Reading Alejandro Jodorowsky’s legendary graphic novel ‘The Incal’ is no easy task. Here I fancy myself a science fiction super buff with a brain, yet even I found it a challenge to comprehend a lot of the situations and plotlines in the book. This is not to say that it’s completely incomprehensible, what I mean is that this is the kind of book you have to read on various occasions to fully grasp. It’s the kind of graphic novel you should read once, without trying to make sense of it. Hopefully some of its essence should transfer onto your brain on your first read, then when you read it again, keep adding bits of information to what you already know, that’s the best way to go about it. The thing is that The Incal is a barrage of information, an avalanche of science fiction awesomeness. An amalgamation of mystical artifacts, alien races, political intrigue, god like beings and amazing outlandish vistas.One thing is undeniable, this graphic novel, which is really a compilation of comics that were printed separately through a period of seven years (1981-1988), is a juggernaut of a masterpiece, a work of art with a resounding impact on anyone who ventures into its pages. Each page is a gift from the comic book gods known as Moebius and Jodorowsky.
On the left is Jodorowsky, sandwiched between is a Saudukar Warrior from Jodorowsky's defunct Dune film, to the right, one of the films producers
Alejandro Jodorowsky is one of my favorite persons in the world, not just for his films which I adore, but also because of who he is as a person. When I hear him talk in say, the documentary called Jodorowsky’s Dune’s (2014), it’s like I’m listening to a kindred spirit. A true ateur, a realist, a humanist, Jodorowsky has always used his art to comment on humanity, our craziness, our subconscious preoccupations, our collective worries and thoughts. This is why I adore every single one of his films. Yet I had never read any of his comic books, I just had to experience this other area of his art. So I started at the beginning, with The Incal, a graphic novel that is the foundation for ‘The Jodoverse’ a series of comics written by Jodorowsky. Interesting how it was his frustrations with Hollywood that turned Jodorowsky to comics. You see, once upon a time, Jodorowsky attempted with great enthusiasm, to make a major Hollywood science fiction film based on Frank Herbert’s Dune. It was going to be the end all, be all of science fiction films. He had the conceptual art, the actors, the special effects technicians, he just needed the millions. Sadly, Hollywood got cold feet and slammed the door on his face. I’m almost 100% sure Hollywood producers saw him as a quack, a nut job, an unreliable director who was probably going to make a movie that was going to be unmarketable and over budget. But what did they know, right? As Jodorowsky himself always says, all geniuses are a little crazy.
A Young Jodorowsky
The comic book world was a world where Jodorowskys imagination was not limited by budgets or back stabbing producers. Here was a medium in which his imagination could go anywhere it wanted, and boy did he take it places! His writings include: Before The Incal, The Incal, The Final Incal, Metabarons Genesis: Castaka, Megalex and The Technopriests, among many others. The good thing about Jodorowsky’s comic books is that he always partners up with amazing artists, which is what we’re here to talk about today. Jodorowsky partnering up with Jean Giraud (a.k.a. Moebius) to produce The Incal, a seminal work in comics, and by seminal I mean you’d better read it at some point in your life, there's still nothing like it out there. It's the story of an anti-hero named John Difool who suddenly comes upon a magical artifact known as The Incal. Once he obtains it everybody in the universe wants it for their own dark purposes. In essence it is a story of ultimate evil vs. ultimate good, about the ambiguity of life and about the unpredictability of life, sometimes you do what you got to do, whether you planned it that way or not.
The story behind The Incal is that Jodorowsky took concepts he had prepared for his adaptation of Dune and jam packed the The Incal with them. I honestly don’t see a lot of Dune in The Incal, save for the fact that the good guys are escaping an evil government and that they have to do something to stop it, I'm thinking he put more of the conceptual stuff he had planned for Dune into The Incal, spaceships, buildings and the such. The real issue here though is how much The Incal has influenced filmmakers and comic book artists from all over the globe. One such filmmaker is Luc Besson, the director behind The Fifth Element (1995). The dirt on The Fifth Element is that Luc Besson ripped off Jodorwsky’s The Incal. I’d say this isn’t entirely true. Sure there’s some similarities, you’re definitely going to see them. But in my opinion, many of these similarities are visual in nature and don’t necessarily subscribe themselves to the plot. An interesting aspect of this whole Incal/Fifth Element issue is that Moebius actually worked as a conceptual artist for Besson on The Fifth Element; so it’s doesn’t really surprise me that Moebius’s style is all over the conceptual part of The Fifth Element. The similarities bothered the folks at Humanoid Press, the company that prints The Incal in Europe, so they sued Luce Besson for supposedly stealing ideas from The Incal for his film. The question is :did Besson deserved to be sued?
Moebius worked as a conceptual artist on some of the best filmmakers. For example, he worked on Willow (1988), Masters of the Universe (1987), Tron (1982), Little Nemo Adventures in Slumberland (1989) and The Abyss (1989). He also conceptualized many of the flying cars, buildings and characters seen on The Fifth Element, which is probably why The Incal and The Fifth Element share a few similarities. First time I saw The Fifth Element (1995) in theaters back in 1995 it seemed so new and so fresh to me, I had never seen anything like it before, in fact, I went to see it a record setting five times to the theater! I haven’t done that for a film in a while, my limit nowadays is three times if I really love a movie. It was only years later, after I started reading Moebius’s work that I learned about what an influential artist he was and about how the reason why I loved The Fifth Element so much was because it was partially conceptualized by Moebius.
Here’s a list of the similarities:
The novel starts with John DiFool, the protagonist of the story, being thrown from the balcony of a building. On his way down he has to avoid a zillion flying cars as he makes his way down to the grimiest parts of the city, the lower levels. This happens in The Fifth Element when Leeloo jumps from a building also having to avoid a zillion flying vehicles on her way down to the most uninhabitable parts of the city. The architecture in these scenes is extremely similar to certain images from The Incal. But of course, Moebius was the artist behind both projects; it makes sense that they’d have some similarities from a visual standpoint.
In The Incal, the main character is a man called John DiFool. He’s a private detective, but also your typical loser type, hence the play of words on his name. It sounds like John ‘The Fool’. He doesn’t want to be a hero, in fact, he’s an anti-hero. He saves the day anyway, but he is constantly finding a way to avoid responsibility, he seems to only want to live for fun. John Difool likes smoking, drinking and what he refers to as “homeo-whores”. In The Fifth Element the main character is also a loser type, he lives in a dingy little apartment filled with crap, he looks, un-kept. He doesn’t take shit from anybody, but he also doesn’t give a shit. He’s a taxi driver about to lose his job (and his license) because he has way too many parking tickets, yet ends up being the films hero anyways. Korben ends up making out with a god like being, same as John DiFool in The Incal.
In The Incal there’s this black liquid that’s taking over everything which is referred to as "The Great Darkness". It is turning everybody evil. Our hero John DiFool and his friends must battle it in order to save the universe, they all end up battling it together. In The Fifth Element a black planet keeps approaching the earth and if Korben Dallas doesn’t find The Fifth Element and activate it, the black planet will destroy the earth. Korben and his friends end up helping him uncover the powers of The Fifth Element. Also, same as in The Incal, the black evil takes liquid form. It can be seen two times during the film, dripping from the forehead of the films villains.
One of the chapters in The Incal is actually called ‘The Fifth Essence’, this should be enough for anyone to see the influence.
Above, a scene from The Fifth Element (1995) and below a scene from 'Harry Canyon' one of the stories on Heavy Metal (1981)