By Al Davison (Gollancz)
ISBN hardback: 978-0-57505-189-8 softcover: 978-0-57505-283-3
During the 1990s, following the stunning success and huge mainstream sales of Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns and Maus, graphic novels were finally accepted by the publishing industry as a viable and valuable market for adults after decades in which sequential narrative had been deemed a ghetto for children and idiots – the works of Raymond Williams and others of his pioneering ilk notwithstanding.
When the likes of HarperCollins, Macmillan/Pan and Gollancz finally caught wise they did it in fine style with challenging works like Doris Lessing & Charlie Adlard’s Playing the Game or The City by James Herbert & Ian Miller.
Gollancz was probably the first to fully embrace the nascent form, creating the VG Graphics imprint and going all out by releasing a game-changing selection of mature and challenging confections by comics glitterati Alan Moore & Oscar Zarate, Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean and fantasy stalwarts M. John Harrison & Ian Miller and Ian McDonald & Dave Lyttleton. A fifth commissioned volume was crafted by relative newcomer and unique authorial voice Al Davison who had first come to the industry’s attention with his incredible autobiography The Spiral Cage: Diary of an Astral Gypsy in 1988.
His story of a life spent daily triumphing over a body wracked by Spina bifida and a society that couldn’t handle cripples who didn’t know their place is a stunning testament to human courage and the liberating power of creativity (originally published by Renegade Press and re-issued in revised and expanded editions by Titan Books in 1990 and Active Images in 2003) and led to Davison being invited to contribute to the VG roster.
Davison writes, illustrates and letters this darkly enchanting parable, similarly examining the themes of disability, alienation, perception and inclusion, which opens in a prologue with a rather nonconformist if not confrontational interpretation of the myth of Minos of Crete and the bestial murderous Minotaur from a wilful little girl named Etty-Mae Brown.
Years later in ‘Transmissions’ the dystopian urban night is shattered by a pain-drenched wail. The deformed dosser everybody calls Banshee is screaming again, but the skinheads, hookers, winos and other human trash have better things to do than listen to the mad bastard. Still, after a night of mindless aggression the thugs still have a bit of time and energy left to give ugly freak a bit of a kicking…
Barely able to stand on his own malformed feet at the best of times, Banshee is found collapsed in the street by recovering drug-addict Etty who gets him into a hospital. He awakes from terrifying dreams of the orphanage and the vile nuns who ran it to find himself in a clean bed and immediately panics, subsequently barricading himself in the toilet.
All his life Banshee has been called a freak, a mistake, a monster or worse but Etty knows she can help him and shows him her version of the Minotaur legend, encouraged by the sympathetic Dr. Sparks – who has a secret shame of her own which she conceals at all costs…
In ‘Preparations’ we travel back to ancient Greece to see the story of Theseus and the man-bull told from the Minotaur’s point of view – a tale of bigotry, pride and prejudice, rewritten by the self-aggrandizing pretty-boys who always seem to get the last word… The unjust tragedy of Minos’ humiliatingly deformed child inspires Banshee’s recovery and the solitary misfit is adopted by Etty and her lover.
In ‘Revelations’ whilst safely ensconced in the only house he has ever known, Etty’s baby daughter Josie cuddles the hideous man-thing. It is the first hug Banshee has ever experienced…
In this welcoming environment Banshee experiences many magical, educational moments and evolves, becoming a free creature at last, after which ‘Transmissions (A Slight Return)’ reveals a different truth to the myth of Theseus whilst Banshee finds a way to share his newfound state of grace and return a favour to Dr. Sparks resulting in a perfect miracle…
Even the most twisted and lonely need love and human contact and from isolated places of darkness and the horrors of life there is always the promise of a better life…
Despite being of sublime quality none of the VG Graphics titles really caught on and the experiment was soon terminated. A US edition of The Minotaur’s Tale was published in 1995 by Dark Horse Comics, with as little commercial success, but nearly twenty years later perhaps the audiences have broadened and grown enough so that this superb and enchantingly beautiful pictorial homily can at last find the readership it deserves.
In a perfect world some wise publisher would re-release the modern myth in a new edition, but if you can’t wait – and why should you? – the original lavishly full-colour 80 page tale is still readily available in both hardback and softcover versions.
©1992 Al Davison. All rights reserved.