Written by Rachel Beck
It’s the legend that spans across time and culture. Every monster must have a slayer. Every hero must have a villain. Kid Beowulf, inspired by the epic poem Beowulf, is an action-adventure graphic novel series following the adventures of 12 year-old twin brothers, Beowulf and Grendel, as they travel across distant lands and meet fellow epic heroes.
Alexis Fajardo, the writer and artist of Kid Beowulf, has been reading comics since he can remember. He came across a collection of Pogo comics on the bottom shelf of his grandfather’s bookshelf and the love of comics was born. In college, his focus was classical studies and he combined the two passions in an early comic entitled “Plato’s Republic” that ran for four years in his college paper. It wasn’t long afterwards that the tale of Kid Beowulf was born.
“I was re-reading Beowulf at the time, because that’s what nerds like me did,” Fajardo recounts. “I was a copy-jock at Kinko’s and the notion of what Beowulf would be like as a kid kind of struck me. It seemed really odd and inherently funny because I think anyone who thinks of Beowulf just thinks of him as a huge hulking warrior. To think of him as a kid seemed kind of amusing. It spun out from there, started to snowball and it started life as a seven page zine.”
Fajardo isn’t the only one who thought it was a great idea. Wired.com called it, “the gateway drug to the classics” and it’s a big hit among children. “Kids seem to gravitate towards it,” says Fajardo, “They may not know anything about Beowulf or Roland or Grendel but that’s sort of the whole point. You can start with this and sink your teeth into it. If I do my job, by the end of my book, you’ll want to know more about them and explore the original source material.”
Fajardo isn’t just out to tell an entertaining story, however. He believes that reading the classics has real value for kids.
“[Classic mythology] kind of seeped into the culture through Marvel and Thor, who’s a wild abstraction of what the Norse gods really were,” Fajardo explains. “I think it’s hugely important because all those stories, whether it’s coming from Thor and Marvel or Superman and Batman… Those are the superheroes of our era, but these guys were the superheroes of their era. There’s some connective tissue there and it’s worth exploring.”
“What sets [the classics] apart from what people seem to just love these days is that what these characters did – what Achilles did, and what Beowulf does and Gilgamesh – the actions they take have repercussions. What I find fascinating about all these epics and these heroes is that their choices reverberate. Invariably they end up dying for those choices. The consequences of their actions have palpable repercussions in the storylines. That’s what makes it really compelling. They did all these fantastical feats, and there was an endgame to that.”
In an age where our modern superheroes are immortal (sometimes against the best efforts of the writers) Fajardo points out that, “All the best stories – Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns – the authors try to make these big momentous things happen to these characters, and yet the status quo means they have to go back to the way it was. You always see these things like “The Death of Spider Man” or “The Death of Captain America.” They’re wanting to make them these great grandiose martyrs but they know that the readers and the buying public can’t… it just wouldn’t work.”
Fajardo doesn’t, however, think this immortal factor of modern superheroes detracts from their stories. He adds that “Any good writer can figure out how to do a compelling story and not have the character die at the end.”
What makes the tale of Kid Beowulf so enthralling to its readers is how complex and developed its many characters are. The monsters of Kid Beowulf are not straight-up brutes. They all have feelings and motivations. They’re inherently connected to humanity, if only because they’re looking for their slayer to preserve both of them in the immortality of legend.
Fajardo explains that “The whole monster-slayer theme is really the thread that runs through the entire Kid Beowulf series because the ultimate confrontation… is what will happen between these two brothers. The story is whether or not they’ll embrace that destiny or will they fight against it… I really wanted to humanize the characters and I just didn’t want Grendel to be a maniacal, man-eating monster. There had to be a reason.”
In doing so, Fajardo pays tribute to every epic of hero and monster that has gone before. “The monster-slayer [theme] is one of those foundational stories you find across all myths, and it’s really compelling,” says Fajardo. “There’s always a monster and a slayer. They’re two sides of the same coin. You’d have no Theseus if there was no minotaur. Perseus and Medusa are intrinsically linked. I think that’s the same with Beowulf and Grendel, and then in turn the sea hag, and the dragon. It’s one of those threads that you find in all these mythologies and epics. There’s this primal tug that’s always fascinated me.”
In a strange way, these heroes need one another to survive. As Fajardo points out, “Even in the original Beowulf there are some words when they describe Grendel and then when they describe Beowulf and they’re actually more alike than they are different.”
Stay tuned for part 2 in which Alexis Fajardo discuses the technical side of marketing yourself as a comic creator!