North World injects modern contrivances (and bear fights) into epic fantasy

In the webcomic North World, the most famous dungeon-delving adventurers have tie-wearing accountants. You might run into your blacksmith at the local burrito stand or Chinese restaurant. Pizza parlors need to be prepared against the occasional viking attack. And young swordsman Conrad has to worry about the mystical bear spirit following him around his hometown — when he isn't stressing about his ex-girlfriend's wedding.

You might be familiar with Lars Brown's North World from the three print volumes published by Oni. But all of the sagas appear online, including longest storyline, "The Epic of Conrad," and stories that never appeared in print. Where the urban fantasy genre takes fantastical tropes and drops them into a modern setting, North World takes modern elements of modern life and drops them into a high fantasy setting. In North World "wandering adventurer" is a viable career option, and giant animals roam the forests. Magical dogs bark out people's names and you might get revenge on the school bully by summoning a demon. But the non-mystical denizens of North World look and talk a lot like us. They wear modern clothes, live in houses with hardwood floors, and shop at the supermarket. There are, of course, differences. Your accountant might be the sun of a legendary monster slayer. The telephone was never invented (something Brown's own characters poke fun at), and while buses and cars do exist, most people schlep around on foot.

Many of the North World tales involve fantastical action sequences in unusual locales. Vikings attack a small pizza joint. A giant lobster rampages through a grocery store. Lizard men tromp through a mega-mall, kidnapping children. The longest story, however, is "The Epic of Conrad," which Oni published in two volumes and gets into some of the less monster movie aspects of Brown's universe. Conrad is an adventurer who's made a decent living killing giant animals for his guild. But he's ready to make his name in the world, and when he's offered a gig to take out a demon summoner, he jumps at the opportunity. There's just one problem: the demon summoner is working his mojo in Coeur du Lac, Conrad's hometown, which he fled seven years earlier. And it would inconveniently put him in town on the same weekend his ex-girlfriend is getting married. Plus, the King of a Forest, a mystical warrior bear, won't leave Conrad be.

As a mystery story, "The Epic of Conrad" is a bit flawed (Brown tends to reveal too much too soon). But it's an engaging tour through an offbeat fantasy setting, and much like its Oni cousin Scott Pilgrim, it's ultimately a tale about growing up. Conrad has spent seven years running away from home, and once he returns, he can't help but wonder if a quiet life and an office job would be more fulfilling. "The Epic of Conrad" ultimately explores is even a bear-battling adventurer might be able to go home again.

North World is currently on hiatus, but there are plenty of tales to sate anyone's appetite for giant animals.

[North World]