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.
Shi Xin Ch’ng created her own line art of Rune Bear.
Check out her other awesome artworks @shixdingusdoodlez.
Ameen Ali recreated Rune Bear in his personal style.
Check out his other work on Deviantart.
My hench-editors (it’s my wife, Stuart, and his wife) and I kept rejecting names for a literary genres-remix website we were envisioning (and one poor guy had been building pro bono). For the longest time we had our fat hearts set on Idiosync (short for ‘idiosyncrasy’) but the title was too lazy and it sounded like ‘Idiot Sink.’ Then we wanted Idiot Sink, but that impulse didn’t last. AstroLack was too spacey. Los Orcus was too fantasy. We wanted less swords-and-sorcery and more swords-and-sandworms. No to Wyrdfic (is ‘weird’ gender-biased or something?), Grot Gear, Desmorious (I was down), Wristcanon (people would think we spelled ‘cannon’ wrong), Battle Droid (‘droid’ is trademarked by LucasFilm Ltd.).
For a while we settled on Rune Beard. We wondered if Nordic facial hair would evoke a space pirate captain firing plasma bolts at sword-wielding mechs on distant asteroids (it was the Warhammer 40,000 side of us that connected runes with sci-fi in the first place), but instead our test audience pictured a neckbeard playing WoW, and incidentally, they weren’t wrong. Dumping Rune Beard was emotional for me, because Alyssa, Stuart, and I had devised an awesome icon to accompany our logo—a bewhiskered Odinesque whose face was comprised of two Anglo-Saxon runes that corresponded with our initials (the scarred-eye is the jera, or j-rune, and my first name is Jared; the crooked nose is the sigel, or s-rune, i.e. Stuart). Being boys, we didn’t consider adding a rune for Alyssa.
Here’s Alyssa’s mock-up:
However, while I was pining over Rune Beard in my notebook, I noticed that without the “D” there was another great name for our mag—Rune Bear. The domain wasn’t taken, and there weren’t any rune bears out there except for the Runeclaw Bear in Magic the Gathering. The others were hesitant but the name grew on them. I went ahead and drew a rough sketch of what I was envisioning for the mascot. (Although these details weren’t in the sketch, I knew the bear had to be blue and have a rune in its mouth).
I finally turned to an old friend of mine, Phil Kiner, to create the mascot we have today: