Tuesday 29 June 2010

The Spawn of Herge U.K. Style - Garen Ewing and the Fabulous "Rainbow Orchid"

I can remember when as a lad I was captivated by Tintin. In fact this seduction preceded even my long lasting love affair with U.S. comics. The catalyst for this captivation was somewhat unlikely, but in the sixties on U.K. TV there was an animated series of adaptations of Tintin. This wasn't the animations that we are now much more familiar with, no these were truly dreadful affairs which involved a lot of re-writing, so that they could be chopped up into five minute segments and televised on a daily basis.

But at the time I was hooked on animation and I obviously at least sub-consciously felt that perhaps, if I could up my game with my French studies I'd stand a better chance blagging a job with the Tele Hachette and Belvision Studios than I would with the studio in Southern California, located on Hyperion Avenue aka The Mouse Factory aka Walt Disney Studios.

But despite the terrible animation of the sixties Tintin, I was I'll admit more than a little impressed with the atmosphere that was injected into these episodes. Silhouettes and dark shadows added a nicely 'noire' atmosphere to the goings on of the rubbery troupe and the stentorian voice with it's "quaintly" Franklin Delano  Roosevelt accent launching each episode with the memorable; "HUUUUURRRRRRRGAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYY'S ADVENTURRRRRRRRRRRRRRSSSSSS
ensured that your attention didn't wander. Not that it had much time to wander, for before you knew where you were the stentorian voice of late President Franklin Delano Roosevelt would be blasting in your ears again;



I was intrigued to find the source of these stories and did dimly remember seeing some of the books from time to time in our local W.H. Smiths. So I eventually located and bought a couple of them and was instantly hooked to the extent that I even attempted to produce my own version based around a comic strip version of Sherlock Holmes, it barely staggered past the first page and looked truly awful in comparison with the real deal but I was nevertheless inspired.

Evidently a similar Damoscean conversion to the wonders of Herge and "La Ligne Claire", befell the young Garen Ewing but unlike my own artistic odyssey Garen stuck with the vision and managed to not only refine his work, so that he convincingly absorbed the "ligne claire" style without becoming a slave to it but also and this is equally impressive, managed to develop his writing skills so that he could write and draw his own adventures, which his recently published "Rainbow Orchid - The Adventures of Julius Chancer" so impressively demonstrates.

Along with the appearance of many of the strips from The DFC in album format Garen Ewing's "Rainbow Orchid" represents a rare moment in UK publishing when the much vaunted comics revolution is made a reality through the vision and determination of the creators involved.

No one has shown more vision and determination in this regard than Mr Ewing. The gestation of "The Rainbow Orchid" is a long one and is documented by Garen in his long running "Rainbow Orchid" blog, which is a real internet delight, here you can get sneak previews from "RO" as well as snippets on the history of this remarkable project, interviews with Garen and even film of Garen' s working procedure. There really is nothing quite like it that I've yet uncovered out there in cyberville and the site itself is beautifully designed - it is the ultimate backup resource for "Rainbow Orchid" fans as well as being a fantastic ongoing promotional tool for the series.

In an era when we are told that "the graphic novel" has come of age, the evidence for this paraded through through the broadsheets being a succession of brilliant but inevitably angst ridden explorations of hitherto taboo subjects often involving harrowing journeys of self exploration, it is therefore really good to see that there are still comic creators out there who are determined to provide broadly based entertainment for as wide an audience as Herge's works have commanded for over half a century.

The Rainbow Orchid is in every respect just such a book, the premise is satisfyingly simple yet compelling, involving a race to secure a rare and beautiful orchid with the young research assistant Julius Chancer cast as the lynchpin of the proceedings. The books are much in the manner of Herge's Tintin and also Edgar P. Jacobs "Blake and Mortimer" adventures. Meticulously researched by Ewing, the cast of characters are beautifully delineated as is the time frame that they occupy which is the post war world of the nineteen twenties, where international travel was still the province of the very wealthy, but achievable within a sufficiently short time frame to allow The Rainbow Orchid Adventure to transpose itself across a variety of settings with dynamism and conviction, it's wonders to unfold.

I will resist the urge to tell you more as I don't want in any way to undermine the pleasure that you will derive through getting acquainted with Julius Chancer, Lily Lawrence and the delectable Evelyn Crow, suffice it to say you won't be disappointed and like me you will find yourself wanting more from Mr. Ewing who as I type this is working on the final part of this exceptional trilogy.

Meanwhile Volume 1 of "The Rainbow Orchid" is available from Amazon OR from the artist direct (with an added bonus!), meanwhile the second volume in this remarkable series is due to be published on the 5th of July


  1. Spookily I just ordered this last night been meaning to get around to it for ages. Looks great and it's nice to see a genuinely British graphic novel doing so well.

