It’s a great pity that one of the world’s most visionary directors, Alejandro Jodorowsky, has never been given the opportunity to helm a big science fiction movie. His work has always tended towards the widescreen while exploring the inner spaces of the human consciousness. Crazy Spanish epic berserkaloidity.
He came close, of course, and his years of preparatory work on a version of Dune that he promised would give all the effects of LSD without needing to take the drug are legendary in their own right. They spawned a documentary, and are famous for tangentially introducing HR Giger to Ridley Scott–a meeting without which Alien could have been a very different beast.
However, I’d argue that Jodorowsky has made his SF epic, a work of astonishing depth, scale and complexity. A work that was, for a while, so rare that fanboys would buy the French versions and learn the language just to be able to enjoy. A work that encompasses all of creation, the nature of good and evil, and includes amongst it’s characters the greatest bounty-hunter in the universe, a dog-headed freedom fighter and a concrete seagull.
You’ve got it, true believers. I’m talking about The Incal.
Working closely with his artistic partner Jean Giraud, the mighty Moebius, The Incal is an magnificent graphic novel, first published in six parts between 1981 and 1988. It’s a tale which frankly you couldn’t translate to any other medium. It’s too ambitious, too rich and strange. It hasn’t stopped people from trying, of course. Famously, Jodorowsky sued Luc Besson, claiming that the director had stolen many of the Incal’s ideas for The Fifth Element. It certainly feels much more like a film the Spaniard would make, a film that delights in high, dynamic weirdness. Coincidentally, it’s my favourite Besson film. There’s a connection here.
More and less recently (keep up, now) French animator Pascal Blais made the first push to developing an animated version of the story in the 80’s, getting as far as making a trailer.
(there’s a “new, improved” version out that looks like a motion comic, with none of the charm of the original. Hence the embed above with the VHS dropouts and offlocks. Analogue, baby.)
If nothing else, the trailer gives you a quick and dirty insight into the world of the Incal, the Jodoverse. It’s expanded and grown more dense over the years, becoming a space in which Jodorowsky can stretch out and play. A universe where good and evil interact in surprising ways, and cruelty can mean the same thing as kindness.
The spine of the story, the bones on which Jodorowsky dresses his world in strange flesh and coloured clothes, is the tale of John diFool. A private investigator with a knack for getting into trouble (when we first meet him he’s being thrown off a walkway into a mile-deep pit) he comes across the Incal, a mystical power source that is also the source of all good and evil in the universe. In the course of his journey, diFool is transformed, overcoming his base instincts and failings and (in a lovely allegorical scene early in the book) reconciling all the warring parts of his embattled psyche.
There’s a lot going on in here. The characters are all taken from the Tarot (John the Fool, duh) and have traits and meanings that spring from a much deeper well than your average SF archetypes. It’s as much a voyage of discovery for the reader as for diFool, and as enriching and transformative.
Then there’s the art. I’d call it the finest work that Moebius has ever committed to paper, taking the wildest flights of Jodorowsky’s imagination and running off with them to somewhere bizarre and beautiful. Every page is crammed with detail, and his depiction of a future dystopia is baroque, shocking and utterly absorbing. You could spend hours poring over his pages. I know I have.
Now, finally, publisher Self-Made Hero have released the English version in a gorgeous new oversized hardback. No more prowling second-hand bookshops for the Epic Illustrated reprints or old French versions. It’s the best chance we’ve had since the early 80’s to immerse ourselves in the Jodoverse. This one’s going right to the top of my wishlist.
If you’re at all interested in Jodorowsky and you haven’t read it, then you’ve missed one of the master’s major works. You owe it to yourself to rectify that mistake.