originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/699635...

I’ve been reading a whole buncha comics, let’s talk about them on Tumblr!

In fact I’m gonna talk about a bandes desinée, a manhua, a manga and an american comic book. I need to think of more countries that have comics to read! Anyway since I have a bunch of comics to talk about let’s split it up a bit for the sake of your dash.

First up, The Incal!

The Incal (L’Incal)

(Alexandro Jodorowsky and Jean “Moebius” Giraud, 1981-88, trans.Sasha Watson & Justin Kelly)

Oh Moebius. You know I think he’s the shit [c.f. Animation Night 71], so I won’t spent too long here talking about how great old Jean was.

Page from the Incal. Wolfhead's mercenaries are climbing on wires. A man is violently exploded by a polar inversion generator.

The Incal is one of Moeb’s best known comics, a collaboration with infamous alchemy freak Alejandro Jodorowsky [Toku Tuesday 27]. The backstory of this comic is basically, after Jodo’s Dune collapsed - leaving Moebius, O’bannon and Giger to go work on Alien - he went to comic books, teaming up with Moebius to make this comic. Knowing a bit about Jodo’s whole deal, and watching The Holy Mountain in particular, definitely made it easier to figure out what the Incal is getting at.

Well, sorta understand. I would probably need to crack open some grimoires to get the whole thing. But I can think like, oh, this is the bit where they were on the mountain getting confronted by their fears.

On one level it’s pretty straightforward! It’s a space opera in which hapless private investigator John DiFool (Tarot symbolism!) gets caught up in a big cosmic conflict to stop d-d-d-d-d-darkness from eating all the stars in the universe. On another it’s a kind of symbolic occult narrative where just about everyone is a tarot card and a lot of stuff that happens you just have to say, ok, alchemy is happening.

Apparently it was first conceived in a lucid dream in which Jodo got the image of two pyramids. He says he would conceive the story in a trance and dictate it to Moebius, who would sketch it out in real time. So it’s not quite so simple as ‘Jodo script, Moebius art’, but directly a collaboration between the two. Jodo is full of praise for Moebius’s subconscious, which he calls a ‘lake of colour’. They worked in this way for about ten years.

Page from The Incal. John DiFool plummets into a huge shaft.

The result is… a curious tone. It’s actually generally pretty upbeat and funny, otherwise ‘alchemical acid trip’. Of course, Moeb handles everything with perfect aplomb. This is just the second page. I was lucky enough to be given a paper copy by a friend in America, and read it on the plane back, and it’s a treat to just hold this thing in your hands.

For (I can only assume) alchemical reasons, John Difool has no idea what’s going on and just kind of bumbles his way through the plot, chivvied along by the Incal itself, his pet parrot..lemon…thing, and the various characters who join him along the way like square-jawed Metabaron (who Jodo would later expand into a whole line of hypermasculine Metabarons who replicate through child abuse) and austere sexy space princess sisters Solune and Aminah. Before long they’re doing stuff like sending Difool to do various missions to advance their plan while the rest of them have shrunk their spaceship down to a tiny enough size to fit in his blood vessel.

Meanwhile, there’s a whole bunch of stuff kicking off in the background: a growing planetary rebellion, a decadent noble who adopts a series of bodies, the schemes of the Technos… which tie back in to the main story sooner or later. Big sweeping space opera stuff.

This being a Jodo story there’s a kind of weirdly mechanical hetero relationship in there, though he definitely puts some fun twists on it, like the time that a space bug alien impersonates John DiFool’s love interest (for diplomatic reasons), leading down the line to an entire planet of John DiFool clones. That’s kind of what it’s like: there’s never a huge amount of tension, you’re just along for the ride to see what wild turn the story will take next.

Page from The Incal. The Techno-priests worship a huge spider.

There’s a curiosity to me in that, while the story involves a lot of rebellion, it’s a rebellion to restore the rightful Emporess (a Perfect Androgyne in the form of conventionally male and female bodies kind of sutured together - the Metabarons series goes a lot more into the galaxy’s iteration through a series of Perfect Androgyne candidates) to power against the schemes of the Technopope.

All in all, it’s easy to see why this comic is so influential. Of Moeb’s work, it’s definitely one of the ones that most ‘actually has a plot’, and Jodo doesn’t do the whole rape fixation thing (not that the weird deranged sex shit doesn’t add a lot to Jodo’s works lmao); it’s just fun.

It’s interesting looking at Moebius’s drawing from a more technical eye. He’s very good at balancing areas of detail with space. Panelling is generally conservative, just boxes of various sizes, and occasionally big full page spash panels - though the composition within each panel is exquisite. And what really blows me away is the amount of complex backgrounds and crowd shots.

Moeb knows exactly how to compose a big geometric form; he can supply his characters a great variety of faces and physiques. And there are so many distinctive outfits and character designs. It’s interesting to see how he shifts the art style to fit the tone of the scene; in a comedic scene John’s nose will be long and pointy, in a dramatic scene his face will get angular and accentuate the cheekbones even more, as in this scene where John meets Animah and spontaneously feels motivated to give her the Black Incal (check out the colouring as well):

Page from The Incal. John DiFool, drawn in a more angular muscular style, ands over the Black Incal to Animah.

In the writing side, Jodo remarks in one of the commentary interludes that he wished to have characters who change a lot over the course of the story, reflecting his beliefs about the mutability of people (unlike such infamously static characters as… Shakespeare’s Hamlet. oh, jodo…). For this reason, he writes…

John Difool, for instance, never stops changing. He metamorphoses, progresses, sometimes regresses. In the second volume, he becomes handsome. Then, he loses his beauty as he loses the Incal, but something different remains inside him. He’ll never be the same after that. In the beginning, John Difool is introduced as someone who is not too bright, but he gradually becomes wiser. He is never a totally moral character, he always remains subject to temptation. He might steal or betray, or do anything, because he is human. His energy is sometimes positive, other times negative, but is never properly channeled. In a way he never benefits from his own energy, because he uses it poorly, and usually for the good of others.

This is true so far as it goes, but honestly I don’t feel like any of the characters in The Incal change all that much - it’s not really about that kind of intense character study, they’re all much larger than life. A lot of the changes that do happen feel like they’re more driven by fate or cosmic forces than internal development of the character. And that isn’t a problem, by any means - it might well bog down this kind of comic. It surprises me though that Jodo writes something like this when to me, the characters seem much more like icons or symbols.

John’s role is to be the everyman viewpoint character, a role he fulfills well; at one point he gets split into four elemental mini-selves with different emotional valences but this feels more symbolic of like, the forces of work in all of humanity than like, specificity as a character. Jodo is right to say that he rarely ever acts of his own volition so much as gets pulled along by the whole Incal affair. Which fits, because there’s enough batshit stuff happening at any given time that we, too, are just along for the ride.

Page from the Incal. Abstract alchemical imagery accompanies John learning he's a dad.

The digital version I have only goes up to the end of volume 4, so I can’t post any scans of the later pages. Later things get… quite abstract! It ends on a curious note: instead of our ‘pull back camera’, the darkness egg threat is resolved (by a plan that involves sending everyone in the entire universe to sleep at once), and the universe kind of snaps back to the very beginning with John falling down the shaft. It’s not clear if this means the entire story is going to repeat itself endlessly on a loop, or if this time things will play out differently.

Apparently there’s a whole bunch more Incal stories, such as Before the Incal, After the Incal and Final Incal. As well as other Jodo-authored comic books like The Metabarons, which I really need to finish. I’d love to get my hands on those, this comic is such a treat.

Next up: Solo Levelling!


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