  2. I couldn't agree more, both about the brilliance of The Rainbow Orchid and the need for more such graphic novels that are honest adventure stories for a broad audience. This is the only way the UK gn market will achieve breakout beyond a narrow circle of earnest cognoscenti and intellectual "condescenti".

    I'm surprised there hasn't yet been a release date for Tomb of Nazaleod in book form - still very eager for that!

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  4. P.S. No one as yet has commented on the anomaly I rather perversely included in today's posting.

    C'mon chaps some observational skills are required, or are you all still stuck in the Dupont et Dupond School of Sleuthing???

  5. Great to hear you've ordered a copy James, you'll be in the fortunate position of being able to read the second installment straight after you've completed Book 1.

    Dave, I really think you've hit the nail on the head with the term "intellectual condescenti". It's something that all of us need to fight against as much as I laud and applaud any publicity for graphic novels and comics in general, I'm very concerned that there is a very small but very influential coterie of opinion formers who are busily informing the world at large "that comics have grown up" and backing this assertion up with the kind of examples I have already cited. The medium needs to be much more inclusive and the kind of work that appeared in The DFC really represented this ideal.

    And yes! I think Garen's "The Tomb of Nazaleod", would be a wonderful addition to the shelves and the ideal companion to The Rainbow Orchid series.

  6. I was trying to find a sound clip of that introductory TV announcement, which is quite similar to how Jimmy Lennon Jr used to proclaim Mike Tyson's entry into the ring. Stirring stuff for a young lad!

    Wrt the anomaly you mentioned, Peter - is that the fact that the sample page is taken from an unfinished Tintin book?

  7. "...and the stentorian voice with it's "quaintly" Theodore Roosevelt accent launching each episode"

    I take it that's the anomaly you were referring to Peter? Presumably Teddy was sitting on his horse at the same time! :-)

    p.s. - OK you've finally convinced me to order RO, though I've been meaning to do so for some time anyway. Who knows? - these may well be collectors' items in years to come, when current reprintings will advertise as many other titles in the series as today's Tintin books do!

  8. Yes indeed Dave, but it's actually slightly more involved than that. The story Tintin and Alph Art was left unfinished at the time of Herge's death and although the pencils for the first few pages were quite well resolved the rest of the pages were still at their very vestigial stage and hadn't been refined at all.

    Plus the story is incomplete with page 42 being the last page and even that is only a few frames.

    A few "unofficial" attempts were made to finish the book by fan artists including this one by Yves Rodier a French Canadian who was only 17 at the time.

    Whilst not quite in the same league as the master it's a really creditable effort and Bob De Moor (Herge'e assistant) was impressed enough to consider working up an authorized version with Rodier - which ultimately came to naught.

    Copies of the book do go for silly sums on Ebay but it's also out there in it's entirety in cyberville.

    Well worth checking out.

  9. No Phil, hmmppff!! I'm a bit disappointed as I thought when I posted this "Phil's bound to spot this Herge pastiche".

    But you're right t'was Franklin D. Roosevelt I was thunking of.

    That wasn't an anomaly that was a Count Arthur Strong moment.


  10. ...Waaaahhh! No fair inserting a pink halibut to distract people from the genuine red herring!!!

    Loved your frighteningly accurate imitation of the opening/closing voiceovers for the Tintin TV series though: the weird thing about those 5 minute episodes that appeared before the 6 O'clock News in the sixties is that they must have been one of the only shows in history where the actual credits lasted longer than the new material. On the subject of Tintin btw, I've always wondered why Hulton didn't continue the largely-forgotten serialization of the character that appeared in early issues of Eagle. It's probably just as well in the long run, however, as it left the field clear for Methuen's superior translations a few years later. (Incidentally, have you ever seen the special editions they published during the 1980s under the title of 'The Making of Tintin', each containing pages of background information by Benoit Peeters? I really wish they'd gone on to re-issue the whole series in this format! )

  11. I think the topping and tailing of those Tintin episodes with "FDR's" voiceover was what made those things so special Phil, you can watch some of those shows on YouTube and they come complete and are truly, awful.

    Much better with old FDR!

    I thought those special editions were a nice idea and I think you an still pick them up relatively inexpensively.

    Which is more than can be said for the gi-normous Moulinsart Editions by Tintin scholar Phillipe Goddin, five volumes published so far, each of which weighs a ton and ensure that you won't see much change from £100.00.

    The series has been dramatically edited and translated for English readers and is highly recommended if you want to find out more about Herge and his working methods.

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