1 December 2010

The Adventures of Luther Arkwright is a stonking read

Confession time.

I first came across Luther Arkwright in the pages of Near Myths (the UK equivalent of the American Heavy Metal, which is a copy of the French Metal Hurlant) way back in the 70s. And now I've finally read the complete story.

The spur was various conversations with the author, Bryan Talbot, on a comics forum where royalties were raised and somewhere along the line Bryan called me a "Cheap Git". That's a badge of honour that I'm proud to wear!

Having bought the book, I was faced with seeing Bryan give a presentation (that story is to come) which compelled me to use a long train journey to actually read the thing. And what a great thing it is.

The Adventures of Luther Arkwright is one of the very best graphic novels that I have ever read. I'll try and explain why.

Let's start with the story itself. It's a steam punk, multi-verse, alternative history yarn that has echoes of Michael Morcock and Dr Who. That's not to say for one instant that Arkwright is derived from either of them, it's just that they all come from the same rich English stock.

The story starts in a Crystal Palace that still sits in Hyde Park, we have German and Russian empires carving out Europe between them, the descendants of Oliver Cromwell run England with an iron fist, and we have references to Bosworth and the like.

The story is very good but the artwork is outrageously gorgeous.

The drawings are dense and intense in a way that makes you read them slowly so that you savour the detail. The page layouts are challenging in a good way. Each panel is a story in itself and the styles of composition and drawing mix subtly across the pages and even on the same page.

There are solid black blocks, almost whimsical dream-like visions, earthy reality in fields and slums, and the complexity you would expect with futuristics marvels.

Picking one panel is hardly going to convey all this but I hope that this gives a flavour of the delights within the book. The composition is striking with the bold flag in the background and Luther is drawn with great detail. And this is just one panel on a page rich with similar images.

People, knowing my interest, quite often ask me to recommend comics for them to read so that they can try and understand the medium, and I usually suggest things like V for Vendetta and Sandman. Luther Arkwright now joins that select list of books that I would happily recommend to anybody. Try it yourself.

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