Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Creating the Universe: The Incal by Jodorowsky and Moebius

The Incal Classic Collection  
by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius
collects the six albums of Les Aventures de John DiFool
Humanoids, 1981-1989, 2011
Moebius, the late Jean Giraud, is probably the most influential comic artist whose work you've likely never seen. Most of Moebius's expansive catalog is criminally out of print, not just in the United States but also, apparently, in his home country of France. After years of developing his clear, hyper-dense artistic style in his western strip Blueberry for Dargaud, Moebius co-founded the publishing house Les Humano├»des Associ├ęs (Humanoids) and the magazine Metal Hurlant (Heavy Metal) in 1974. Best known for his mind-bending science fiction works of the last thirty years, most notably Azrach and The Airtight Garage, it was with his occasional collaborator Alejandro Jodorowsky that he created one of comics' most important works, Les Aventures de John DiFool - better known as The Incal.

Alejandro Jodorowsky is one of the most eclectic and important creators in the history of comics. A Chilean born to Ukranian Jewish parents, Jodorowsky made his name in Mexico and France in the 1950s and 1960s as a mime and surrealist playwright & filmmaker. In the six albums that make up The Incal, published between 1981 and 1989 by Humanoids, Jodorowski presents the foundation of the Jodoverse, an expansive series of dozens of graphic novels set in a trippy, metaphysical sci-fi/fantasy universe. And the best books in the Jodoverse are of course the first, where Moebius sets the stage for some of the most influential science fiction imagery since Jack Kirby forged a universe (and a visual language) out of paper and pencil fifty years ago.

Page one quickly introduces us to our hero, of sorts, John DiFool, a "Class-R licensed Private Investigator" who is getting curb-stomped by a band of thugs. In front of a large crowd in a very large subterranean city, he's thrown over the edge, plummeting to his seeming death past level after level of hyperdensely packed city, teeming masses of colorful and depraved humanity (some gleefully jumping to their deaths after him), layer after layer of gleaming fantasy future-tech and garbage, to a bottomless end beyond the field of vision. Saved at the last second in the first of many near-deaths and actual deaths, DiFool is frequently the victim of machinations far outside his control (or comprehension). But this isn't a hard-boiled detective drama in space, it's re-creation myth on mescaline.

DiFool finds himself in possession of The White Incal, some kind of weird mystical whatsit that was given to him by a dying alien from an aggressive species most thought apocryphal. His bird, Deepo, manages to eat it and, after gaining sentience, becomes an instant religious icon to hundreds of people crowding into DiFool's tiny apartment. DiFool wrestles his way back into his home, only to have different forces blast in try get to the Incal. Then all hell breaks loose. Really, really breaks loose. It seems every major governmental, scientific and religious power in two full galaxies are going after the Incal, all while the city riots on all levels by every conceivable faction of humanity against the ruling order. Then the Metabaron, the universe's most epic assassin shows up to take out DiFool. Then the nuclear bomb goes off. And that's just the beginning.

The future Moebius and Jadorowsky paint is a filthy, crowded, corrupt mess. Moebius packs a ton of detail into every panel, and the details are a crowded, dirty future, the slums of the overpopulated supercity extrapolated into the future to the extreme. As DiFool, entirely against his own wishes, accumulates a motely band of compatriots all doing the Incal's bidding, the story bounds forward into the farthest reaches of space and time, and into the completely metaphysical. There is a significant amount about fate and the future and a whole lot of sci-fi mysticism, none of which the reader is really prepared for expositionally. Just like DiFool, the reader is thrown head-first willy nilly into a rediculously vast universe, the seeming pawn of a plot that involves an all-powerful Emperroress, bloody coups, mad bands of Techno-Priests trying to turn every sun in the galaxy black, aliens invading from another galaxy to fulfill a twelve million year old prophecy, a psychotic Prezidential robotic jeggernaut, a star-child, and so much more. The sheer amount of trippy shit DiFool is put through (and that the reader breathlessly, relentlessly experiences) is enough to fill a dozen graphic novels.

Relentless is a good descriptor. This is divine, sci-fi ridiculousness dialed to eleven and pumped at the characters and the reader in a non-stop flow of visual astonishment. Far from taking itself too seriously, this novel is really, really funny. Moebius and Jadorowsky don't really find a balance between self-seriousness and irreverence as much as they don't give the reader a chance to take a breath between transitions. There's no delicacy to the exposition, and it seems they abandon all attempts at explaining a bloody thing pretty early on. The characters just know shit, alright, stop asking questions. Why devote time to basic standards of story construction when motherfucking Moebius can be drawing absolutely crazy shit instead? And there's some sociopolitical commentary woven into the psychedelic sci-fi for good measure.

The Incal should be required reading, there is just the matter of how. As it stands, Humanoids has published a superbly designed omnibus edition that they too often periodically let go out of print. The price point (the unmarketable $44.95) and lack of descriptive text on the back cover don't do it favors, but as a deluxe presentation of one of comics' supreme masterpieces, the quality is both exceptional and appreciated, the forty five bucks a relative bargain. I think reasonably priced reprints of the original albums would do well. In lieu of that, if you can manage to find them, Humanoids is about halfway through publishing absolutely astonishing eighty dollar massively oversized limited hardcover editions of the individual albums. No matter how you consume it, consume it. Soak in every panel of every page, witness the hallucinatory magic that is Moebius in the Jodoverse, experience the madness that is The Incal. It is one of fiction's most gloriously unhinged reading experiences, one of the graphic canon's truly required works.

And when God ultimately shows up in the story and Creates the Universe, it is not a story point but a self portrait of Moebius at work, metacommentary on the divinity of Giraud through the lens of Les Aventures de John DiFool.

Buy The Incal on Amazon here.

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