Wednesday, 21 May 2008

The Adventures of Luther Arkwright - Bryan Talbot

Comic? Graphic novel? Call it what you will (although this bears as much relation to the Beano as Ulysses does to Noddy goes to Toytown); this is rightly consider amongst the best works of its type.

Talbot is a highly accomplished graphic artist, an equally accomplished story-teller, and someone who is clearly concerned with something wider than both. This is a world in which the English Interregnum has lasted until the (or, rather, a) present day. Cromwell’s heirs run the country as a fascist puritanical state and Royalists fight a terrorist war. Into this world comes Arkwright, searching for answers. The full story is too complex to give in such a short space as this, save to say the complexity is not for effect. The adventures reflect real life and the use of science fiction as a carrier for the story (we are talking alternative universes here) enhances the deeper social messages.

What adds to an already outstanding story is the way in which Talbot weaves graphics, text, and the story into a seamless and rich tapestry. This is no straightforward comic strip. The detail in the graphic work is astonishing and there are many references to ‘classical’ works of art. Both text and graphics make reference to popular culture and some of the characters in the story bear more than a passing resemblance to real people. The arrangement of the graphics is also innovative with panels that seem out of place and which are difficult to decipher. These heighten the feelings of fragmentation and chaos that are central themes of the work. And then hit home with extra impact when they reappear in their correct context.

It is certainly a work that is worth revisiting and for anyone who has never tried a graphic novel, it is certainly ample evidence that this is an art form in its own right (although you may need a magnifying glass if you start with this as some of the text is very small).