We love comics and want to share that love with you. The 9th Blog bloggers are from various corners around the world and our comic selection reflects that. Some of the comics we'll be sharing haven't been translated into English (yet), but that shouldn't stop you from checking them out.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Michael Moorcock's Elric Vol. 1: The Ruby Throne by Julien Blondel, Didier Poli, Robin Recht, Jean Bastide
Right off the bat I have to admit that I have
never read either Moorcock's original novels about the albino emperor and his decaying island of Melniboné nor any of the graphic novel
versions that have been around since the 1970s, so don't expect me to tell you
how faithful this French BD version is to Moorcock's vision or how it compares
to those older Elric comics.
What I can tell you, however, is that Moorcock
himself admits in his introduction that this is the closest anyone has ever
come to what he had originally intended with the character and his world (no
small feat, considering the talent that has laid their hands on the character
in graphic novel form before: Philippe Druillet, Michael Kaluta, P. Craig
Russell, Frank Miller and Mike Mignola, amongst others).
But more importantly, I can tell you that this is
an incredible fantasy graphic novel to behold - from start to finish.
Let's begin with the artwork: it is both complex
and rushed, contrasts (little) light with (a lot of) dark, the organic with the
lifeless – often at the same time, creating a feeling of chaos.
Just look at the opening page of the book: the
reader faces a sheer endlessly tall tower, made of ivory and obsidian, and
while the upper, white part is covered with artful ornaments and writings, it is
juxtaposed with its bottom half – a dark tunnel of jagged rock, that opens and
looks like a shark’s maw. And since this is the entrance to Melniboné, you’ll immediately
get a sense of what to expect.
The tower that marks the entry to Melnibone
As a matter of fact, the artists (Poli, Recht and
Bastide) often reference predators or the animals of our nightmares in their
artwork. The lair of Doctor Jest, chief torturer of Melniboné, looks to be held
together by spider-webs, while the Doctor himself has a parasite-like being
(machine?) seemingly attached to his spine with long spider-legs that can – and
do – pierce through his victims’ bodies.
This should already tell you that the artists are
not holding anything back. There are live and naked human bodies being sacrificed
or tortured by the people of Melniboné for entertainment, or even just because they
feel like it. There’s blood and wounds, lots of them. And what else the Doctor
does to his victims is best left unsaid. Death and decay are oozing from almost every page.
I mentioned above that the artwork looks rushed
at times, but that is anything but bad inking. The empire of Melniboné is a
decadent, chaotic and decaying place, and the “rushed” ink strokes underline this feeling. In
fact, Blondel himself says in the section at the end of the book Didier Poli’s pencilwork
looked too tame and pretty for this story. This is why Robin Recht was added to
the team, whose inks made the pages more “impulsive and dynamic”, as Blondel
“Elric” truly looks nightmarish then and conveys
a sense of mindless decadence, of impending doom and decay - like a painting
by Albrecht Dürer come alive.
The graphic novel’s protagonist, the albino Elric,
looks both regal and – more often than not - frail, with his skin “the colour
of a bleached skull”, as Moorcock himself described him in his books. His outer
appearance alone then is enough to make him look displaced, an outsider in his
own empire, and there are many people at his court who let him know this. But
it is the characterisation that Blondel (and Moorcock) give him which makes him
not only an outsider, but also an anti-hero. This is not Frodo or John Carter
we are dealing with here. While he is the main protagonist and the victim of the
machinations of his cousin Prince Yyrkoon, I found it difficult to really root
for him. And how can you if you see the way he lets himself be influenced by others and, more
importantly, if he bathes in the blood of human sacrifices, albeit to preserve
his health? That, however, does not mean “Elric” suffers from poor
characterisation. What Moorcock/Blondel try to do here is to question morality
and nostalgia and to lay bare the corruption behind the façades of society –
something that Moorcock again admits to in his introduction and which comes
across perfectly in the comic.
the brooding emperor
Similarly (though less) contradictory is Elric's antagonist Yyrkoon, who should be the classical
villain. While fully immersed in its
decadent life, he also sees the complacency of Melniboné as its own potential
downfall. His aim then is to save the empire – although the question arises if
this is an empire worth saving.
Then there are also the humans who attack the island. But read for yourselves to find out if you would really want them to win.
Blood. Just a taster, though.
I am not going to give away more of
the story – on the one hand because this is only the first part of a series of
(hopefully not only) four volumes which introduces us to the world of Elric and the main players, but on the other hand because you should do yourselves a favour and go read
"Elric Vol. 1" yourselves - a graphic novel which ranks among the very best of the recent wave of English-language publications of French BD.
This review is based on the German version of Elric Vol.1 , published by
SPLITTER Verlag (€14.80)
Michael Moorcock’s Elric Vol. 1: The Ruby
Throne is published in English by Titan ($12.99/ISBN 13: 978-1782761242)
Vol. 2, "Stormbringer", will be released in April 2015.