By Garen Ewing
It’s taken Garen Ewing many, many years to see his Rainbow Orchid to this conclusion. But heavens it’s wonderful to see the entire story up there on my shelf and on the shelves of the school library. Before we get into this, I’ll try to be as spoiler free as possible, as you’ll have to trust me on this – you’ll definitely be wanting the complete trilogy – an epic adventure well worth your time.
“Getting the obvious comparisons out of the way first; it’s done in a perfect ligne claire style and immediately evokes all of those nostalgic memories of childhood Tintin volumes…. But Ewing’s not simply apeing Herge, his influences are probably more Edgar P. Jacobs’ Blake & Mortimer and Yves Chaland’s Freddy Lombard ….. Luckily, Garen’s one of few UK artists able to pull off ligne claire and he does it perfectly – clean lines, dot eyes, 4 tier page structures all build up the perfect look – it takes incredible skill to make something look this clean and simple.”
And yes, absolutely, it’s the obvious visual talking point. And bless Ewing, he makes it clear that he doesn’t hold it against us for immediately using the obvious Herge comparison, but there’s a lovely piece in here that recounts a potted history version of the why he draws like Garen Ewing, in a ligne claire style.
But it’s a very British looking style as well, evoking so perfectly a super-stylised Britain between the wars in the earlier volumes, and various locales globally in volumes 2 & 3. And it’s evolved so much, with Ewing reworking huge amounts of his art, getting tighter and tighter, better and better as the years roll by.
(Lovely little travel montage piece early on, as Chancer and his group venture deep into the Hindu Kush. From Garen Ewing’s Rainbow Orchid Volume 3)
So that’s the art, but what did I say about the writing and the story? Well, here…..
“Rainbow Orchid isn’t just something very pretty to look at – it’s also that very rare thing – a really solidly constructed, fun for all ages adventure story. Again, the comparison with Tintin and Blake & Mortimer is valid here. Rainbow Orchid has that same sense of adventure, that wonder at the world, the sense of the exotic that every Tintin album evoked when you first read it. One of Ewing’s great strengths is his research and it shows everywhere in The Rainbow Orchid; everything in the book looks just delightfully authentic.”
Absolutely. And that so applies here with the final volume. We’re on the move again, travelling with Julius and the supporting cast of wonderful stereotypes that pepper the story: distinguished historical researchers, glamourous Hollywood actresses and their typically bombastic American publicists, evil and incredibly rich businessmen with square-jawed henchmen, dogged reporters and a healthy serving of dangerously beautiful (or perhaps beautifully dangerous?) women with Louise Brooks’ haircuts.
(Julius Chancer meets up with Evelyn Crow once more)
Ah, now we’ve talked theme and style, it occurs to me that a quick flavour of the story so far may be required….
You have Lord Lawrence, drunkenly entering into a wager with the baddie of the piece; businessman Urkaz Grope over who can grow the best orchid and win an annual competition. But the wager is for an ancient sword and with it the Lawrence family’s estate, and Grope reportedly has a mysterious and magnificent black pearl orchid that is a certain winner.
Looking a cert to lose it all, desperation leads Lawrence to young Julius Chancer, apprentice to Sir Alfred Catesby-Grey, ex-boss of the Empire Survey Branch, with the idea to track down a fabled and possibly mythical Rainbow Orchid.
We travel halfway across the world with Julius and Lawrence’s actress daughter Lily, complete with comedy accompaniment from her Hollywood agent and threats from both the Empire Survey Branch (who have their own ulterior motives for the Rainbow Orchid) and from Grope’s “dark angel”, the beautiful and dangerous Evelyn Crow whilst back in Blighty we have a reporter investigating Grope and his orchid.
Yes, there’s a lot going on. But full credit to Ewing, it only really felt busy when I tried to summarise it all just. In the actual story, all of this slots simply and easily into place, the thing just flows, characters and settings and plot twists come and go, and there’s no confusion or problem.
(Epic lost civilisations? Check. More adventuring in Rainbow Orchid)
You can, I trust, feel the combined experiences of Tintin’s globe-trotting adventures, and a little bit of Indiana Jones style pulp adventuring going on in the book?
There are daring escapes, underground kingdoms, mysterious lost cultures with mystical tech, and a sense of a real, old fashioned, thoroughly entertaining rollicking adventure all the way through. I had bemoaned a little with Volume 2 that the pace seemed a little off, but having read all three volumes together I’m happy to report that it works as a great story, everything coming together so perfectly at the climax.
Ewing even has chance to play around with comedy a little, with the obvious visual ridiculousness of Grope’s Order Of The Black Lion henchmen trying to work out who’s who and who said what….
(Confusion and comedy in Rainbow Orchid, as the Black Lions realise the flaw of identical masks)
And no, I’m not telling you whether there is a Rainbow Orchid or not. But I will tell you how, on Julius’ return to England, I suddenly realised the oh so obvious literary comparison I’d been missing all along. Yes, of course there’s loads of Tintin, loads of classic movies, Indiana Jones, 20s serials etc etc.
But there it is, as Chance races into the British Empire Exhibition to confront Grope, we’re looking at a climax worthy of Phileas Fogg at his very best. Ewing takes everything so wonderfully exciting and entertaining in all of these influences and delivers a trilogy of graphic novels that really entertains.
There’s talk from Ewing of more adventures of Julius Chancer. I say yes, absolutely, definitely, positively… yes. After all, that Tintin managed to find a fair few adventures in his time didn’t he?