According to J. G. Ballard, Fantasy and Science Fiction are the genres that, out of the whole production of the most part of the XX century, will, in time, become the most canonical. Fredric Jameson considers Science Fiction as a consequence of Historical Fiction. I believe both are correct, but I think that what matters is the fact that the works created under such genres are powerful enough, and that they have a link to the human experience. Science Fiction can be just a vehicle for whatever the creator wants to communicate: quirky exploits, futuristic visions, political manifestos, harsh critics of present times, high adventure, whatever. Welles, Bester, Asimov, Haldeman, Dick, Ellis, Remender, you can name whoever you want: all of them write under the same genre, and all of them have different things to say. And under Jodorowsky’s vision, sci-fi stories tend to deal with two primal subject matters: the search, and de cycle.
A few years ago, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s name was brought back under the public spotlight with the appearance of a documentary film about his failed motion picture project adapting Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi/space-opera novel Dune. It’s worth noticing that the documentary –directed by Frank Pavich and premiered in 2013– was called Jodorowsky’s Dune. That’s the kind of imprint this author imposes upon his works.
Before Tatooine, there was Arrakis. It has become commonplace among the followers of Jodorowsky’s works to wonder what the entertainment world’s shape would be like if this Dune had turned out to be a major success, instead of George Lucas’ galactic saga. Jodorowsky’s version of Dune –and, subsequently, The Incal– was spiritually linked to two of his films: El Topo and The Holy Mountain, both works being soaked in esoterical concepts and mystical imagery. But even though his Dune did not ingrain, it was a strong seed. Several mythical films spawned from its carcass, as some of the people that were linked during this failed enterprise eventually created some highly influential works: special effects’ director Dan O’Bannon penned down the script for Ridley Scott’s Alien, a film to which Moebius and H. R. Giger’s contributions were essential; O’Bannon also wrote the script for a short comic entitled The Long Tomorrow, which Moebius drew, and that came to be the basis for many of the aesthetic highpoints of Blade Runner, also directed by Ridley Scott –it seems like Scott’s works have more than a little Jodorowsky running through their veins–; finally, Herbert’s novel was eventually –and infamously– adapted to the silver screen by David Lynch In 1984, but by then Jodorowsky had already moved into comics and, by 1980, he had begun creating, alongside Moebius, what since then has become one of the milestones of European comics, The Incal.
Jodorowsky and Moebius –the alias under which Jean Giraud drew his more personal comics– had already met during the pre-production of Dune. Moebius created a great deal of concept art and the complete storyboard for the movie. And The Incal was not their first collaboration in the field of illustrated narrative: two years prior they had created The Eyes of the Cat. So by the time they began serializing The Incal in the legendary French magazine Métal Hurlant, both men knew each other’s strong points.
Let’s try making a short summary of The Incal’s intricate plot: at the beginning of the story, John DiFool –a short of gumshoe– is as passive a character as there has ever been one, and he begins his adventure with a big fall. He is thrown into a great acid pit set at the center of a Megacity in the planet Ter21, somewhere in a vast human galactic empire –The Incal’s universe is split into two galaxies, one human, and another Berg, a race of alien antagonists of the human empire–. But this is not even the beginning of the story, since it begins in media res: he is fortunately saved by a police craft. During the questioning he denies having ever received the Light Incal –a mighty crystal that serves as a guide for those who have faith in it–, from a dying Berg. But the reader knows better: during the course of a job accompanying a beautiful –although misleading– rich lady in her night out in the suburbs, he gets involved in a series of events that end with a mysterious big red being giving him the Light Incal before passing away, and revealing that it was a Berg in disguise. Now DiFool, the most unprepared man in the Galaxy, has become the keeper of The Incal, a crystal that has many reminiscences to Jorge Luis Borges’ Aleph, a mythological device of infinite possibilities and wisdom; the Light Incal seems to be one of the most precious objects in the galaxy, since it is ambitioned by many factions, that configure the shape of the tale’s different parties: the Bergs, the government of the Megacity, the rebel terrorist group Amok –led by the beautiful Tanatah–, and the Church of Industrial Saints, commonly referred to as the Techno-Technos , a group of worshipers of the Dark Incal lead by the TechnoPope and that are usually the main antagonists in the Jodoverse. Animah, the keeper of the Light Incal, seeks it as well. So DiFool must be on the run, along with his weird technological mini-pterodactyl pet, Beepo. During the journey DiFool and Deepo are joined by a strange group of adventurers: Animah, The Metabaron –a killing machine, an human with technological implants whose story will be told in The Metabarons–, Sunmoon, Tanatah –sister of Animah–, and Kill Wolfhead, with a task of saving the universe from the forces of the Dark Incal, including the Technopriests, who are planning to create the sun-eating Dark Egg.
The Incal tells the story of a search, specifically, the search for wisdom. The fact that the main character’s name is John DiFool is no small deal, being his name a pun on “The Fool”, the zero card –even though it is usually left unnumbered–in the Tarot deck, the first one of the Major Arcana. The Fool is the wanderer who adventures into the world, the one who falls into the world. That world, or its narrative, is built by the whole series of the Major Arcana. So, in many esoteric systems of interpretation –and it wouldn’t be daring to think that Jodorowsky’s notion is in tune with this idea–, the Fool is usually regarded as the central character of a story, who journeys through the great obscurities of life and the main human archetypes. This path is known as the “Fool’s Journey”. But DiFool’s name is not the only one with obscure connotations. Animah’s name is based on the concept of the anima, created by Swiss psychologist Karl Gustav Jung. The Animah is the feminine part of every male’s psyche.
Among all the technological and esoteric puns Jodorowsky plants along the story; among all the astonishing visuals and peculiar characterization, the center of the story is DiFool’s initiation, his spiritual journey, which, as it is usually the case with heroes–at least, that’s what Joseph Campbell has taught us–, he is reluctant to accept; he constantly wishes to return to his own ignorant reality of simple hedonistic pleasures. As the story progresses he keeps changing, becoming more heroic, which can be noted by his gradual physical changes, from his rabbit-like face at the beginning of the story to his handsomer final appearances. The Fool from the Major Arcana, and John DiFool’s incarnation in particular, can be related to Martin Heidegger’s existential concept of the Da Sein, the being that is projected onto existence.
As the forces of darkness are defeated, DiFool is carried before Orh, a golden divinity related to God, the Father, who tells him he must remember what he has been through. The story ends as it started, with DiFool falling down, beginning a cycle of the Eternal Return.
The Incal can be read as a standalone work, but it bred many series: Before The Incal, After The Incal, Final Incal, The Castaka, and, most notably –but not last–, The Metabarons. The Metabarons is an epic saga story. “Saga” is an overused word nowadays, since every fantasy author that writes more than one book in a series is said to have written a Saga. A Saga is a Nordern and German concept that deals with family issues, more concretely, with legacy issues, which is an essential concept in Jodorowsky’s therapeutic theory, the Psycho Magic. The Metabarons should be a matter for another essay, but let’s just say that Juan Gimenez’s artwork is astounding, and that the richness of its plot and the depth of thought it carries makes it a par with whatever big Space Opera the reader may think about. Oh, and it is just a lot of fun to read, too, filled with crazy alien razes, silly acronyms, and dark and troubling family disputes.
Perhaps Americans readers are less familiar with Jodorowsky and European comics than they are with English-language authors such as Grant Morrison. But let me tell you this: if you like Morrison, you’ll dig Jodorowsky –and let me go even further: if Frank Quitely has ever had a master, it would be Moebius–.
Just as a side note: readers should by all means avoid the re-coloured –and censored– editions that undertone Moebius’ magnificent drawing.