To celebrate their imminent appearance, I'm posting the foreword I wrote for the books as it covers pretty much everything I have to say about how good the stories are. At the bottom of the page you'll find scans of all four covers and ISBN details for the books.
Karl the Viking was one of the most remarkable comic strips to appear in a British comic in the early 1960s, its memory far outlasting the four years it ran. In Europe, the stories were reprinted in weekly titles and collected into albums, giving the strip a measure of permanence which it never achieved in its home country, though Karl—in the guise of Rolf, in the retitled 'Swords of the Sea Wolves', and as Erik the Viking—was partly reprinted a number of times in the 1960s and 1970s.
The strip has been out of circulation in Britain for thirty years, yet it still holds a fascination for comic fans who may have the odd episode in their collection. Word of mouth, usually amongst fans of the strip's artist Don Lawrence, has raised awareness of Karl the Viking even amongst collectors who have never seen an episode.
Legends were made of ancient warriors from tales of their derring-do, carried from camp fire to camp fire by story tellers who wove truth and myth together to create a folklore that would eventually become the earliest written records. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the earliest manuscript of which dates from the 9th century, recorded Viking incursions onto the British mainland from over 100 years earlier. The Norse and Icelandic sagas relating events from the 10th and 11th centuries, were mostly written in the 12th to 14th centuries, so there is something satisfyingly apt that, here in the 21st century, the legendary stature of Karl the Viking has been passed on from fan to fan in the ancient oral tradition.
Karl's saga ran for thirteen adventures in the pages of the British weekly comic Lion between October 1960 and September 1964, a total of 205 episodes plus appearances in the Lion Annual which added another four stories to the canon—five if you count a later yarn featuring Rolf and six if you count a text story featuring Erik, although these latter two were written some years after the original Karl series came to an end. Quite where you draw the line with 'canonical' stories is almost impossible to say.
In preparing the set of books you now hold in your hands, the publisher had the good fortune to work from many of the original art boards. Since being drawn, the artwork had spent much of its time travelling, first to Holland where it was relettered in Dutch, then back to England where some pages were relettered yet again for reprinting. Over the past twenty years, it journeyed from one storeroom to another, sometimes stacked on shelves in warehouses, sometimes on pallets in disused buildings. It finally came to rest—and to light—in a warehouse in Camden Town, London, where IPC Media, who owned the artwork at the time, hired a researcher to catalogue the remaining boards. In all, 258 boards had survived, some stories missing only a handful of pages, some being almost entirely missing. The only complete story was that of 'The Fallen Meteorite', drawn not by the strip's main artist, Don Lawrence, but a fill-in tale with art by C. E. Drury.
Don Lawrence Collection publisher Rob van Bavel travelled to London in March 2006 to scan the entire collection of surviving pages and these have been used as the basis for this set. Other pages have been scanned from original film, large photocopies made during the Eighties, printing proofs and the best copies of Lion available, all extensively cleaned up to provide the best possible reproduction. Where lettering was missing from artwork, this has been scanned from the comics and dropped in to make the pages as authentic to the original printed pages as possible
Rereading these stories, I was struck by their quality. Nostalgia has a way of editing out or justifying the weaknesses of the comic strips you remember most fondly from childhood. With Karl, which I first read when it was reprinted as Erik the Viking in Smash!, I am delighted to say that it is as good as I remember it, a real page-turner of an adventure that lives up to its legend. Rescuing Karl from the obscurity of its weekly appearance in a long-gone British comic has been a pleasure and, whilst we no longer pass on tales around camp fires, or even central heating radiators, I hope that readers of these volumes will continue to spread the word and introduce the next generation of fans to the saga of Karl the Viking.
Karl the Viking is available in a box-set edition containing:
- Karl the Viking Vol. 1: The Sword of Eingar. Don Lawrence Collection ISBN 978-9088860324, October 2008.
- Karl the Viking Vol. 2: The Powers of Helvud. Don Lawrence Collection ISBN 978-9088860348, October 2008.
- Karl the Viking Vol. 3: Island of the Monsters. Don Lawrence Collection ISBN 978-9088860362, October 2008.
- Karl the Viking Vol. 4: Quest of the Long Ships. Don Lawrence Collection ISBN 978-9088860386, October 2008.