clock menu more-arrow no yes
She Dwarf swings her bloodied hammer, bashing several teeth from the maw of a hairy, multi-legged beast in The Savage Beard of She Dwarf, Oni Press (2020). Image: Kyle Latino/Oni Press

Filed under:

The Savage Beard of She Dwarf is my new favorite comic about mixed-race identity

It also has snorcs, or shark orcs

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

She Dwarf has a big beard, but she also has fuzzy feet. Her mother was the famous dwarven warrior Battle Mother, and her dad is a halfling carpenter named Barley. And in The Savage Beard of She Dwarf, a newly released graphic novel from Oni Press, she’s here to find the lost dwarven city of Dammerung. Along the way she makes friends, kicks a lot of monster butt, takes at least one extremely fancy bath, and finds the place she belongs where she least expects it.

Who made The Savage Beard of She Dwarf?

She Dwarf comes from Kyle Latino (Fresh Romance, Outlaw Territories), who wrote, drew, colored, and lettered the webcomic-turned-graphic-novel.

What is it about?

It’s about the eponymous She Dwarf, a powerful but untested warrior who might be the last living dwarf in the world, on a quest to find the lost dwarven city of Dammerung. She wants to find out whether there are any living dwarves there, and also to find the connection to dwarven culture that she lost when her mother unexpectedly died.

On the way, she enjoys taking fancy baths, fighting lots of really inventive and gorgeously drawn monsters in inventive and gorgeously drawn environments, and acquiring a rag-tag group of allies. Those allies primarily include Hack Battler, a loincloth-clad collection of strained tendons who really just craves the approval of the buff, bird-headed leader of his barbarian clan, Muscle Hawk.

With her hammer clenched in his hawk beak, Muscle Hawk — a buff and oiled bird-headed man wearing a black leather speedo and thigh-high boots — uses his muscles to carry an injured She Dwarf out of a collapsing mountain in The Savage Beard of She Dwarf, Oni Press (2020).
Muscle Hawk wears thigh-high platform stilettos, and he rules.
Image: Kyle Latino/Oni Press

What is the origin of The Savage Beard of She Dwarf?

TSBoSD began life in 2016, as Latino’s first attempt at making a weekly webcomic. In the book’s afterword, he explains that he’d “initially contrived her to be a fortune-hunting, tomb-plundering, barbarian type, like Conan or Xena” — hence the book’s title, a play on The Savage Sword of Conan, the fictional barbarian’s most influential comic series. But as the webcomic went on, and as Latino received input from other comics creator friends, he says he realized he wanted to do more.

She Dwarf, who was bullied for her tiny ears and feet in her father’s halfling village, isn’t just looking for adventure or plunder, but for the last place in the world where a dwarf could feel at home.

A blonde halfling child bullies a young — but still bearded — She Dwarf, saying “If you had normal size ears and feet, you’d have heard me sneak’n! Hah!” She body-throws him into a lake and runs home crying to her dwarven mother, saying that she hates her ears and feet, in The Savage Beard of She Dwarf, Oni Press (2020).
Pudgy Miller sucks.
Image: Kyle Latino/Oni Press

Is there any required reading?

Nope! She Dwarf is entirely self-contained. You can check out a great deal of the story at SheDwarf.com to see if you like it, but you’ll have to pick up the full book from Oni Press to get the ending.

Is it good?

I’ve been following the She Dwarf webcomic for a year or so now, and was bereft when it stopped updating in preparation for the print release. There’s a lot to love in Latino’s affectionate send-up of pulp barbarian tropes, keeping all the good stuff — swamp oracles, bar fights, zombie warriors, subterranean labyrinths — and amping up the rest until it becomes a fully joyful tongue-in-cheek parody of hypermasculinity.

“Beard wrestling is simple,” She Dwarf explains as she knots the end of her beard with Hack Battler’s. “Pull. Beards only. And don’t cry.” The two combatants heave mightily away from each other, long black beards pulled taught between them, in The Savage Beard of She Dwarf, Oni Press (2020).
Yes, this is Hack Battler.
Image: Kyle Latino/Oni Press

Between Hack Battler’s journey towards emotional strength in addition to physical, She Dwarf’s gender-expanding beard (not to mention her habit of kicking the shit out of everything and getting the shit kicked out of her), and a mid-story turn towards a rag-tag group of empathetic misfits, if She Dwarf isn’t queer-coded it is at the very least not-gendernormative.

But all that merely intrigued me, as a reader. What has firmly endeared me to The Savage Beard of She Dwarf is She Dwarf’s insecurity about her dwarvenness, which comes further to the fore the closer she gets to Dammerung. Her only connection to her dwarven side was her late mother, who didn’t live long enough to take She Dwarf on her Storm Walk, a dwarven right of passage in which she would have been taught the secrets of the lost city.

As a person with both white/European and Puerto Rican heritage, who grew up in suburban America, I’m intimately familiar with cultural disconnect, cultural longing, and attempts to reclaim that tie even though you’re not sure you have a “right” to it. Whether Latino intended those themes to ring out or not, She Dwarf’s whole deal with her mixed heritage was intimately relatable to me, even if I don’t have a two-foot beard.

One panel that popped

A cockatrice — basically a four-storey tall rooster with taloned and bat-winged arms — sniffs the air of an underground ruin, searching by scent for She Dwarf and Hack Battler, in The Savage Beard of She-Dwarf, Oni Press (2020). Image: Kyle Latino/Oni Press

The design and color in She Dwarf is everything, as with this massive cockatrice whose cyclopean, petrifying eye is inside its terrible snapping beak.

Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.