By Robert Sellers and JAKe
“The story of four of the greatest boozers of all time: Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole and Oliver Reed. Robert Sellers and Jake seamlessly weave their four stories into one fast-paced adventure of drunken binges, orgies, parties and fun.
Told through the eyes of an everyman, Martin, we begin our tale in a typical London boozer at Christmas time. Martin sits alone at the end of the bar, drinking himself into oblivion. At the other end of the bar sit our four hellraisers. In turn, Richard Burton, then Richard Harris, then Oliver Reed and finally Peter O’Toole take this disillusioned soul on a personal tour of their lives: their tumultuous childhoods, rise to stardom and chaotic personal lives.“
Hellraisers is deliberately set up to be a boozer’s Christmas Carol, with a famous foursome taking turns a telling their life stories to a hellraiser in waiting.
So what you get is what you expect; a collection of the finest anecdotes of the lives (and deaths) of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Oliver Reed and Peter O’Toole (yes, O’Toole’s still with us, so what – he certainly counts is the reason for his inclusion). There they are, young and vibrant above on the cover and older, yet probably not that much wiser below from the end of the book….
The graphic novel is a reworking of Sellars’ Hellraisers book, one I have no prior knowledge of, but you don’t really need it, as the stories of these four famous boozers are ever so familiar, such well known things, I’ll warrant all of us will be able to trot out many of the tales of boozed up bad behaviour, the parties, the binging, the women.
Here, from what I gather, Sellers has adapted it from a straight procession of anecdotes in the prose to this new story, employing the simple and familiar Christmas Carol structure. The adaptation works, indeed I’d imagine it’s better than the prose. But so much of that is down to the artwork by curiously capitalised artist JAKe, with a line and style well suited to the frequent and all-important caricatures of a procession of famous figures populating the lives of the boozy four.
Bogart, Bacall, Eastwood, Marvin, Mitchum, Taylor, Moon, Hepburn….. you name them, these men knew, drank with, slept with, married or offended them…. and JAKe does a grand job of making them all recognisable pretty much immediately.
But there’s much more than straight caricature here, and JAKe’s more than capable of turning in everything from cartoonish farce all the way to the darkest times of all of the actors in question. And oh, boy, are there dark times to cover here.
But we don’t, not really. The dark times are mentioned, but Sellers is mostly about the legends, emphasising the exuberance, the naughtiness, the loveable booze-addled luvvies side of things in Hellraisers. And yes, there’s much to enjoy when we look back on the lives of the men here, because they elevated the act of boozing into an artform, and did so with such unapologetic vigour.
So pretty much all the way through, even when Sellers focuses on the darker times, you know there’s a light anecdote to temper the darkness just around the corner, just over the page. And that’s a shame, because the most powerful moments, and the most interesting, come when we get a moment of near clarity, and the remorse and regret threatens to come to the surface. But then it’s shut off again, and we’re back with the adorable cartoon drunks, a loveable group of lushes, brilliant actors with a passion for life:
The big, big problem with the book is it doesn’t really know what the hell it’s meant to be doing with wannabe Hellraiser Martin. His role essentially is to be the sounding board and guide to our boozers, as they recount the moments of their lives. But he’s also meant to be the Scrooge of the tale, being taught the error of his ways by the four Hellraisers. Except they’re practically without remorse or regret.
It’s a disparity that would seem at the heart of the book. But it’s not, as the heart of the book isn’t the journey of Martin, that’s merely the means to tell the story. The heart of the book is a simple one, it’s Sellers spinning the anecdotes, reinforcing the legends. On the back of the book we’re told that this is a graphic account of four very cautionary tales. But Sellers isn’t telling a cautionary tale at all, he’s telling the old fashioned celebratory stories that have always been told of these men. It’s enjoyable of course, these were unique individuals at the very least, but don’t go looking for anything more serious than that.