Of the possibilities that the medium of comics holds for creators, presenting stories of great imaginative depth is high up there. Just the thought of it makes me want to put on a crushed velvet suit and dance around with horrible stereotypes…
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Granted sometimes there is a template in place especially with existing or ongoing characters, worlds, or situations. There are times, however, when comics provide fresh perspectives. One such example in the last few years that stood out as quite striking in my opinion was Daytripper by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, which played with convention and genre using a touch of magical realism which you would be more accustomed to seeing in a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Magical realism, time travel, space travel, trips to other galaxies, creatures of the forest, aliens…all such wonderful ideas, and in the right hands they can be presented in such interesting ways. Sorry if that sounds like a bit of an oversimplification, but sometimes you just can’t argue when the right elements gel the right way. Think of your favorite collaborations that brought forth the stories and characters that give you such enjoyment and then try to think about if that specific story—not a continuation or any thing like that, THE ORIGINAL STORY—was told by any other combination of people. The first and probably correct thought in your brain is NO WAY. But instead of focusing in on the problematic in imaginative storytelling in comics I spent the week looking for and focusing in on what constitutes a good example of imaginative storytelling in comics, specifically the sci-fi and fantasy genres (which are two of my favorites and often mash up so well). What I found was a story that created its own space in the familiar, using weighty themes of religion, politics, philosophy, and sex, and it is so beautifully drawn that it will make you look at some of the things on your shelf and appreciate that this book influenced a whole lot of other stories. That book is The Incal.
The Incal by Moebius and Alejandro Jodorowsky is one of those comics you see on must read lists. The book has had a strong reputation since its publication thirty-plus years ago, and as it finds a wider audience with more translations and availability the write-ups, reviews, criticism and scholarship on it will grow. In fact, I found it very accessible and cost effective in the digital format versus the print, and even though I read it on my laptop I still will be plunking down some money for a hard copy of it, because reading it in physical form will no doubt provide me with a different experience which I anticipate and welcome.
The Incal is a mash-up of ideas and themes that represent one part new age spiritualism and one part postmodern French politics. Such themes, and this is a small example after a slightly close reading, included the universal connectivity of all beings, the pitfalls of technology in a consumer drive society, and the dangers of a political autocracy keeping existence for people flaccid and passive.
The Incal, even with such weighty themes swimming around, is still presented as an imaginative and visually well constructed universe where coincidence is seemingly non-existent. Dealing with heavy social and political issues does not mean that you can not have fun, or even poke fun, which Moebius and Jodorowsky take more than a few opportunities to do with their own satiric take on things. As I read my way through The Incal, I thought some about how often creators who use satire and allegory make such wonderfully dark imaginative places for us to escape and think about where we are in the world in the present. One such instance that probably became my default escapist satire over the years is Brazil by filmmaker Terry Gilliam, a story that owes a lot to Orwell’s dystopian work 1984.
With the influence of Orwell over Brazil, it is important to take a moment and think about how imagination is born of influence, and The Incal is no exception. Notably, many of the ideas presented by Jodorowsky are about his attempt to make the film Dune in the early 1970s and an understanding of alternative philosophies such as Tarot. For Moebius, the most surprising is his somewhat obvious affection for Golden Age Marvel Comics. That’s right. The constant exclamation points, the pacing at points—it all makes sense in a way when you think about he eventually collaborates with Stan Lee on the Silver Surfer story Parable.
The Incal is a good example of imaginative storytelling in comics because it does not let influence totally consume it, keeping off the homage baggage that can be attached to so many other “imaginative works” on the shelf today. Please feel free to continue the conversation on imagination in comics below on our comment board, over on our Facebook page, our hit us up on Twiter @capelesscrusade with the hashtag #Afterwednesday.