Bryan Talbot's Legend Of Luther Arkwright Out Today & I Just Read It
The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, is considered by many to be the first British graphic novel. Written and drawn by its creator, the acclaimed graphic novelist Bryan Talbot, it was first serialised in the adult SF comic Near Myths in October 1978, featuring the character Talbot had previously introduced in The Papist Affair in 1976, a short strip for Brainstorm Comix where Arkwright teamed up with a group of cigar-chewing biker nuns to recover the sacred relics of St. Adolf of Nuremberg from "a buncha male chauvinist priests". But The Adventures was a far more serious and ambitious tome. Stories were later continued in pssst! magazine, interrupted in 1982, less than half complete, though republished in a collected edition. Between 1987 and 1989 Bryan Talbot completed the story, published as a series of nine titular comic books by Valkyrie Press, followed by a tenth issue containing articles about the history and production of the comic and some extended back story and character information. It was subsequently published in the United States by Dark Horse Comics.
The Michael Moorcock-inspired story of a reluctant soldier fighting across a multiverse of parallel Earths was inspirational to many creators, including Alan Moore, Dave Sim, Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman – who wrote a short illustrated poem, Luther's Villanelle for the comic's final issue. Marvel's 616? Look to the PARA numbers of Luther Arkwright every time we switch realities. And while Dave Sim does a fine line in Moorcock, it's Moorocok that came via Talbot's scratchy lines.
The original Luther won four Eagle Awards and the Society of Strip Illustration Award for Best Graphic Novel, was adapted into role-playing games and a 3-hour audio drama starring David Tennant as Arkwright. The second Arkwright graphic novel, Heart Of Empire, began publication by Dark Horse in colour in 1999, collected in 2001. Both books have been in continual print since they were first published. Since then, Talbot has worked on many other comics and graphic novels, including Alice In Sunderland, Dotter Of Her Father's Eyes and the Grandville series.
In 2019 Bryan Talbot promised that 2022 would bring a third Luther volume, The Legend of Luther Arkwright, 46 years after his original story first saw publication, to be published by Jonathan Cape in the UK and Dark Horse Books in the US. By my watch, it is now 2022, and Bryan has finished drawing the monster of a volume, a 220-page hardback black and white graphic novel, set 51 years after the events of Heart of Empire and across several very different parallel worlds, though Arkwright, being a homo novus, looks not a day older than when he first appeared. And it is published today in the UK.
The first book, appearing against the background of the rise of the British right, with the coming-to-power of the Thatcher Government and the National Front marching on the streets, was a forerunner of V for Vendetta. At the time, Talbot was doing voluntary illustrative work for his local Anti-Nazi League group. Now, with the right on the rise again, all over the world, the timing of the book is especially pertinent. And Luther returns like every British hero must, somehow embodying King Arthur, Sherlock Holmes, Dick Turpin, Dan Dare, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Robin Hood, James Bond, Sexton Blake, Doctor Who, The Saint, John Steed and, of course, Jerry Cornelius. However this is a pacifist drawn to acts of violence, so it's always going to get messy,
Heart of Empire told a different kind of adventure, told in a different style. The Legend of Luther Arkwright, is intended to be another stand-alone story in this tradition, while still maintaining continuity with the Arkwright mythos. But in doing to it harkens back to the original. It is not just dropping the colour of Heart Of Empire, but the art style deliberately rejects many of the advances that Bryan Talbot took with his style. Long gone are the long, thick character delineating brush lines with a myriad of details between. This is the scratchy pen work of the original, as if a murder of crows had been dipping their beaks and claws in the India ink and decided to go hunting for worms across the bristol board. But it's not just the lines, there has been a deliberate attempt to recapture some of the original posing, framing and visual approach. And it's infectious.
There is an energy and power to the work of a young man that gets polished away as the creator gets older, with more skills, bells and whistles on display. With The Legend, Talbot has managed to recapture and convey what on the surface feels like a lesser experience hand, but that belies what's actually going on, and he holds back his splashier style for explosions within the book. While also creating structural echoes through the book, one reality indirectly another, and then returning full circle to where that began. Every creator fears some young gunslinger coming along to take away their title, Bryan Talbot may be unique in doing it to himself.
And while there is a lot to say, there is a lot to do, the book balances horror and dread, with matter of fact addressing the reader head on to battle scenes, more Sin City than Born Again, they refuse to show sweeping"motion lines", but the freeze frame snapshots below show tiny touches used to draw the eye towards impact, blood spatter showing where the swords have been, even the line of the coat appearing in just the right place to do the job. This kind of touch shows how much Bryan Talbot has grown as a storyteller in the comic book medium, over the past fifty years. His work may have returned to those detailed lines, but they all serve a purpose, never there to just fill out space, and as a result, you get an engrossing read, time spent on the details only lets you appreciate the canvas it plays out across more.
And so we get a rollicking adventure with a vast cast of characters across time, dimension and space. The world may have finally caught up with mainstream multiverse storytelling, but Luther Arkwright was the source of much of that, and it is its right to bring that back home and do multiverse storytelling the way it should be done, as this volume goes into places and spaces that Luther has never been before. This really is everything, everywhere all at once in the madness of the multiverse and there really is no way home. There is a finality to this volume but, to be fair, there was with the previous two volumes as well.
Also, and this is an issue I am going to highlight, The Legend Of Luther Arkwright is insanely cheap for what you get, especially in these days of inflationary pressure. The black and white must have helped that, but even so. £20 with discount where you can find it for a 200-page oversized prestige-bound hardcover graphic novel, incredibly detailed with around 6-8 panels a page throughout is a bargain for what you get. You know that phrase "cheap at twice the price"? This time it's true.
I will be attending the launch of The Legend of Luther Arkwright graphic novel in about an hour at the London Cartoon Museum up the road from where I am sitting now, the kind of London member's club that Luther would have willingly blown up, just after going down the whisky list. Maybe I'll see you there. I just hope I get the chance to say everything I've just said to Bryan. Or I'll have to let him read it later. The Legend Of Luther Arkwright is published by Jonathan Cape today, as well as the Luther Integrale compiling the previous two volumes, and will be published in the US by Dark Horse at a later date.
And you even learn a few things too, even if it happens to be about fictitious parallel universes. But I've just read the end of Luther Arkwright, a comic I have been reading for a lifetime, and now I get to sit down and read it all over again. Who know, maybe the ending will have changed by the time I have read it. Or maybe I will have changed instead.
The Legend of Luther Arkwright: With an Introduction by Adrian Tchaikovsky
A new book in Bryan Talbot's award-winning science fiction graphic novels series, starring the legendary character Luther Arkwright The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, first serialised in 1978, is considered by many to be the first British graphic novel. Praised by many writers and artists, including Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Jean Giroud (Moebius) and Michael Moorcock, the ground-breaking, experimental adult SF story was a seminal work, inspiring and influencing many comic creators. Its sequel, Heart Of Empire, was published in 2001. Both books have been continually in print since they were first published. Set fifty years later, The Legend of Luther Arkwright is another stand-alone story. While still maintaining total continuity with the Arkwright mythos, it is a different kind of adult adventure. Pursued across multiple historically divergent parallel worlds, both utopian and dystopian, and facing a far superior adversary, Arkwright battles to save humanity from mass destruction; his only edge is his experience and force of will. The Legend of Luther Arkwright, beautifully drawn by master storyteller and Eisner Award-winning comics creator Bryan Talbot, is a milestone in British comics history.