Local artist creates strong female characters in original comic book series 

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Natasha Alterici was sketching costumes for a Renaissance fair when she created a character that would become a Viking warrior woman named Aydis.

Alterici’s first comic book is titled Heathen, and it follows Aydis as she attempts to bring an end to Odin’s reign.

“I was just trying to figure out what I wanted to wear to the Renaissance fair, so I was sketching different ones,” Alterici said. “I liked the character, and that got me reading Norse mythology. The whole idea blossomed from there. Once I gave her a name and a horse, I figured I might as well give her a story.”

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The story that stuck for her was Odin’s condemnation of Brynhild the Valkyrie. Brynhild defied the highest Norse god, so he imprisoned her after making her into a mortal.

Rather than track the original set of myths, Alterici decided on a much more interesting take: Aydis is kicked out of her village for kissing a girl, so she decides to go after Odin.

That story is told in Heathen, issue No. 1 of the series. The Tahlequah-based artist released issue No. 2 on Saturday. This is the first appearance of Brynhild in the series, for which Alterici has written four issues’ worth of stories.

“We do meet Brynhild in issue two, but there are also a few new interesting characters,” Alterici said. “There are two demon wolf brothers, and they are largely comic relief. I don’t want to give away too much.”

The second issue was made possible by a very successful Kickstarter campaign. Alterici said she wasn’t sure how people would respond, but the project exceeded the funding goal by about $1,000.

Support for a strong, gay female lead is uncommon in comic circles, and despite their reputation for being superhero vehicles, comics and graphic novels have always dealt with difficult subjects. In college at Northeastern State University, Alterici read classic graphic novels that dealth with he Holocaust, the Iranian Revolution and the worth of humanity, such as Maus, Persepolis and Watchmen.

“Those stories had very interesting characters,” Alterici said. “They were my first experience with comics and graphic novels that were not superhero stories.”

What Alterici does well in Heathen is make Aydis’ sexual orientation a secondary issue. Aydis is lesbian, but with the exception of the conflict in her village, that is not the point of the story. The struggle is about patriarchy and justice, not sexuality. The fierce warrior happens to be gay.

“I don’t really have plans for now to get Aydis romantically involved,” she said, “but there will be other characters that are, and the characters will talk about sexuality from time to time.”

While LGBT characters are rare in comics, she said it is equally true that strong female characters are more rare than they should be.

Even when they appear, they are more likely to be sexualized, and the industry is rife with stereotypes. Female artists like Alterici want to turn the tide.

“I haven’t experienced any resistance at a personal level,” she said, “but at the level of the big two — DC and Marvel — the idea of strong female characters still feels fresh and different. People are excited about it, so hopefully that will get more girls reading stories like this.”

Print headline: Feminine ink, An Oklahoma artist gives readers something that is often missing in mainstream comics: a strong female character.

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