Review: Empires

Published On December 13, 2012 | By James Bacon | Comics, Reviews

Empires Volume 1

Robert Rankin

Self-published, order details on Facebook

Robert Rankin, is better known for over thirty years of book writing and tales of far fetched fiction in a humorous and fantastical vein, but in the last year or so he has turned his hand to comic illustration and creation in between his books.

Perhaps one of the most all-rounded artists in the science fictional industry, this stretches back to his youth, having attended Ealing Art College. He illustrated a comic zine and a book about The Beatles’ song lyrics well before he was a prose author. His application for art was brought to the fore when he started doing covers for his own books in 1998 with Dance of the Voodoo Handbag, and soon his sculptures, which all bore direct relation to the stories therein, were not only adorning his novels from that stage, but his publishers, Corgi, were happy to allow him to redo the covers of most of his back catalogue as they were reprinted.  He changed publisher and moved into ink and marker as media of choice, and again started redoing covers as they became available for reprint.

Bill Geradts, a convention promoter from New Zealand commissioned the author to write and draw a comic, which would be coloured there, and made available electronically, attracting people to SF web pages of interest (with plenty of other goodies on the site to entice you too, bookmark it because you will be back for more).

Rankin reported that :”I have completed my comic book. 108 pages. It has taken me four months to write and draw it.” I wonder how many aspiring comic book creators would be able to do that sort of page rate. Yes, Rankin was being paid, but it’s still quite impressive.

When the whole comic had been published online, Rankin arranged for a limited edition hardback print version, in black and white for sale in the UK and, like many people working for the first time in a new field, he arranged this with a small press that people close to him set up.

Rankin’s character Lady Raygun has embarked on a series of steampunk adventures, creating a world where characters, historical, literary and comic of his own invention feature. This world has had an interesting alternative history twist. The War of the Worlds was indeed won, the Martians invaded, and thanks to catching earth based ailments, were defeated. In a reflection of recent scepticisms of the morals of those who go to war, the battle was taken to the Martians, in the way of loading the sickly and old into spaceships to fire at Mars, not the honourable battle that history has recorded.

Mr Tesla and Mr Babbage under the authority of a young Winston Churchill have back-engineered Martian technology and now, Queen Victoria is empress of India and Mars, and Britain is a super power in the solar system, populated as it is with a wide variety of beings.

In this world we meet Robert Rankin’s grandfather, who goes on to tell us four vignettes, linked adventures of Lady Raygun, which he knew of. Lady Raygun, who battles four foes, all named Jack is an enigma for the duration of the comic, while Murder, Magic, Robots and Madness are at hand, humour and absurdity abound.

It’s easy to read, gentle on the brain, but there is a level of underlying reflection on modern days that can be slightly haunting. The warmongering machinery of government is brought to the fore, not only with the imperialist nature of Britain, but how they deal with crisis at home, over reacting, over zealous and brutally crushing when it is not needed.

Rankin has an odd ability to make everything seem light, yet this simple comic makes one think a little, questioning people’s faith and beliefs in magic, or charlatanism. Should we mock a belief in magic, when our current government funds sugar pills, or how we seem fascinated with Jack The Ripper, yet parts of Britain seem under a malaise of murder and mayhem. It’s easy to laugh at the conflict between Tesla and Churchill, about how to deal with a robot attack and then later how government calms parliament by stating ‘Scotland yard are on the case’ when they are portrayed in the next panel, bemused.

Rankin is a fun read, but like many of his books, there is a layer beneath the story, as he makes observations on what is around him, and this percolates down through into his work.

For someone having a go at their first comic this is very impressive. He recently stated in a bar, that he was indeed in many ways learning as he goes, and this is perhaps in relation to the technical elements of comic book story telling. There is something different about the story, other artists may have increased the panels per page, but then there is such intricate detail about the artwork that occasionally belies more, whether it be the images hidden on his grandfather’s tie or the brand on the side of an iron, that the reader can find.

You can find bargains, and you can get comics cheap now, at fairs and the like, but you do not get much for fifteen quid, and when this comic turned up I was indeed impressed with the production values. The cover features Lady Raygun, it is a sturdy purple hard back, with very nice end papers, and the paper is glossy and to a high quality, the comic as a whole feeling slick and indeed to quite a high professional calibre.

Details of how to get this comic are, like many self-published works, is via Facebook.

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About The Author

James Bacon

James Bacon is a train Driver working in London but originally from Dublin. He also loves comics, theatre, history and books, runs conventions, writes about these activities and has edited a Hugo-winning Fanzine.

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