Page 45 Review by Jonathan
I suspect if you were to ask comic book creators what they regarded as their top three favourite science fiction works, THE INCAL would feature in most, if not all of their selections. And rightfully so, as it is most definitely a seminal work for both writer Alejandro Jodorowsky and artist Moebius. Indeed Mark Millar has commented that THE INCAL is "quite simply one of the most perfect comics ever conceived and probably the most beautiful piece of graphic literature ever drawn."
Thats an extremely bold statement, and whilst I wouldnt necessarily espouse exactly the same view, it is certainly a big favourite of mine too. I, like most of you, I would imagine, have a handful of books that I like to pull off the shelf and reread from time to time and this is certainly one of them. I remember devouring it when I discovered it, in its original six-album edition format, and Id completely agree with the following comment from Bendis that "To those of you who are about to read this for the very first time: I'm truly jealous."
So, I probably should tell you a little bit about it, I guess. It was written between 1980 and 1988, shortly after the collapse of Jodorowskys ambitious proposed film adaptation of Dune, on which Moebius also worked producing storyboards and set design concept art. I could easily write an essay about just that project, which will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest films never made, such was the scope of his vision for it. It isnt perhaps surprising therefore that from the ashes of that aborted project some four years later sprung THE INCAL, which I suspect gave Jodorowsky the chance to create the expansive universe (indeed known as the Jodverse which also later gave birth to THE METABARONS and THE TECHNOPRIESTS sagas) that hed always dreamed of creating.
Moebius meanwhile was working on what, retrospectively, is regarded as another of his greatest works, THE AIRTIGHT GARAGE. This was actually my own first personal experience of Moebius and Id never come across anything quite like it before, with an almost complete absence of plot detail, merely feeling like I was being guided through some impossible abstract futuristic habitat. It is actually to this day, one of the very few books I can think of that despite such a paucity of actual plot, is a veritable triumph of storytelling.
And so they came to THE INCAL. Critics will and indeed do choose to say its rambling, that at times its nonsensical storyline has no real coherency, whereas I believe there is a very clear story being told. Its just the characters, even the supposed main character are merely tiny cogs in Jodoroswkys larger creation. Indeed, its readily apparent that the main characters are all representative of various aspects of a Tarot set. And undoubtedly, as those who are familiar with his films like El Topo will recognise, the overall story is meant to be that of the struggle for spiritual enlightenment, the goal being one of arriving at a state of greater awareness. Or perhaps more precisely the realisation that such a state was within one all along, one merely had to understand how to access it.
Which all makes it sound rather airy and highbrow, when in fact this particular quest is told in the style of an all-action adventure, with plenty of punch-ups, shoot-outs and space battles. In fact, its pretty much non-stop action! But I can certainly see why Jodorowsky and Moebius chose to sue Luc Besson claiming hed plagiarised various elements of their story in making the film The Fifth Element. They didnt win the case, and actually to compare the two is to do THE INCAL a great disservice, because if you were to make it into a feature film, it would probably run for about two days rather than two hours. In the aftermath of the case whilst giving an interview, probably trying to save face and possibly still smarting slightly, Jodorowsky informed the interviewer that he considered it an honour that somebody stole his ideas, taking care not to name Besson in person, of course. And that in any event, nobody creates stories as such, a writer is merely extracting common themes from our shared collective unconscious and bringing them to life, so how can there being any such thing as plagiarism? Hmm.
In fact theres all manner of anecdotes I could digress into regarding the creation of this work. For example they apparently didnt even work with a script, instead Jodorowsky would act out each scene to Moebius, who'd dash out a storyboard during each impromptu performance, and then theyd both subsequently apply the dialogue, but only after Moebius was happy with his final pencils. Its an unusual way of working but it actually serves, in my opinion to allow the visuals to steer the narrative, much like in THE AIRTIGHT GARAGE, except here Jodorowsky is then able to overlay the dialogue elements which comprise the metaphysical aspects of the journey. The art itself does change slightly throughout the work too, as each of the original six volumes had a subtle yet specific difference in terms of panel layout and direction. But unlike the final third of another collaboration MAD WOMAN OF THE SACRED HEART, it isnt sufficiently dramatic a change to unbalance the overall work, but in fact adds another layer to it, which I think is meant to represent the change or spiritual evolution in the central characters, and helps create a sense that the whole story is going somewhere, not in a narrative sense, but again, perhaps in a more metaphysical sense.
There's also a surprising amount of humour in the work as well, which I also think is key in ensuring the whole thing doesnt descend into some high space operatic jumble. Certainly the buffoonish, almost slightly odious main character, the cowardly private investigator John DiFool, has an almost Clouseau-esque element to him at times with his unfortunate ability to find himself in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time. And readers will certainly pick out much biting satire, particularly aimed at organised religious institutions and politicians and dispensed with much pie-in-the-face gusto.
I note at this point I also havent mentioned any real plot specifics, which I probably I should! Okay, very briefly then... Idiot investigator John DiFool who lives in a vast and squalid labyrinthine pit-city (think an inverted Mega-City One on a bad day), quite accidently comes into possession of the Light Incal (he has no idea what it is, of course), a venerated object which various competing factions such as the alien Bergs, the guerrilla rebel group AMOK, the Church of the Industrial Saints (also known as THE TECHNOPRIESTS), the city government themselves and various other idiots are all desperate to get their hands on. Their motivations for doing so, and their particular beliefs about what the Light Incal is are all rather different. John, looking for a safe hiding place for it whilst initially being pursued by pretty much all of the above, in a moment of apparent lunatic inspiration, hides it inside Deepo, his pet seagull, who is safely at home in Johns apartment. Things then begin to take a rather more surreal and unexpected turn when Deepo, empowered by ingesting the Light Incal, gains the power of speech and starts to preach to the other residents in Johns apartment block. Word quickly spreads about this mystic bird, causing a near-riot, and John is once again forced on the lam as all and sundry come after him with all guns, and indeed lasers and missiles blazing. Thats probably sums up just the first few pages, and really is just the absolute tip of the iceberg in terms of the sheer grandiose absurdity that follows.
I should also mention that there were a subsequent series of prequels called collectively BEFORE THE INCAL, which were released in English at the time. There were also two sequels called After The Incal and Final Incal, which were never released in English, and I havent read those at all. I am led to believe that Humanoids will be publishing them at some point in English which is fantastic news!