By Garen Ewing (Egmont UK)
Finally getting what he deserves is creator Garen Ewing whose delightful pastiche of the adventure genre pioneered by Hergé at last gets the full-colour album treatment with the first volume of The Rainbow Orchid.
The character of plucky young daredevil Julius Chancer and his adventuresome pals began popping up around 2003 in a self-published mini-comic and a few other small press publications (Gosh, I wish there was a less loaded or pejorative term for magazines produced by devoted, if unpaid, creators) and has been unfolding online ever since to rapturous praise from industry and public alike. Now Egmont, who also publish Tintin, (last time I mention him, I promise) have picked up the series and we should see this fabulous tale of old fashioned derring-do become a solid reader favourite on its own merits.
In a tale delightfully reminiscent of Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion tale ‘Look to the Lady/the Gyrth Chalice Mystery’ (and wasn’t he originally a pastiche of Lord Peter Wimsey?) and with just a hint of Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger stories, this first of three volumes set in 1920s Britain introduces Julius Chancer, young but capable assistant to Sir Alfred Catesby-Grey, renowned historical researcher and gentleman breeder of orchids.
Sir Alfred is approached by Lord Reginald Lawrence, scion of an ancient and noble house, who has been tricked into an impossible wager by the dastardly entrepreneur Urkaz Grope. At stake is the “Trembling Sword of Tybalt Stone” a priceless antique that has been the seat of the family’s honour since 1445, and without which Lord Lawrence would have to surrender all his estates and titles…
To win the wager Lawrence needs an example of Iriode Orchino – the rainbow orchid, a mythical bloom last seen by Alexander the Great over two thousand years ago. Although Catesby-Grey pooh-poohs the whole story, Julius remains hopeful, perhaps as tempted by the prospect of adventure and paid bills as by the urgings of plucky Lady Lily, Lawrence’s daughter and a silent film actress recently returned from Hollywood to the bosom of Empire.
Grope is an ominous presence throughout, with a highly secret agenda of his own and no principles at all, whilst the vulgarly intrusive journalist William Pickle has no decency, no morals and definitely no fear as he sniffs out news and controversy like an obsessed ferret, whilst Lily’s Movie Publicity Agent Nathaniel Crumpole always seems in the thick of whatever trouble is brewing – can even an American be that determinedly naive?
The boy Chancer determines to risk all in tracking down the orchid and despite a series of viciously calculated ploys by Grope and his gang of cutthroats sets off with Lily and Crumpole for Karachi and the fantastic flower’s last known whereabouts…
Enchantingly engaging, astonishingly authentic and masterfully illustrated in the legendary Ligne Claire style, this is a wonderful tale that ranks amongst the very best all-ages graphic narratives and although the wait for the next volume might seem interminable the online presence and added value items which can be found at www.rainboworchid.co.uk should keep your bated breath puffing along until then.
Magic, pure graphic magic. Where else could you get hot fresh nostalgia, just like your granddad used to love?
© 2009 Garen Ewing. All Rights Reserved.