The Ulster Cycle – Ness

What Did I Learn?

The Ulster Cycle - NessBefore I begin the review of The Ulster Cycle – Ness by Patrick Brown, I’d better clue you in on my biases. As a lad, I read a series of novels by Morgan Llywelyn that expanded on Irish legends, such as Cuchalain, the Tuatha De Danann and Finn MacCool. My impression is that all characters had a passion about upholding traditions, strong feelings and were very strong willed. Moreover, there are accepted consequences for doing things in this manner. These were some of my favorite books – they had a very definite sense of earthiness despite the fantastical elements.

In reading Ness, I see the same sensibility. This particular story has only a passing mention of fantasy but still it’s primarily about strong people and tough decisions. There are a number of characters each with their own goals and outlooks and not many of them are willing to back down at all.

To sum up the story set in Iron Age Ireland, the quote from the website is very well written:”When the king of Ulster is powerless to stop a murderous outlaw, his daughter Ness turns outlaw herself to hunt him down. But with war looming between the kingdoms of Ireland, will her father’s house still be there to come back to when the job’s done?

Ness is done is a scratchy penwork style. While there are some surprising details that are worked in subtly, this style loses some details that I’d like to see more of – like designs on the brooches and the sweep of the land. On the other hand, though, it lends a very rough, woodsy feel to the comic. It also serves to focus the reader’s attention on the characters and story. Further, the style can show the brutal realities of the story without compromise and also without drawing every drop of blood or navel. That said, there is proper shading, the likenesses are very consistent and it’s pretty clear what is happening from panel to panel. Overall, it’s a good balance of detail and style for the tone of the work.

The font used is a little small, but I find that appropriate. In a work like Dune, the interesting thing is the difference between what they say and what they do. In Ness, the characters mainly do what they say they’ll do. This brings the focus back on seeing how they do it and what consequences happen as a result, with the dialog expanding on what has been shown.

For some reason, I kept wanting the speech to be just a touch more archaic and formal. For instance, “someone” instead of “somebody” or “let us” in the place of “let’s.” Looking back, it wouldn’t really add anything to the reading and it could easily be taken too far – if you search for the names, you’ll see a dozen spellings for most of them. Imagine adding more ancient Irish terms to that mix and it’s probably for the best that the dialog stays just as it is; easily understood and not distracting.

Ness is one of the few comics I’ve seen that has comics posted in bunches on the same page. For a story comic, I really like that presentation because it lets you stay in groove with the story. Note: This review has been slightly edited due to seeing some awful grammar which needed to be corrected.

What Did I Learn?

While one should always be aware of how the work is to be presented, I’m forced to ask myself what kind of works my art is best suited for. Most artists do things primarily on gut feel, so have I truly examined what elements works best for the comic I’m creating? Likewise, how can I adapt the script to best work with me? But before I get too tied down in analysis paralysis, let me just say that this story continues past Ness into the epic Cattle Raid of Cooley.


  1. Thanks for reading and for the link to a literary source for the legends.

    I read up to page 20 and that is, indeed, a very dry work. If that’s typical for how they are published, I heartily agree that Ness is much better and does exactly what you say – especially the point about making them more human.

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