God knows how long I have been seeking a copy of this book, The Last Voyage of Sinbad (or Sindbad as is spelled in the book) is one of Richard Corben’s best works, along with writer and long time collaborator Jan Strnad. Corben’s artwork is just majestic to behold, page after page he renders this magical tale in his own sort of magic, which is both mesmerising and bewitching to behold. His customary style is still intact, from the buxom women, mouth-watering scenery to his airbrushed/ painted style, but thanks also to Strnad’s script – everything almost leaps out of the pages.
Talking of script, has there ever been a better collaborator with Corben than Strnad? Maybe a few, and Simon Revelstroke definitely comes to mind, but in terms of creating some iconic works – from Mutant Word to Ragemoor – Strnad is definitely the most accomplished. And his writing here is a treat to observe, he is respectful to both the Islamic references in the story and the original stories, and his style of English is a pleasure to read and very well suited to it.
The Last Voyage of Sinbad was first serialised in Heavy Metal Magazine specifically from June 1978 to August 1979. The story almost starts like a story within a story as we open with a tale of two brothers who have left their kingdom due to the unfaithfullness of their wives. They encounter a beautiful woman who is wife and captive to a Jinn. She requests both men satisfy her carnal desires as her husband sleeps. But the Jinn stirs and both of them make a dash for it. They have a new found cause to go back to their kingdom and put thing aright. The older brother, untrustful of women due to his cheating wife, makes a vow to marry a new virgin each day and have her executed the following morning. Pretty soon the city runs our of virgins to sacrifice and the King’s assistant, the Vizier’s eldest daughter Shahrazad makes herself candidate much to the reluctance of her father. With her youger sister Dunyazad in tow as her helper, she marries the King. She starts telling stories to the him, in turn he prolongs her life so he can listen to her tales. Soon, 1 day turns to 1001, and she wins the King’s heart and both live happily. But her youger sister who ends up marrying the King’s young brother is not content. Hers is a restless spirit and yearns to travel the world. It is at this point that Shahrazad recounts to her the tale of Sinbad and his last journey.
We find a man praying in a mosque, his face is weary as if all the troubles of the world rest heavy on his shoulders. He looks like a sufi who has renounced the world and its troubles. A merchant engages with him in conversation and we soon learn that the sufi is none other than the legendary Sinbad. But how did he come to be in this state? He recounts his tale of misfortune and adventure to the merchant, as we step into a story within a story. We learn of Zuleykha, Sinbad’s wife and how he mistreats her. In the streets people are rejoicing, celebrating the festival of Id’l Fitr, but Sinbad goes on a self destructive drink crawl “seven voyages and not one to Mecca” exclaims a disgusted passerby. Sinbad’s eyes fall on a woman and he follows her like lust filled demon, kicking an alley dog to death in the process. It seems the dogs were in actual fact Jinns in disguise. A powerful Ifrit corners Sinbad, angered for the death of his wife which Sinbad caused. The Ifrit wants to take Sinbad’s wife as ‘blood payment’ but as Sinbad runs to his home he finds it destroyed, with his wife Zuleykha nowhere to be found. Devestated by his actions, he enlists the help of a mysterious woman Akissa and his close friends to find his wife.
And thus begins a journey that will take us to strange lands, encounters with Ifrits, hordes of the undead, priceless treasures, beautiful maidens, love and betrayal. And by the end, lessons will be learnt, or in the case of Shahrazad and her sister, the opposite!
Corben’s artwork is simply magnificent. There are so many moments in the story which stand out, from Sinbad’s entrance into the floating city of Ketra to the reflective moments near the end when he washes on to a beach, and a dog comes to gently waken him from his slumber. It’s a wonderful scene which encapsulates everything about Corben and his unique style.
It is sad to think that this book has been criminally out of print for such a long time. I managed to nab this copy for a reasonable price, but it can fetch anything up to £50 or over, or even more for the hardcover version. I think this is the right time for a reprint so everyone can have access to this stunning work. Alongside Neverwhere, it is probably Corben (and Strnad’s) best work.
As a boy I was in love with the Sinbad films, which had these wonderful stop motion animation from the legendary Ray Harryhausen. And with this story, another master creator – this time in the art medium – has created another adventure which is fit to stand alongside Sinbad’s most famous adventures.
And is bound to live long in the memory.