Sunday, February 13, 2011

Garen Ewing – ‘The Rainbow Orchid, Volume Two’

It seems a long time since volume one of The Rainbow Orchid, but actually it is only eighteen months since I read it. The branch of Borders just down the road used to stock it, along with other comic albums in the same vein, and I had fun for a while (until Borders collapsed, three months later) catching up with Cinebook’s reprints of Lucky Luke and Iznogoud. There is an interesting interview with Garen I heard around the same time, which shows the range of his influences. It led me to Edgar P. Jacobs’ The Yellow M, and a volume of Chaland’s Freddy Lombard stories, which was much cheaper in the French edition, and a bookmark reveals that I only made it to page nineteen. But that was far enough to notice that, although the style of art is looser, Freddy looks just like Tintin. There is nobody like him in The Yellow M, but there the art is very close to Hergé’s. The plot is pure hokum, Sherlock Holmes meets Scooby Doo (taking in the crown jewels, ancient Egyptian iconography and mind control), but the artwork is meticulous, delighting in architecture and tailored clothing. T., who is involved in publishing The Rainbow Orchid, was careful to describe Garen’s influences in terms of the ligne claire style, rather than Hergé alone, which I went ahead and ignored in my post (which, er, isn’t very good, is it?) but he was right, of course. The Rainbow Orchid is a bid to broaden British interest in this French style of comic book beyond Asterix and Tintin. It would be lovely to see it happen. You want to help out with that, Waterstone’s?

Volume one ended with our heroes, Julius Chancer (‘historical research assistant’), Lily Lawrence (‘silent film actress’) and Nathaniel Crumpole (‘movie publicity agent’), being flown from France to Karachi in a small biplane by a stunt pilot. They have narrowly escaped the clutches of Urkaz Grope’s henchmen, who must stop them from finding the impossibly rare rainbow orchid. Lily’s father, Lord Reginald, has foolishly bet his title and estate on the result of an orchid competition, and Grope already has a black orchid in his possession. Lord Reginald may have been drugged before he agreed to the bet – there is plenty of hokum in this story, too. With the scene already set, volume two is free to concentrate on the thrill of the chase, and plot developments are more subtle. It is suggested that the military want the rainbow orchid for their own purposes, and there are various dark hints about Grope’s ultimate goal. He doesn’t need the money – crates and trucks emblazoned ‘Grope Bananas’ and ‘Grope Grain’ in Europe and India indicate that he has business interests everywhere. He has the journalist William Pickle kidnapped, then has his growing army of guards dress up in knights’ tunics and gold-coloured masks, like he’s accumulating an army of medieval cybermen. There is some nice character development too – a slight hint at flirtation between Julius and Lily, and Nathaniel Crumpole’s burgeoning interest in animals. He buys a camel, rides an elephant and sneaks a snow leopard cub into his knapsack, antagonising its mother somewhat. No longer the cynical Hollywood opportunist of volume one, he has become an endearingly loopy presence.

The artwork is beautiful, as before, maybe more so. The first few pages take us to the Natural History Museum, where the architectural grandeur of the first two panels slips without dialogue into an awkward meeting between a spy and the man he is following. Stuffed gorillas, fish and dolphins appear to gaze out from behind glass, irrelevant to the sense of the scene but giving it an edgy absurdity whilst gently plugging curation (if the subtext of the last volume was the media creating its own story, this time it is the folly of failing to preserve historical artefacts). The palette, surprisingly, sticks to its muted browns and dark reds across the shift from Europe to India. Most of the Indian action takes place outside, and architecture is replaced with craggy mountains which remind me of nothing so much as King Ottokar’s Sceptre (sorry!) There is a train in India, too, which seems to be a favourite subject of Ewing’s, but here it is shown piecemeal, and from all sorts of interesting angles. Volume one’s monolithic panels of A Train, A Ship, A Car, An Aeroplane, have largely been phased out in favour of smaller panels which do more than one thing at once, and are better at moving the story on. I wonder where it will go next?


Richard said...

I REALLY think you're going to enjoy volume III!

Chaland's an acquired taste. I ploughed through the early stories, not really getting the point, until I got to his last work, F-52, which I think is one of my favourite comics ever. It's mystery story set on a futuristic plane, it's amazingly atmospheric and downright creepy. Tip me the wink and I'll send it over...

Chris said...

I'm sure I will!

I didn't dislike Chaland at all, it was just the language barrier / laziness which stumped me.

Blog Archive