Saga scholar and comic artist Yoav Tirosh has been making comics depicting some of the funnier and stranger aspects of the Icelandic Sagas in the form of an advent calendar. Each day brings a new and strange adventure, which you would do well to check out here. He was kind enough to discuss the inspiration and motivations behind this intriguing project.
“It’s actually kind of funny because the whole reason I started [the Viking comics] was from a confrontation I had with Grayson Del Faro from the Grapevine,” Yoav says, when asked the story behind his Viking memes. “Basically, I was really annoyed at his summaries of the sagas he made. One time I actually confronted him about it (in the toilet, when I was drunk). He told me, ‘Dude, why are you taking this so seriously?’ And I thought about it and I was like, ‘Oh! Actually, you’re right!’ So that was part of the reason that I started the comics. I basically realised that I was taking the sagas way too seriously. I mean, I always thought that the sagas were amusing, but kind of after that conversation, I realised that I should take a lighter side of things.”
Yoav says that he originally began making memes about saga scholarship that were specialised towards fellow saga scholars, but he soon began expanding out to reach a broader audience. “I mean, I have 400 followers, so it’s not the broadest of audiences!” He laughs.
The idea to create a Viking advent calendar came from, Yoav explains, seeing so many other advent calendars online. He also wanted to challenge himself artistically. “I usually post two comics a week or something like that, and so I just decided to challenge myself and see if I could produce a comic a day. My fiancé has a big influence on the comics. 25% of the comic is her. Whenever something looks nice, she drew it,” he says. On Yoav’s Twitter his fiancé, Natalia Soler Huici, is credited as a ‘frequent collaborator’.
He designed the Viking advent calender to be accessible to all—not just scholars—and so the comics are less saga-heavy than some of his usual stuff. However, he is able to give us a lesson in saga academia for comic #5 (the tralalala one seen above!). This comic is an example of one of Yoav and Natalia’s collaborations, with Natalia illustrating the blazing fire. “I really like this comic because in Njáls saga [The Saga of Burnt Njáll] there is an instance where the climax of the story is the burning of a house. And the burning is done by people who are already Christian, and there is this moment where they’re about to burn the house, and they say, ‘We could either go home and not kill these people and then they’ll kill us. Or, we can burn this house, which is a grave deed because we are Christian men, and this is a great sin before god…And so, we’re gonna burn it!’I tried to just dilute this moment, of people just standing around, like it’s a bonfire, but it’s actually a house burning. It’s like, these moments when Christianity didn’t necessarily bring with it a newfound tolerance, but sometimes just allowed these awful things in Viking past, or in Icelandic past, to continue”
Yoav always has the sagas in his mind when he’s creating comics, but uses his art as a way to distil certain details from these stories. For example his popular ‘Love, Actually’ comic (seen blow) uses the pop culture reference to provide commentary on women’s agency in the sagas. He notes that although there are a lot of love stories in the sagas, there are also instances of women being robbed of their agency when it came to marriage and romance. “It was also a commentary on kind of how shitty and sexist Love, Actually is!” He says.
Yoav is actually Jewish, so while he draws some Christmas-related humour, he doesn’t do a ton for the holiday. “Hanukkah fell two weeks before Christmas. And Hanukkah is more like a small event, just the small family unit. So, in that sense, it didn’t really change.” Yoav says he celebrated with his fiancé here in Iceland, and Zoomed with his family in Israel. He will also be observing Christmas with some friends here, adhering to COVID-safe restrictions. “I’m a bit concerned about these numbers and I’m really afraid of how it will impact things, so I am going to participate in an event but it will be a bit smaller,” he says. “Even though I’m Jewish, I still want to, in a way, anote Christmas, because you know, it’s kind of like a cultural thing. I think Christmas is a time you feel very lonely as a Jew. I mean, sometimes it kind of coincides with Hanukkah, and then you can combine them, but sometimes it doesn’t coincide with Hanukkah and then it’s nice to have small event with friends or family. The last few years I would actually celebrate Christmas with my friends who are Christians, or just culturally Christians. This year I’m just doing something small, just four people or something, just to still have the Christmas spirit!”
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