MY KINDA SCENE: Ben Peek on The Incal

Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius (Jean Giraud) open The Incal with their hero, John DiFool, being beaten on a street by three assailants. Unable to defend himself, he is taken to the edge and thrown off.

Here you have what I love about speculative fiction.

I love the detail of it, the depth, the sense of a near endless drop, the strangeness of it. Giraud’s art captures it all so easily, so casually, that you have no choice but to be impressed and envious. I love the macabre humour Jodorowsky brings, as well. The lazy acceptance of a suicide by the crowd, the promise of more and, in the following pages, the demand of one man for his gun so that he can try and hit DiFool before he falls into the lake of acid beneath.

Blueberry as drawn by Giraud

Blueberry as drawn by Giraud

Jodorowsky and Giraud met in the mid 1970s, when the former attempted to film Frank Herbert’s classic novel Dune. Born in Chile in 1929, Jodorowsky was, at this point in his life, a surrealist filmmaker, best known for the films El Topo and The Holy Mountain. Giraud, who was ten years younger than Jodorowsky, was born in Paris. He had come to prominence illustrating the western comic, Blueberry. That these two men from such different backgrounds would become huge and influential figures in science fiction is, in many ways, testimony to the subversive, unguarded nature of the genre.

For Dune, the two storyboarded the film in a huge, mammoth book of 1400 pages. You can see it in the documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune. The moment it appears you have the first premonition of why the film wasn’t made, but you cannot help but feel a sense of loss as you hear about Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, David Carradine, Pink Floyd, and the possible fourteen hours that the entire project would require to be completed with. You can feel it even more when you consider all bad versions of Dune that followed, not one of them with the psychedelic, transformative experience Jodorowsky sought to bring.

What came out of that failure, however, was The Incal. It would be followed by The Metabarons, The Technopriests, Before Incal, and Final Incal, to name but a few. The artists would change, but Jodorowsky would remain the author, pulling from the abandoned remains of Dune, and fitting it into his sprawling, ambitious space opera. Castrated men would impregnate their wives with blood, self mutilation would take place, women would be made into sons and give birth using their dead twin’s body – but in The Incal, in that cornerstone of Jodorowsky’s hybrid world, he and Giraud would construct a story of the self, of the galaxy being larger than the individual, where boys turn into spaceships, birds can talk, and a class R detective is forced to relive his fall, again and again, until he can remember.

Whenever I see Giraud’s page in The Incal, I remember all these things that follow, all those crazy, mind bending sights. I remember how uncompromising it feels. How it cares not if it is part of the genre it draws from, or if it is something else, from surreal, to new (and old weird), to new age, and environmentalist. To me, the mash of that strangeness is what makes science fiction and fantasy. It is the part of the genre that I love – and I see it in the buildings that John DiFool falls past, in the lake of acid that he rushes towards.

Fall into it, and the world will be stripped away.

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Ben Peek is the author of The Godless and Leviathan's Blood, out in paperback on 20 October.