The Incal by Jodorowsky & Moebius is a bizarre and visionary Space Opera, Review
The Incal is a graphic novel by Moebius and Alejandro Jodorowsky written between 1981 and 1988, an epic that mixes skillfully elements of science fiction, grotesque, esoteric, and social criticism.
The Incal is the perfect synthesis of modern science fiction, Moebius’ bewitching stroke, Jodorowsky’s narrative talent, and South American magical realism, anticipating many of the elements developed by later science fiction works from both a graphic and thematic point of view: Blade Runner, Akira, Alien, The Fifth Element, all in some way are indebted to this dreamlike and revolutionary work.
The graphic novel is a complex work where the destinies of a handful of more or less voluntary protagonists are intertwined with a conspiracy to destroy the galaxy. The story takes place in the distant future, a baroque, contradictory, and high technology era. The known universe is threatened by an evil and almost omnipotent entity, the Darkness. To face the danger, a mystical force dormant for thousands of years awakens, and John Difool is chosen to generate the creature destined to save the cosmos.
The first chapter of Incal was published in France in 1981 while the last was published seven years later. The Incal in all is made up of 311 pages which are able to define an entire universe overflowing with ideas and literary inventions, which involve the reader in a vortex of oneiric.
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The story begins in the slums of a great underground city, more precisely in Suicide Alley, so-called because the area provides convenient access to a chasm on the acid sea that dissolves everything where desperate people go to throw themselves among the indifferent looks of the local citizens. The protagonist, an R-rated detective named John Difool, is beaten up and thrown into the well by a gang in order to force him to talk. During his fall, John Difool goes through the various vertical levels that make up the underground city, unleashing as every time someone jumps, an epidemic of suicides. John is rescued at the last moment by the criminals, but their aircraft is intercepted and shot down by the cybo-cops who bring John Difool to the police station to question him about what happened. Slowly, John recovers his memory and reconstructs the events that led him to be kidnapped by the criminal group. The day before, John had been hired by the aristos Nimbea Supra Qinq (Tanatha) as a bodyguard to escort her to the slums of the Red Ring to have a good time.
The Red Ring rises in the heart of the low levels of the city, a place of unmentionable pleasures, torrid nights, and emotions. In the Red Ring, everything is allowed, there are no prohibitions.
When Nimbea encounters Kill Wolfhead, the situation escalates. After a daring escape, John ends up in a sewer pipe where he encounters a dying mutant who hands him a mysterious object, the Incal, claiming that the entire Universe depends on him. In the background of the story develop a series of revolts against the central power constantly filmed and commented by the petulant host of a galactic news program for the public nailed on their sofas to watch the revolution live.
The story opens with a jump into the void, an archetype for the beginning of the transformation. However, despite the various levels of reading, and the metaphorical language, the Incal is a totally accessible story, which does not need complicated interpretations to be enjoyed. Moebius delineates an ultra-detailed universe while also taking advantage of some of the work done for Dune, where surrealist features sit alongside science fiction design. Jodorowski’s dialogues alternate between magniloquent moments and very light and comical ones. The ridiculous and the sacred are constantly mixed during the reading of the story.
The Incal is a constantly evolving work, fluid and transformed by unseen forces. The physiognomy of the protagonist becomes more caricatured or more realistic depending on the needs of the narrative. The Incal infact continually shifts the narrative register. The grotesque alternates with an almost messianic style within a few plates. John Difool’s initiation, the messianic parable, its rise to the divine, is never detached from humor.
Within the Incal, Alchemy has a special role. “Each one of us, however mediocre we may be, carries the seed of divinity in our spirit, in our soul, in our unconscious. This seed coincides with the rebis (the double thing) of the alchemists.” The black Incal and the light Incal refer in fact to the Nigredo and the Albedo, the two first phases of the Great Work, that is the manufacture of the philosopher’s stone. The two chapters What lies beaneath and What is above referred to a formula from alchemical literature, according to which “What lies beneath is like what is above, and what is above is like what lies beneath”. The chapter Quintessence, on the other hand, refers to Quintessence, that which completes the four elements. John Difool breaks down the four elements in the Black Incal, immediately following his introduction to the Incal. The Quintessence in alchemy symbolizes gold.
In the Incal there are innumerable esoteric influences, from alchemic literature to Kabbalah, to the Book of Changes, the classic of Chinese literature, from which the idea of the square of the earth, which is below, the entry into the unconscious, and the square of the sky, which is above, the ascent towards superconsciousness, is taken. Jodorowsky, by his own admission, does not believe in esotericism but uses it as an “element of great beauty […] All esotericism is a great dream. The unconscious manifests itself looking for a consolation to life.”
John Difool is a much more complex character than he might appear. He is at once a Class R licensed private investigator, and the savior of the universe, one and four, the archetype for 78 billion Berg lives, the missing element to synchronize the human dream universe to respond to the threat of darkness.
Upon returning from the Cannes Film Festival, where was announced the start of production of the monumental colossal Dune, which would have seen the involvement of Mick Jagger, David Carradine, Orson Welles, Udo Kier, and Salvador Dali (hired for 100. 000 dollars an hour and with many conditions), with a soundtrack of unreleased pieces by Pink Floyd, Gong, Sun Ra, and Tangerine Dream, Jodorowsky and producer Michel Seydoux decided to stop at a gas station for coffee. While they were resting, Jodorowsky flipped through a few comics put on display on the shelves. The first of these comics was signed by Moebius. Jodorowsky thought that his style was perfect for the costumes and scenery of Dune. The second one was signed by Jean Giraud, author of the popular western character Blueberry, and he thought it was perfect to do the storyboard, without realizing that he was the same person. Jodorowsky asked Moebius to fly immediately to Los Angeles where he was supposed to meet Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey) and then work on the storyboard.
After Moebius, British veteran Chris Foss and a young Swiss painter in his first major experience, H.R. Giger joined his team. The fourth member of the team would become Dan O’Bannon, a special effects expert eager to relaunch himself as a screenwriter.
Either way, the project was too big and too expensive to pull off. Over two million dollars was spent on pre-production alone, forcing backers to pull out even before filming began.
Many elements of their work later flowed into a number of Hollywood science fiction productions such as Ridley Scott‘s Alien written by O’Bannon and into which many of the concepts developed by Giger for Dune would flow.
“Giraud made 3000 drawings, all marvelous… The script of Dune, thanks to his talent, is a masterpiece.”
In Paris, O’Bannon began drawing a comic book to occupy his long free hours. It was a bizarre noir set in a chaotic city of the future. Moebius was thrilled and asked O’Bannon if he could try to draw it. The story was renamed The Long Tomorrow and was published in 1977 in the French magazine Métal Hurlant.
Both William Gibson and Ridley Scott have said that that short story was the basis of the Blade Runner aesthetic, and George Lucas listed it among the works that influenced Star Wars.
After the creation of the comic The Eyes of the Cat, the collaboration between Moebius and Jodorowsky grew stronger.
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