Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The First Kingdom



The First Kingdom was one of the most notable early attempts at a complete, original, creator owned graphic novel. It's an epic that spans generations and centuries, with a multitude of characters, that's almost impossible to adequately summarize. What it isn't is a light five-minute read.


Centuries after Earth is devastated by a nuclear war, the planet is now called The Tamra, and new lifeforms have sprung up that have no knowledge of their ( or our ) world's previous history.
There are struggling barbarian tribes of humans, dwarf-like mutants who are actually immortal space explorers, spiteful, manipulative beings called Transgods who, though worshipped by the humans, are equally unaware of their own true nature and programming, and somewhere above them all, the true Gods of this virtually unrecognizable future world.
In the beginning, we follow Darkenmoor, the leader of one tribe, as he struggles to build Moorengan, The First Kingdom, battling both his own destiny and the machinations & manipulations of various Transgods.
But this is all just prologue. The real hero of the series, Darkenmoor's son Tundran, isn't even born until Book 4. And then the real story starts.


Jack Katz had worked in comics since the Golden Age, and began The First Kingdom in 1974, setting himself the staggering task of giving over the next 10 years of his life to the series, and only to the series, producing one book every 6 months. If you think one comic every 6 months doesn't sound like that much work, well, take a look:

   
EVERY panel of The First Kingdom looks like that. It's the densest comic you'll ever read, and can feel quite a daunting prospect when you first start delving into it.
Almost every scene is crammed with 20 people or more, all with similar body shapes, sizes and features.
Plus, as most of the characters look very similar to each other, many of them being related, and as there are so many of them, you really do have to pay attention and at first, it all overwhelms you.
There's also much more narration than there is dialogue, so there's a natural distance between you and the protaganists too.
But all this works in The First Kingdom's favour. This is the history, and mythology, of an alien world, fully realised and complete, and the kind of comic that expects you to be an active participant, not a passive recipient, only coming up for air 24 books later, having immersed yourself in a whole other reality.


Katz's art style is grotesquely beautiful and beautifully grotesque, with traces of both Eisner & Raymond, and the closest thing you can compare it to in comics is an adult Trigan Empire written by Olaf Stapleton. Or imagine an episode of Flash Gordon where, instead of following Flash, we spend time in the civilizations he travels through. But even these comparisons are woefully inadequate.
The First Kingdom is genuinely like nothing you've ever seen, in any field.


Here's a brief interview with Katz, to give you an idea, part of a series on indie books that ran in First Comics:


Although I've posted creator owned stuff here before, I somehow don't feel it'd be fair to Katz' commitment and achievement to put up an entire issue of The First Kingdom, but for those yet to experience it, you need a flavour. So before you all go and buy the Dark Horse reprint series:


Here's the first few pages of Book 1. Take a deep breath, here we go.










3 comments:

  1. Over the years, I've seen First Kingdom featured on a number of comics-related blogs, and I have to say this is something I'd really like to read. However, I'm not sure when finances (and time) will make this possible...

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  2. Can't speak for cost, Edo, but if you treat yourself to one of the Dark Horse trades, give yourself at least a week to read it...

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  3. I bought the original series and this really deserves, if not color, an Artist's Edition-size treatment. The pages are composed like Symbolist paintings.

    It can be a bit of a slog; because of the long delays between issues when it came out, you pretty much had to start over at the beginning every time.

    Katz's real achievement is in conceptualizing and visualizing this epic in the first place. It's so monumental and so ambitious, it really reveals a creator who not only expects a lot from himself, but from the comics medium. You can't come away from this thinking that many current comics creators are truly challenging themselves.

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