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Book Review < Back

The Adventures of Luther Arkwright

Credits: Written and Illustrated by Bryan Talbot
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Commentary

LUTHER ARKWRIGHT is probably the single most influential graphic novel to have come out of Britain to date. Bryan Talbot's later The Tale of One Bad Rat is an absolute symphony of the form, showing how to use all the tools correctly to make a work of stunning clarity and emotional power. LUTHER ARKWRIGHT invented the tools. ARKWRIGHT informs Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, me, and all the rest of us. It's probably Anglophone comics' single most important experimental work. Powered by the British "New Wave" sf of the Sixties, it looked for a way to tell its story in a challenging, information-rich and adult manner. And no-one else had done it. Not even the French comics of the Sixties and early Seventies, with their mad glee at bending the form, had provided the equipment.

So Bryan Talbot invented it.

He took from everywhere - the films of Nick Roeg, head shop culture, 19th Century magazine illustrated, medieval woodcuts, classical portraiture, Sixties collage, Mal Dean and the New Worlds illustrators, anything and bloody everything, and adapted it all to work in the special environment of comics. You can't just "steal" Nic Roeg's cutting - you have to work out how time breaks down in comics, the staccato sequential imaging as opposed to the continuous image, and devise a way to achieve the same effect in a different medium.

To correctly service his visionary sf story of a multiverse being destabilised by madmen tunneling through parallel Earths, and the emergent superhuman trapped in a backward Puritan alternative Britain who discovers the actual truth behind the insanity even as he achieves his own conceptual breakthrough, Bryan Talbot had to invent a vocabulary. One that was fifteen years ahead of its time.

Modern comics have now just about caught up with LUTHER ARKWRIGHT's techniques. But it remains one of the medium's richest works of science fiction, is as close to the definition of "novel" as anything on this site, and will always be one of the most explosive creative experiences comics have yet undergone. In all the ways that matter, there is still nothing else like LUTHER ARKWRIGHT.

-- Warren Ellis

 
Warren Ellis has written around thirty graphic novels, comics, prose fiction, journalism, videogames and screenplays. Sometimes he take photographs. He also creates and co-creates websites, including this one. He has awards and stuff, he's been in big magazines and newspapers, and he's been published in Nature, which he always mentions because it makes him laugh. He's on the web at warrenellis.com and diepunyhumans.com.

 


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