Written by Alejandro Jodorowsky, Illustrated by Moebius
A justifiably acclaimed comics masterpiece, The Incal has a writer and artist absolutely ablaze with creativity; where the brilliance of Moebius’ visual storytelling is in absolute synergy with Jodorowsky’s utterly out-there ideas. Described by many as a seminal works of science fiction …. and yes, I’m one of the many.
It’s been too long out of print, devotees trying to track down the volumes where they could. Hell, I’ve met people who’ve learnt French just to decipher The Incal when they found it was unavailable in English. It’s got that sort of following. Now finally, with this re-release, we finally have all six volumes in a single hardcover volume, restoring the original, beautiful, flat colours (the less said about the attempt to recolour it recently, with a more modern palette the better).
Jorodowsky and Moebius’ work is epic in every sense, pure, unadulterated, throw all the ideas at the wall and see what sticks sci-fi. Primarily it’s a classic quest adventure story, a good versus evil stellar adventure. But this adventure takes so many weird, imaginative and utterly bizarre turns along the way that reading it in one go, as I have several times in the course of preparing this review, is a comic equivalent of ingesting mind-altering chemicals in what Bill Hicks once described as “a heroic dose”.
(Meet John Difool…. and getting thrown into suicide alley is merely the start of his crazy odyssey – The Incal by Jodorowsky and Moebius, published by SelfMadeHero)
It opens so simply, with messed-up, hapless, incompetant detective John Difool finding himself tossed over the edge of the great city he lives in.
And it would be so easy for Moebius and Jorodowsky to simply play this as a sci-fi detective tale, for in Difool they have a classic, Chandler-esque foil, unknowingly thrown into the case of his life, unprepared for everything that follows. Difool is just that, the fool…. an idiot to stand at the centre of everything that happens to him, observing, just as amazed as the rest of us at the incedible, unbelievable path his life has taken.
But this never settles on anything other so simple, The Incal wanders across genres as if they weren’t there. To even try to summarise the plot rather does potential readers a disservice – this is something to be appreciated as a work without much prior knowledge.
(The Incal explains…. but that’s just the tiniest part of the background… it all gets curioser and curioser for Difool from here.)
By seeming complete chance Difool comes into possesion of “The White Incal”; a pure energy source, a magical artifact, a supreme light in the darkness (depending on whom you ask), but most importantly for the story…. The Incal is universally desirable…. and the subsequent episodes see him hunted down by all manner of strange beings, religions, ideologys and individuals.
Everyone wants the Incal, and at times it all begins to feel like the strangest episode of The Wacky Races you’ve ever seen – and everyone has their own reasons for wanting it, some more serious than others, many of them interconnected in some circuitous manner.
The alien Bergs, the city government, the Emporess, the rebel group AMOK, they’ve all got their reasons for hunting down both the Incal and Difool, but the one continual threat comes from the Technopope and his Technopriests, who are determined to bring darkness to the galaxy with their shadow egg technology designed to devour the suns of every system.
(Technopriests, shadow eggs, Difool’s constant companion – a concrete bird called Deepo …. invention to the point of ridiculous insanity from Jodorowsky & Moebius)
So poor idiot Difool gets to travel around the galaxy, have a series of increasingly surreal, epic and incomprehensible adventures that seem a bit Star Wars, a lot 2001 A Space Odyssey and a huge amount of inspired Moebius and Jorodowsky.
Along the way he’ll accumulate a group of fellow adventurers, including his pet concrete seagull Deepo, The Metabaron – world’s greatest mercenary, Animah the rat Queen, and more. And all along The Incal is at the centre of it all….
What is The Incal? It really doesn’t matter, not really. It’s simply the means for Moebius and Jodowrowsky to create something quite spellbinding, an adventure that takes us (and its participants) across worlds, ditching any ideas of conventional physics as we go. This is insanity on the comics page, imaginations taken about as far (and sometimes further) as they can go.
It’s not perfect, sometimes it just goes into near ridiculous exposition, there’s far too many “Meanwhiles” every few pages or so, the ideas sometimes escape the execution, and sometimes (say it quietly) it overdoes it so much it becomes boring in its ever-more ridiculous ideas, you could even accuse it of rambling or merely trotting out the weirdness for the sake of it.
But dammit, you read the whole thing in one go and you’ll find your head goes someplace else, someplace weird, someplace incredible. This is sci-fi as madness, disguised as a simple adventue.
(The Metabaron… just one of a group of fellow adventurers gathered around Difool and The Incal during the course of this enlightening adventure.. or this adventure towards enlightenment?)
Jodowrowsky’s imagination never relents, as he creates a tale of spiritual enlightenment, of ascendancy, with Difool cast as his very reluctant Messiah. But he does it within the mechanisms, the simplicity of a series of action-adventure set pieces. Lucas, Spielberg, Besson and countless others can only dream of wrapping such involved, insane, bewildering ideas in a layer of such simplicity.
You have it all here; massive space-battles, psychological breakdowns, hand to hand beat-em-ups, laser shoot-outs and everything else you’d expect in a simple action sci-fi thriller, but all leading to something far, far, far deeper and metaphysical. This is Star Wars in deep, deep psych treatment, 2001: A Space Odyssey with fighting and rayguns, Chandler with head-expanding sci-fi, and everything in between.
(….”to be illuminated”. The ascension of Difool, and stunning artwork from Moebius)
The Incal takes every idea you ever had about sci-fi and reimagines it, expands upon it and throws it back into your head. Beautiful, brilliant, insane….
And Moebius’ drawings…. oh, so good. So very good. Insane ideas, incredible invention, every time Jorodowsky propels the story into somewhere crazily new, Moebius matches it, and then makes it even stranger, even more insane, even more beautiful. This is pure, unadulterated sci-fi, a dream on paper, and anyone with a love for sci-fi should read it, should absorb its ideas, its imagination…. this is a sci-fi hit to the vein.
The Incal is one of those books everyone speaks of in reverential tones. It’s a seminal work, and although it’s certainly got its flaws, it’s one of the best pieces of comic sci-fi ever written and drawn. This is one of those works that quite rightly evokes jealousy in those who’ve read it already for those who are about to venture into its worlds for the first time.
And if that’s you, well you’re in for a treat. If you’ve already read The Incal, either completely or (like me) in part, I can only assure you that yes, it’s every bit as brilliant, as maddening, as insane as you remember. And dear lord, it’s bloody brilliantly insane.