The tabletop RPG scene is vibrant. While it’s dominated by Dungeons & Dragons, thousands of other alternatives are out there to discover. One of these is Mörk Borg, which describes itself as “a doom metal album of a game” and “a spiked flail to face”, respectively. With those frames of reference, you can probably imagine it’s intentionally grimdark. And you’d be right. Browsing a preview of the gamebook, it has lush gothic illustrations combined with modern graphic design. While I could gab about how sweet the gamebook looks, I want to discuss the equally sweet-looking Mörk Borg webcomic.
Titled Mörk Borg: To Hell and Galgenbeck, the webcomic by Polish cartoonist Lukasz Kowalczuk started a few weeks ago. It uses the elements of the game to tell a story of travellers making the hard journey to Galgenbeck, one of the RPG’s primary locations. However, it doesn’t matter if you’re unfamiliar with Mörk Borg, as the webcomic’s biggest draw is its feverish visuals.
To Hell and Galgenbeck takes Mörk Borg’s a doom metal/gothic aesthetic and gives it a distinct look with the amalgamation of an animated style and black light art. Black is a dominant colour, creating the form of everything in the comic. That could be the aggressive spot blacks that often cover a page to create depth down to the minute linework. Vivid yellow and pink fill in much of the empty space and highlight chosen elements, juxtaposing against the heavy blacks so they don’t blend into the detail. Beyond making details more legible, it also looks cool and adds to the wild subject matter like a fluorescent fever.
Doom metal/gothic aesthetic traditionalists might balk at this colour scheme – just like how black metal traditionalists did with the cover for Deafheaven’s Sunbather. However, that would be a superficial complaint as it’s still doom metal through and through. It just does it in its own animated way.
Kowalczuk uses it to craft a disgusting world of ugly beings and terrible fates. Fine lines create intricate detail, such as the scales on armour or show warped muscles on beings. The previously mentioned blocks of black create form around empty space, with a fantastic example used where a character is melting. With yellow highlights, the bubbling mess is created through the absence of black while being juxtaposed with it. (While I could show you that image in this piece, you’re best discovering it for yourself as it’s part of a surprise in the story.) As a result of these elements, there’s still that sense of dread that doom metal tries to create, just through an animated lens.
Mörk Borg: To Hell and Galgenbeck’s slick aesthetics are framed around a story. This details travellers, a Conan-type figure, a weaselly but knowledgeable guide, and their dog on a journey to Galgenbeck. Along the way, they encounter various challenges and figures that make their trek through this apocalyptical hellscape difficult. It’s a simple premise. However, it’s a staple in fantasy for a reason. It offers variety for the reader, and the creator can continue introducing new encounters until they decide to wrap up their narrative.
These come thick and thick and fast, thanks to its distribution method. Mörk Borg: To Hell and Galgenbeck is distributed weekly, with two new pages. With a single update, a threat may be introduced and resolved just as quickly. Sometimes, it may be spread over two or three, but often with cliffhangers dispersed throughout. Reading To Hell and Galgenbeck week-to-week works as satisfying small chunks. However, binging from the start to the latest update could be fatiguing for some due to the rapid-fire cycle of problem and resolution. (This won’t be new for anyone used to binging webcomics.) This is not to say you shouldn’t binge it, but you might have a better experience if they pace themselves.
My biggest criticism about this webcomic is the reading experience. I recommend reading Mörk Borg: To Hell and Galgenbeck on a monitor or large screen as the site is not optimised well for mobile. It will display each update as a two-page spread no matter the screen size, making it difficult to read on smaller devices without zooming in. Perhaps this will be resolved later, but it appears that the current presentation choices have been made with the comic eventually making its way to print in mind. A shame since its first run is digital.
Aside from a poorly optimised site, Mörk Borg: To Hell and Galgenbeck comes highly recommended. Steeped in traditional doom metal/gothic ideas, it separates itself from others through its animated style and vivid colour palette. The result is a heightened dark fantasy that operates equally in ridiculousness and dread.
Mörk Borg: To Hell and Galgenbeck is updated online every Thursday.