The Incal: classic, weird-ass French space-opera comic drawn by Moebius, reprinted in English

By Cory Doctorow

In 1981, comics writer Alejandro Jodorowsky teamed up with French comic artist legend Moebius and created a new French comic serial called The Incal, (allegedly salvaging a bunch of material Jodorowsky created for an aborted film adaptation of Dune). The Incal's story is barely comprehensible, a mystical, satirical space-opera that anticipates many of cyberpunk's tropes. But the story isn't the point of The Incal. Reading Self-Made Hero's new English edition of Incal is an exciting and delightful experience for reasons having nothing at all to do with the consistency or comprehensibility of its plot.

Rather, The Incal is a triumph of glorious, self-indulgent, eyeball-kicking science fiction high weirdness. Jodorowsky's plotting strategy seems to have consisted of making up the weirdest stuff he could think of, getting bored, chucking in a bunch of new, weirder stuff, and repeating as necessary. New plot elements are conjured up from thin air without explanation or rhyme or reason. No pretense is made to any kind of underlying physics or poleconomy or philosophy.

Instead, Moebius just draws the hell out of Jodorowsky's fevered notions, producing a strong and curious aesthetic sensation that is quite pleasing and a little freaky. The creators of The Incal sued The Fifth Element for allegedly ripping it off (they lost), and Fifth Element is a pretty good point of reference for what goes on in The Incal: innumerable stylish, semi-erotic, high-tech incoherencies sprayed at the reader at a furious pace, fast enough that the fact that none of it makes much sense hardly has time to sink in.

I feel like I should try to summarize the storyline here, but in truth, there's not much point. Wikipedia says "The story begins in the dystopian capital city of an insignificant planet in a human-dominated galactic empire. (The Bergs, aliens who resemble featherless birds and reside in a neighboring galaxy, make up another power bloc.) DiFool receives the Light Incal, a crystal of enormous powers, from a dying Berg. The Incal is then sought by many factions: the Bergs; the corrupt and decadent government of the great pit-city; the rebel group Amok; and the Church of Industrial Saints (commonly referred to as the Techno-Technos or the Technopriests), a sinister technocratic cult which worships the Dark Incal. Animah (an allusion to anima), the keeper of the Light Incal, seeks it as well."

And yeah, I guess that's what happens. But it's not particularly the point of this volume.

Marvel previously collected these comics in English, and then DC did it again (censoring the nudity and changing the really excellent coloring), and this latest edition from Self-Made Hero restores the colors and the boobies, as Moebius intended. It's very good, very funny, very odd, and awfully silly.

The Incal (Amazon US)

The Incal (Amazon UK)








Published 6:01 am Mon, Feb 13, 2012

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About the Author

I write books. My latest are: a YA graphic novel called In Real Life (with Jen Wang); a nonfiction book about the arts and the Internet called Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age (with introductions by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer) and a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.

37 Responses to “The Incal: classic, weird-ass French space-opera comic drawn by Moebius, reprinted in English”

  1. Better yet, West End Games produced an RPG based on the Metabarons license some time ago. It used the same D6 system as their Star Wars game – I’ve got a copy on my shelf but haven’t played it yet. With these being released in my native tongue I may have to give it a spin.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Metabarons_Roleplaying_Game

  2. “It just came to me.” That’s the best justification for a talking pterodactyl I’ve ever seen.

  3. IndexMe says:

    One of the absolutely fucking best comics I have ever read and one of the few I have reread over the years. I bent my teeth learning French on L’Incal Noir which I believe has had significant side effects! The art looks 10 times better than this low-res scan. Another good one is Le Theoreme de Bell (Bell’s Theorem) by Matthias Schultheiss.

    • Ito Kagehisa says:

       I never figured out any of the French, really – just looked at the pictures in Metal Hurlant and made up a story in my head.    I was overjoyed when the English version came out and printed translations of the Moebius and Druillet stuff in the early issues.

      • IndexMe says:

        Right – I understand it much better just from the English scan posted here. I what they call a mini-nuke here is just “un croc” (I thought a crocodile but it really means a tooth or hook..) Anyway looking forward to reading the English!

      • IndexMe says:

        p.s. I wonder if it is available in Japanese..

  4. Wilhelm Linder Rosén says:

    This is easily one of the best comics I have ever read. Love it x 894398347.

  5. Tom Laithwaite says:

    “comics writer Alejandro Jodorowsky”

    Did not know about the comics but his films are some of the weirdest things I have ever seen, and have the best directors commentary of any dvd. El Topo is one of the few films I watched twice in a row with / without the commentary.

  6. YamaraTheGod says:

    This must be a different translation than the one that appeared in Heavy Metal back in the early ’80s.

    For instance the last line in that falling splash page was more like “Bring me my gun, Kosicich. I shall not miss this time.”

    Barbara and I have been quoting “I shall not miss this time” around the house for decades.

    • Avram Grumer says:

      The Marvel translation (under their Epic imprint; I just went and pulled my copies off the shelf to see what the differences are) of that line reads “Koskish! Get me my rifle! This time, I’m gonna bag me one!” 

      Looks like it’s got the original coloring, and boobies. 

  7. monstrinho says:

    sounds a little bit like The Incal is to scifi what Requiem Vampire Knight is to horror. Beautiful what-the-fuckery that delights far more than anyone cares about the plot. I shall have to check it out.

  8. sultanica says:

    Speaking of French comics, perhaps one of you sharp minds out there can help me with the title of a short French comic. I believe there were 3 glossy page comics in the series. The covers were a more solid stock and the first in the series had a picture of a barbarian with a weapon, standing in a desert desolate landscape in front of a large spaceship. The story in the (3 book?) series revolved around the barbarians adventures defeating aliens, monsters and fending off space vixens.  I am not sure if the 3 book series ever made it to North America.

