual. He's not monosyllabic. When he talks, he uses normal sentences. No, the joke is that he's capable of massacring entire armies single-handedly at the drop of a hat. Maybe it's because they spilled his pint. (He drinks lots of beer.) Maybe it's by accident. Thrud doesn't care. He doesn't have a noble bone in his body and he's a subversion of everything heroic, normal, civilised and indeed sane.
Having said that, though, he is fairly stupid. And a twat. However he's a twat who destroys entire civilisations. (Punchline of one White Dwarf strip in which a city has been flattened: "Thrud built a snowman and someone kicked it over.") He also has a head that's about a thousandth of his total body mass.
The bad news is that this isn't a collection of White Dwarf strips. For some (but not all), see the Thrud the Barbarian Graffik Novel (1987), although those had dodgy binding if my copy's anything to go by. However these five stories are exactly like Thrud used to be, except lasting 24 pages each. Thrud's the same. The jokes haven't changed (which is a good thing). Old enemies have returned, like The Black Currant and To-Me Ku-Pa (and the latter's a joke that will go whistling over the heads of younger readers, since Tommy Cooper died only months after Thrud first appeared in White Dwarf.)
It's good, honest, ultra-violent carnage and as funny as ever.
The art's of interest. Critchlow did these self-published Thrud stories partly as a showcase for a new style he'd been developing, using line drawings with computer colouring. (By then he'd got himself known as a painter, especially with one of Batman/Dredd crossovers.) What's more, the time he took to produce them means you can see his style developing enormously over the course of these issues. He goes from an almost Parkhouse-like freedom and cartoonishness in 2002 to something more detailed, bold and dramatic in 2007. Some of the latter's character designs are almost worthy of McMahon.
To be honest, I'm not completely sold on the artwork in episode one. It's good, but his use of colour and lack of variation in line weight doesn't make it as easy as it might to see what's going on. By the end, though, he's producing some striking images and page designs. Nice use of toucans, crocodiles and so on. Critchlow's also helped by having himself as a writer, since he's set every episode in a different fantasy world or real historical culture. This makes Thrud's world visually richer. We have Norse frost giants, an oriental episode, Edgar Rice Burroughs, dinosaurs and even 2000 AD's Slaine vs. the Roman empire. (The names are changed, of course. See also the Sinister Dexter reference, although that could theoretically be just Latin.)
There are even some bonus materials at the back of this 2013 graphic collection. There are four one-page Thrud strips from Valkyrie Quarterly, an RPG magazine I'd never heard of. There are also four pages of White Dwarf material (a fairly random selection) and two pages of pictures in lots of different styles (from scribbles to full paintings) from Critchlow's sketchbook.
This isn't a big, important comic book. It's a laugh. However it won the Eagle Award for "Favourite British Small Press Title" in 2004 and was nominated for the "Favourite Colour Comicbook, British" Eagle Award in 2006. If everyone buys a copy of this graphic novel, maybe Critchlow will write and draw more?