But that wasn’t the first rune bear that Phil designed. Phil also experimented with configurations based on actual runes, specifically Elder Futhark (c. 150–800 AD).
A futhark is a type of alphabet that starts with some variation of F, U, Þ, A, R, and K, and Elder Futhark is the earliest known form. The alphabet was used by Germanic tribes during the ‘Barbarian Invasions’ (the Germans have a better word for it—Völkerwanderung while English academics have a more boring description—the ‘Migration Period’) which may or may not have led to the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Today, Elder Futhark is often found on old weapons, amulets, tools, and, yes, this is real life, runestones scattered across the European landscape.
Phil sent me three designs based on the futhark.
While I loved the diamond nose and frumpy grin, the ears, while stylish, gave the bear an undesirable ant-like quality.
The test market (me) liked the sideburns but thought the bear looked too grumpy.
For a while I had settled on this design for the magazine.
But there was still this itchy inkling (writer’s rash?) in the back of my mind. I wanted something that would allow other artists to create their own variations. And something more blue, more realistic. My attempt looked like this:
No, wait, that’s something else.
My first design was this:
In his mouth I wanted the futhark word “alu” (ᚨᛚᚢ). The alu’s meaning is a contested issue, but some of its definitions hint at a strange, disturbed state created by sorcery or induced by ale (we’ve all been there). It is usually inscribed on artifacts of magical or mystical import. Other potential meanings include “taboo,” “strange,” “distraught,” and the “world between the living and the dead.” (I also considered ᛒᛖᚨᚱ, which is the word “bear” spelled out in futhark letters.)
In the end, Phil drew this:
… and the rest is rune history.