Leviathan: graphic novel of a gigantic cruise ship lost at sea for 20 years

201204251112The great cruise ship Leviathan launched from England in 1928. The mile-long luxury liner is a floating city, complete with tall concrete buildings (in the Art Deco style of the Chrysler Building), parks, a railway, a zoo, and 28,000 passengers.

Its intended destination was New York, but at some point in the the journey the ship got lost at sea. For the last 20 years, Leviathan has floated silently in curiously lifeless water "with no sign of land, nor even sun or stars. By day, the sky is a sick, bilious yellow. At night, a black suffocating blanket. Even the ocean is wrong here. Stale... stagnant."

The passengers haven't exactly gotten comfortable with the situation, but they have adapted into a micro-society that allows them to survive. Some, of course, are better off than others. The first class passengers have become the ruling class, and get their choice of exotic cuts of meat from animals bred in the zoo. When second-class passengers are ordered to come to the first-class section, they are required to hang "2nd Class" signs around their neck. The hero of the story is second-classer Detective Sergeant Lament, formerly of Scottland Yard. The middle-aged officer has been ordered by the Leviathan's captain and the cold-hearted owner of the cruise line to track down and apprehend a murderer who has been killing first class passengers by flaying them alive. Rumors are that the killer is a "stoker," a mythological boogeyman believed to have be concocted by the Leviathan's lower class passengers to frighten their children into obedience.

To find the killer, Detective Sergeant Lament has to go below deck, where the steerage passengers are imprisoned. The dank below-deck world of steerage is a dangerous place for strangers such as Lament, but fortunately he gets assistance from the daughter of the quasi-sheriff of the steerage population and she guides Lament through the crime-ridden corridors. What they discover in the depths of the Leviathan is much more horrible than a stoker.Leviathan

The creative duo behind this graphic novel are writer Ian Edginton and artist D'Israeli. The story was originally serialized in the British comic magazine 2000 AD in 2003 and 2004. The world of Leviathan, and its complex social structure, could have provided fodder for a dozen graphic novels of the same length, but the conclusion of the main story reveals the mystery of the Leviathan. Edginton and D'Israeli did create a couple of shorter "prequel" stories about Leviathan (which are included in this book, along with a nice gallery of D'israeli's concept sketches).

I was sorry main story wasn't longer than it is, because it hints at a many possibilities for other avenues to explore. But that's also a testament to the skill of the comic's creators, who were able to render an impressive sense of dimensionality and atmosphere in a 56-page story. Maybe someone will make it into a movie -- it could be terrific as long as it was faithful to the comic book.

Leviathan, by Ian Edginton and D'Israeli


  1. That sounds soooo neat! Even though 56 pages  seem very short for such an interesting premise, I’m definitely going to check it out.

    1. In 1928 something as big as this would have to be an Ocean Liner to make any sense.  There’s no way there would be enough interest in a cruise to fill a boat like this.  Plus the description of the first voyage sounds an awful lot like “ferrying people from point A to B”.  Maybe the level of luxury for the first class people was high enough that they called themselves a Cruise Ship for marketing purposes? 

  2. I have this already, good to see it getting mentioned.

    It’s crammed with inside jokes as well as a cracking story.

    1. You could try Clickwheel – that’s the usual place Twoth digital comics go (as it’s owned by the same company).

      Although frankly I think they should just swallow the pill and get themselves on Comixology the same as everyone else.

      1. Thank you Mike, I will check that out! Would be nice if it was on Comixology since I’m already set up there too. But I would take a PDF (CBR) format too that I could drop into Comic Zeal.

  3. “When the smoke clears and you can see the sky again, there will be the chopped off heads of Leviathan”

  4. If the “trapped inside a ship” theme is your cup of tea, I’d also recommend “The Watch Below” by James White from 1966.  It’s about a group of people stranded underwater for years inside a sunken ship.  Only their thirst for freedom gives them hunger for survival.  There is also alien contact, for those fans of “befriending aliens while submerged” stories.


    1.  Yep – that was a huge favourite as a kid. Though this sounds like it has a very different tone – and a larger cast. But yay for James White anyway.

  5. Sounds a hell of a lot like The Hope by James Lovegrove, published in 1990. A gigantic ocean liner (five miles long and two miles wide) on an endless journey across the ocean, societal breakdown among the passengers, and an ominous and mysterious boogeyman wandering the lower decks. I don’t want to start shrieking plagiarism, but wonder what – if any – link there is?

  6. The book is even better than the review suggests. It’s magnificent. 

    Being inspired by something doesn’t make the resulting work a worthless piece of hackery.  This link to D’Israeli’s blog addresses the issue of the American edition’s cover. It’s also a generally excellent insight into his art and working methods.

    Leviathan is short, savage and sweet. Everyone should track it down and read it right now.

  7. The basic idea is a common one that many people have used so don’t worry about it (after all how much stuff can be called unique). It’s how it is written and the wonderful artwork that makes it so amazing and a must have.

  8. Oh hey, I think this looks great, I was just curious about any link to The Hope. I guess I’m a bit protective of it, since I loved it so much as a somewhat gloomy and morose teenager, and I’m the only person I know who’s ever read it :)

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