Review: The Incal


For me, Moebius is a god.

Ever since I was a young boy I have been fascinated by his artwork. I was an avid reader of Asterix and Tin Tin at a young age, and it was around that time that I came upon an article in a magazine about Moebius. I remember being fascinated by it and the corresponding artwork with the article- it was then that the name of Moebius became forever imprinted in my mind. As a teenager I carried on reading comics, my tastes had varied by then and i was more interested in sci-fi literature and comics – not to mention films aswell. Two of my favourite films growing up were Blade Runner and Alien. After digging further I was surprised to see Moebius’ name attached to both projects. Ridley Scott (an accomplished artist himself) was a big fan of the French artist and looking at the films you can clearly see his influence on them stylistically. The concept art he did for these films (especially Alien) were superb. My attempts at finding Moebius comics however, proved futile due to the rarity of it and any I did come across were always in French.

Anyhow, fast forward many years and finally someone had the insight to publish one of Moebius’ famous works; The Incal. American publisher Humanoid released a hardback edition of The Incal, but on closer inspection it proved to be an unfaithful translation because some of the panels had been re-coloured, so it could be more ‘palatable’ to American readers, not to mention the censoring of nudity. Both these poor decisions in my view tatamounted to sacrilege. Would someone re-colour the Mona Lisa to make her appear more appealing? I very much doubt it. Then why the need for this I do not know. Thankfully a more faithful translation was released by SelfMadeHero in the U.K with the colouring and nudity intact. And this is the version which I managed to purchase and had the privilege of reading.

To understand The Incal first you have to understand a little about its writer Alejandro Jodorowsky. He came to prominence via his acid western El Topo and later, Holy Mountain, but his dream was to direct Frank Herbert’s Dune. I say Frank Herbert’s Dune but Jodorowsky’s version was to be very different from the novel. He had gone so far as assembling all the artists (Moebius among them) and actors (I use the term loosely, afterall I doubt Pink Floyd or Salvador Dali had any acting credentials to go along with their main talents). But alas, due to financial collapse it was not meant to be. Jodorowsky was left devestated, almost everyone agrees that it would have been one hell of a film. But all was not lost; he decided to team up with his colleague Moebius and release his own version of Dune via the comic format. And thus, The Incal was born.

But how best to describe The Incal? It is very hard to put this masterwork into one category. I feel The Guardian newspaper summed it up perfectly; ‘a dance on the edge of meaning and meaningless’ and I wholly agree. Like I said you cannot lump the work into one category- so dense is its story. It is like a dream, a song, a poem, a comedy, an odyssey, and my, what a journey it is too – unlike anything I had ever read before. Not forgetting awe-inspiring, bordering on the mind-boggling with unforgettable moments; From sun devouring black eggs, a child who turns into a spaceship, giant Jellyfishes to John DiFool’s intimate encounter with a mass of gloop and soonafter a meeting with the ultimate light – or god himself; The Incal is a visual and literal assault on the senses.

We first meet our protogonist, John DiFool in some trying circumstances as he is dropped headfirst into ‘Suicide Alley’. Slowly we backtrack to find how he came to be in this predicament. When we first meet him John DiFool is quite unlikeable as a character. A class R detective, he is a coward who likes nothing more than drinking himself to a stupor and sleeping away his life with Homeo-whores (‘replicant’ hookers). But then he encounters The Incal; a mysterious object that beckons him to a higher calling in life. During the course of his journey he starts to realise how a decision which may seem insignificent comes to have a larger bearing on the galaxy. In tow is his ever faithful companion Deepo; a ‘concrete seagull’ who is the closest thing to a friend he has and provides the comics light relief. And on their trail; a wide array of dangerous and colourful characters from the wolf headed Kill Wolfhead, the Metabaron; the greatest bounty hunter in the universe to the bird like alien race, the Bergs and the insane Clone Prince.

A journey which starts at the upper levels of the world soon descends into the very core of the planet, where we meet others along the way, such as Animah the Rat Queen. It is here, due to an impending attack by some mutants, Kill and the Metabaron, characters who are at first unfriendly to DiFool put their differences aside to help one another (one of the aspects I loved about this story), against much powerful foes such as the mutant hordes and the possessed Prince. But all these dangers seem trivial in comparison to The Darkness; an all consuming evil so great that only the power of The Incal stands in its way. And thus begins a journey through many worlds, space and time in an epic adventure quite unlike anything I had ever witnessed.

The story by Jodorowsky is no doubt the doorway to this intriguing world, but Moebius’ artwork is the key which makes it all a possibility. No other artist at the time could’ve matched Jodorowsky’s ‘mind-warping’ storytelling, but Moebius proved a perfect match; drawing the prophet’s visions down on parchments was like second nature. Each feeding one another ideas, until the collaboration bore this magnificent work, a work of breath taking artistry, vision and guile. Reading it I was left dumbstruck on several occasions, awed by Moebius’ majestic artwork, seering itself into my brain. The level of his artistic miracle growing in strength page after page, panel after panel. Whether it be the details of every rubbish piece in the depth of DiFool’s world, or the astonishing detail of the arena and its occupants in the Bergs’ home planet, or the magnificent yet deadly water world, Vitavil H20, concealing a beautiful mystery at its depths – the comic is full of stunning moments which just takes the breath away.

Reading The Incal it is clear to see how its influence reaches far and wide. Filmmakers and artists have been influenced by it, most notably Luc Besson who was sued (unsuccessfully) by Jodorowsky for copying some of the ideas from the comic for his film, The Fifth Element. While I myself thought the similarities were very loose (other than the whole dark vs light storyline and some vehicle, costume and character design) you can still see Moebius’ influence on the film, even the colour palette which is reminiscent of his comics. The Incal also reminded me of Brian K Vaughan’s sci-fi series, Saga. Both having weird and wonderful characters and settings and even a few similarities between the character ‘The Will’, a fearsome bounty hunter who seems very close to The Metabaron of The Incal. Or even Brandon Graham’s Prophet series seems like it is paying tribute to The Incal at times for e.g, Prophet’s ‘Vagina Chicken’ encounter is evocative of DiFool’s liasion with the Proto-Queen. What is clear and without question though, is that this comic has influenced so many people since it was released in 1981. But a word of caution; The Incal might not be catered for everyone’s taste. There are moments when it does get very surreal especially midway through, and reading it can be tricky at times because of the way the speech bubbles (or boxes) are arranged, but if you can persevere and not rush it (which is key) – then the reward is one of the most enjoyable, memorable and enriching.



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