Sybilla is headstrong, defiant, a little bit surly and very much brave. She’s also destined to marry a bull.
She may not seem like a typical fairy-tale heroine, but Kit and Cat Seaton’s upcoming graphic novel “Norroway” is more than just a typical fairy-tale adaptation.
Based on the Scottish fairy tale “The Black Bull of Norroway,” the Seaton sisters’ comic follows young Sybilla and the many trials she faces during her journey to help lift the curse that turned her future husband, Brom, from a knight into a black bull.
The first book of the series, “The Black Bull of Norroway,” hits comic book stores on Wednesday. Until then, readers can check out an exclusive look of the first chapter of the story below.
“We wanted to see what would happen when we put a character like Sybilla in that kind of situation and what she would do,” artist Kit Seaton told The Times. “What happens when you put a character like that in a fairy tale?”
Seaton and her younger sister Cat grew up with a love for fairy tales and mythology, so it was only fitting that they turned to this joint passion for this collaboration. Though they knew early on that they wanted a story with a female protagonist, it did take a little bit of research before they found the exact fairy tale they wanted to adapt together.
“What we liked about [‘The Black Bull of Norroway’] in particular is that even in the original story, she goes to her fate with a courageous heart,” said Kit Seaton. “That she’s very brave about the situation.”
But the the elder Seaton said the unique element of the fairy tale that especially stuck out for her was the seven-year gap after the main character fails in her journey. She spends that time as a blacksmith’s apprentice before she gets herself back up to face “all these ferocious things to get what she wants.”
Part of the story is Sybilla actually figuring out what she wants.
“Sybilla very much is this really stubborn teenager,” Seaton said. “She knows she wants some kind of adventure. She wants something outside of this provincial life that she’s always had. … But she doesn’t know if undoing a magical curse is what she wants either.”
It doesn’t help that Brom is just as surly and bullheaded as Sybilla.
“Part of the fun of these two characters is how they just spark off of each other and neither one of them was willing to compromise,” Seaton said.
But having a bull be a part of a fantasy story brought its own unique set of difficulties.
There is nothing inherently magical about a bull, even if Brom is meant to be a mythical knight cursed to be a monster. Seaton explained that he needed to be visibly solid and strong on top of just being stubborn, while retaining a smidge of softness to remain at least a little sympathetic.
Sybilla’s character is not the only aspect of the original fairy tale that the Seatons updated for a more contemporary audience.
The world captured in “Norroway” is visually rich and the characters are diverse. And though some elements of that world may not seem of obvious Scottish influence, that doesn’t necessarily mean the authors are disregarding the source material.
“Fairy tales are typically speculating about other worlds and other realms and a lot of fairy tales deal with this sense of there being this other place,” Seaton said. “So we felt that [‘Norroway’] might be a story that people would tell about a mythic kind of realm.”
The original fairy tale’s European roots don’t preclude it from having a diverse cast because, as Seaton pointed out, “there were people of color in Europe going back to medieval ages and beyond.”
The first volume of “Norroway” also introduces a non-binary character, Harper Dhow, a ship captain that Sybilla and Brom encounter during their journey.
“Their relationship to [Brom’s sister] Dagny is really important to Sybilla’s growth as a character,” Seaton said. “Most of her life she sees heterosexual couples, so this is her first time being exposed to something else and I think that opens her eyes to herself. That’s kind of subtle in this first book.”
Seaton said Harper’s story arc, the complexities of Brom’s curse and how the many characters are interconnected are among the elements that will be explored in future installments.
“So much of this [first book] is preamble to the second book,” she said.
Check out the first chapter of “Norroway, Book One: The Black Bull of Norroway” below.