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Comic Book Review – Elric Volume 1: Elric Of Melniboné

The Michael Moorcock Library
Elric created by Michael Moorcoock
Script and adaptation by Roy Thomas
Art by Michael T Gilbert and P Craig Russell
Lettered by Tom Orzechowski
Original editor: Michael Friedrich
Collection edited by Tom Williams
Published by Titan Comics

Originally published in 1983/1984 by Pacific Comics, these six issues adapting the first Elric novel (Elric of Melniboné) have been enhanced and re-edited for this new hardcover collection, and make an interesting companion piece to the latest adaptation of the same material (the second volume of which I reviewed here). It is a testament to the strength of the original material that the 30 years since this adaptation hasn’t seen an effect on the story – it is more about the execution of the adaptation and what it says about the time in which it was created.

These comics stick closely to the novel, which sees emperor Elric of Melniboné betrayed by his crazy cousin Yyrkoon and Elric’s quest to save his beloved Cymoril from Yyrkoon, and does a grand job of evoking the spirit of the novel in both narration and art. Roy Thomas was the man who brought sword and sorcery to Marvel comics with his run on Conan the Barbarian, so he was a natural choice to adapt the book. His style matches Moorcock’s prose and dialogue, of which there were naturally more in comic books from 30 years ago, but it doesn’t affect the storytelling and seems apposite to the genre.

The most intriguing aspect, appropriately, is the art. The art is by Gilbert and Russell, but the collaboration is a fluid one – the first three issue credits have pencils and colours by Gilbert, and layouts, inks and colours by Russell, but the order is swapped around; the last three issues have ‘art & colours’ by both but with the order swapping each issue. There are some pages that feel more Russell than Gilbert – particularly the last third of the first issue, with the full page being used to tell the story with few other panels and art nouveau touches to the panel design – but it is difficult to see where one artist ends and the other begins. I’m more used to Russell’s art from his many collaborations with Neil Gaiman, and less used to Gilbert’s, whose Mr Monster stories are the only work that I’ve read; however, his style here is very different to what I remember of the Mr Monster stories. The fusion between the two produces a style that echoes what I consider an art style of the 1970s – elaborate, ornate, gothic, arch – and very different from the style common in superhero books from that time. There are times where the characters are grotesque, such as Yyrkoon and Dr. Jest the torturer, with strange close-up panels and the violence of the battle scenes. Then, there are times where art takes on an artistic beauty, large panels beautifully drawn to illustrate a small moment in time, or where the detail is in the composition and framing. The colours can veer into the slightly garish at times – strange pinks and yellows and greens that seem harsh on the eye, so much so that the limited drab palette of the chapter set in the plane of dimension that contains the city of Ameeron is something of a relief (although Rackhir the Red Archer’s costume stands out somewhat).

As a fan of Chris Claremont’s original run on The Uncanny X-Men, I was delighted to see in these comic books the lettering of Orzechowski – his ability to squeeze in many balloons of dialogue and narration into beautiful artwork, honed by years of working with the notoriously verbose Claremont, is put to good use here and helps to make the book an enjoyable read. The art of lettering is a little different nowadays, with computer fonts and the ability to change things more easily, so it’s a joy to see a gifted professional working in the old-fashioned style doing a marvellous job of making the lettering an unobtrusive part of the artwork.

This collection is an interesting artefact of a different time – Pacific Comics was one of the first publishers to back creator-owned work, although liquidation of the company would occur later in 1984 after the final original issue of Elric Of Melniboné was published, and this adaptation can be seen as part of the early wave of independent comic books that didn’t have to adhere to the Comics Code Authority (there is some nudity and the aforementioned battles are quite bloody) and which would pave the way for books in the mid-1980s that turned the industry around. If you’re a fan of Moorcock, Elric or the art of Russell and Gilbert, this is a book that you’ll want as part of your collection; for others, it’s an intriguing curio and cultural document.

Disclosure: this book was provided for review purposes.

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