  9. Martin Mois says:

    Jodorowsky continued the weirdness using the Metabaron character from The Incal to create with Juan Gimenez, the Saga of the Meta-barons.

  10. zhuangzi23 says:

    Let’s not forget The Technopriests – another amazing collaboration by Moebius and Jodorowsky. 

  11. squidfood says:

    Ok, after 30 years I found while cleaning and dragged out my copies from parents’ attic literally last week.  Creepy. 

    I suppose it’s what to expect when living in an airtight garage…

  12. Rusty Stardust says:

    ‘Comics writer Jodorowsky’?! Uh. He’s much more known for his films. Holy Mountain is legendary. As is El Topo. Comics writer, indeed.

  13. serialcleaner says:

    Jodorowsky’s writing is not so weird or confusing. It just stands as the junction of “social” sci-fi (ala John Brunner, Norman Spinrad…) and New Age aesthetics and themes. Actually there really is quite a simple idea behind the Incal series, but the narration makes a very heavy use of archetypes, and hermetic or mystic symbolism, from tarot, Kabbalah, alchemy, Buddhism… that “blurs” the big picture. Still it can be deciphered, with the right references. Many keys are in the names: (e.g.: Incal = the INner (spiritual) CALL ; John Difool is obviously The fool, the tarot card, and takes the path called the Fool’s journey in tarot…) Many mysteries get an explanation in the book “Les mystères de l’Incal” (in French only: http://www.bedetheque.com/album-573-BD-Les-mysteres-de-l-Incal.html).
    If you can read French and love these books, I recommend reading “Avant l’Incal”, which narrates the youth of John Difool, written by Jodorowsky and drawn by Janjetov some years after the original series. IMHO it’s much better than the Technopriests (also drawn by Janjetov) and the Metabarons series, as the author’s writing has gotten somewhat repetitive in the 90’s and until now.

    • robdobbs says:

      It’s typical Jodorowsky.

      The Holy Mountain (a movie, financed by the Beatles and originally intended to star George Harrison until he dropped out because Alejandro wouldn’t change the anus-washing scene), deals with similar mystic symbolism. The main character is also The Fool, and resembles Jesus Christ. 

  14. Louis says:

    The Fifth Element did not rip the Incal off, nor did they steal it, they hired Moebius as an artistic designer and Jodorowsky got all mad that Moebius gave away some of his ideas and styles, for instance both the comic and the film are narrated to some extent by a super star clown talk show host etc…. not a case of theft, a case of not watching who you sell your ideas to! 

    If you want to see a real steal check Moebius’ ‘the long goodbye’ in which you can find the Imperial Droid from Star Wars floating in the background waiting to be seen by one of Lucas’ droid designers.

    • hub says:

      Not only Moebius but also Jean-Claude Mezière, that draw Valerian, another French science-fiction comic.
      Both artist have had an heavy influence on the movie visual aspect. And add to the mix Jean-Paul Gaultier for the costumes….

      Do you (Cory) have a reference to the lawsuit? I’d be curious.

  15. Avram Grumer says:

    I think my favorite crazy idea in the series is the Meta-Baron’s skill of explosion-riding. 

  16. Chad Essley says:

    Better to find the version that Humanoids publishing put out. Yellow cover in hardback / slipcase. But then again, only 999 were produced, so it might take a bit of luck and cash finding a copy. ( They put out an english ultimate collection of the Metabarons too in hardcover / slipcase, also limited to 999 copies. -$135.00 usd )

  17. Gordon Klock says:

    This thing pleasantly fried my brain in the 80s.On a side note,much of the plot incoherence seems to be Jodorowsky’s musings on various avenues of esoteric knowledge (giving the general weirdness a ‘profound’ facet,& increasing the WTF element considerably)…
    BTW: if you look for it you’ll notice that it is HEAVILY influenced by the Tarot…..
    (quite possibly the coolest ‘graphic novel’ I ever read)

  18. mennucc says:

    Hey, why isn’t anybody talking about http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airtight_Garage ?

  19. nezzyidy says:

    Why would Moebius sue about the Fifth Element when he himself designed the look of the film?

  20. LogrusZed says:

    My mother used to get Heavy Metal when I was really little and I eventually read this series through that magazine, I never really got what the hell was going on and I have re-read the series a few times in the past decade as well as related series (Meta-Barons, etc) and still have not got a fucking clue but this series is unique in that I continue to enjoy it despite this.

    This is one of the books that I always want to recommend to people but I’m afraid they’ll ask me what it’s about and I’ll have absolutely no way to explain it.

  21. breadteam says:

    Does anyone know how this compares to the edition put out by Humanoids?

    http://www.amazon.com/Incal-Classic-Collection-Alexandro-Jodorowsky/dp/1594650152/ref=pd_vtp_b_2

    I bought the Humanoids one a few months ago for about $40 … did I make a mistake? I haven’t had a chance to read it yet and I never saw the original version so I don’t know if the coloring is off.

  22. Mike Smith says:

    I recently bought Arzak L’Arpenteur, while in France. I had a try at translating it, but my french is pretty weak. I assumed that once I got back I’d find a ‘fan-translation’ online, but not found one yet. Does anyone know of one?

  23. simonbarsinister says:

     Yes, I want to know this also. How does it compare to the Humanoids edition?

  24. Arvel P says:

    I must agree with the difference in scripting as well, though from these shots the colors look good.  Some of my favorite old Heavy Metal’s have The Incal saga.  I also recently found a clip of the (aborted?) animated version of The Incal Light.  “It would have been glorious!” – Cdr Kor

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