I’ve got a Superman tattoo (not across my chest) as a kind of homage, not only to Superman himself, but to the wider class of American comic book heroes. This includes Batman, all of the X-Men, Hellboy, Spider-Man, and the whole host of others. I say American because these all had American creators, but of course they’re all characters that belong to the world. Comic books have had a deep and profound influence on me since I discovered them in fourth grade (late!) and it has been a relationship that I’ve kept up ever since. The influence that comic books have had on my dark adventure novella North Dark is actual and measurable.
More than a year ago, I slowly became aware that I was going to write something speculative, something with a strong fantasy element. I didn’t know what it was going to be exactly, but I’d been preparing by reading a long string of back to back fantasy novels. During that winter, I fell really sick with a 24-hour-bug-thing and could do nothing but ride it out on the couch while watching superhero cartoons on Netflix (I am an adult, by the way). I sort of oozed in and out of consciousness while the movie ran on. When I woke up more or less recovered, it had clicked: the creative work I was going to undertake would combine fantasy storytelling and superheroes in some way. There was a lot more imagining to do, but the basics were there.
Writing the first draft probably took three months, but the subsequent rewriting and the insanely high draft count added another three (plus) months. When it was over, the superhero element was, probably, only recognizable to me. The book is about a young man going on a vengeance quest in an arctic, post-apocalyptic world. There are no conventional superpowers (other than, say, superior prowess with a crossbow, or one character’s impressive ability to navigate the nighttime tundra using the swiftly changing stars) but comic books aren’t only about superpowers; the spiritual imprint of comic books is very much stamped on the heart of this novella: a single young man is driven from the only home he has ever known by circumstance, he is called out into a larger world where he must enact violence to see “justice” accomplished, he is antagonized by an equally driven opponent, and eventually, he is matched in an ultimate contest against an apocalyptic backdrop. It is (more or less) the story of Superman which is (more or less) the story of the immigrant which is (more or less) the story of the human.
The characters in North Dark are heroes unto themselves, meaning none would probably say that they are villainous (though everyone’s a villain to somebody, right?). They each have their motives and these are motives they all believe to be justified, but in the intersections exist real conflict. In the world of North Dark, most conflict is resolved by violence. However, all is not darkness: lessons are learned, real change is experienced, and perspectives mature. That sense of complex optimism that runs through so many comic books has been the gift that graphic novels and fiction have given me. Hopefully, North Dark is a small kind of thank you note.
Set in a lonesome and barbarous failed state, North Dark is the story of a lone man traveling by dogsled across a frozen wasteland in pursuit of the fugitive who destroyed his family.
Haunted by predators both physical and spectral, the musher’s journey takes him across a deadened tundra, tortured cities and the remains of civilizations long-lapsed into madness. All the while, his enemy slides in and out of striking distance, always one step ahead, always one act of violence away.
Lane Kareska was born in Houston, Texas. He studied writing at Columbia College Chicago and his MFA is from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where he was also awarded a Fellowship to live and write in Ireland. Lane traveled Europe and South America to research his graduate thesis. He teaches creative writing and works in technology and new media. His fiction has appeared in Berkeley Fiction Review, Sheepshead Review, Flashquake and elsewhere. Lane currently lives in Chicago and can be followed on Twitter @LaneKareska as well as reached at Lane.Kareska@Gmail.com.