Finding some truth in THE INCAL

In a 1973 interview with Penthouse (the link is to non-Penthouse site and is relatively safe for work),  Alejandro Jodorowsky talked a bit about this approach to storytelling in his movie The Holy Mountain:

We are searching not for our inner faith. What we are searching for is our inner humanity…

When a man says, “I am alone” it is because he does not know how to be with himself. When I speak of the collective man I am not speaking of being with more people. I am speaking of a man who feels in himself the whole of humanity….

There are two kinds of prayer. The prayer to ask for something or the prayer to say “thank you” for everything I am having. This last prayer is that of the universal man. The universal man cannot feel guilty. The past is finished. There is a moment when you can say to your karma, “I love you. All the mistakes I have made were to reach this level. If I didn’t do what I needed to do it is because I am not like what I am now. I was learning, I was fighting, I was making myself. I cannot feel guilty. The only thing I can do is to never repeat the same mistake. If I repeat the same mistake then I will be guilty.”

You must transform yourself from the ill man to the healthy man. Because really we need to cure our society’s ills. There are war, there are pollution, we are killing the planet, so many have nothing to eat. So we are like the samurai. We win or we die. Now I think is a fantastic moment for all of us because now we are fighting for our world, our life. Now is the moment to be awake or to die. We are not alone.

This interview is around 7 years before Jodorowsky and Moebius’ The Incal, their five part story that came out of their aborted attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s Dune into film before David Lynch’s debacle.  In The Incal, Jodorowsky and Moebius tell us the story of John Difool, a ineffective private eye, pulled into a bodyguard gig just to make a few bucks and then finding himself on the other side of the universe, fighting for the salvation of everything.  It’s a simple, noir-ish beginning, as a beautiful woman hires him for a job– protect her for one night and make sure she’s home by midnight.  It’s almost something out of a fairy tale until it becomes a story about saving the universe from an all-devouring darkness.  But as the story goes on, Jodorowsy keeps upping the ante until John Difool is face to face with the ultimate being.

John Difool is one of Jodorowsky’s earliest heroes created for comics and still one of his most fascinating.  While he would go on to expand the universe that The Incal takes place in with books like The Technopriests and The Metabarons and create more philosophical and action heroes, Difool is the least likely kind of hero.  Borrowing aspects and an the name from the Tarot, John Difool is the fool, the child-like man in search of experience even if he usually gets in his own way and ends up looking goofy and witless.  In the story of The Incal, you have the more heroic looking Metabaron and the boy he raised Sunmoon, the chosen host of the power known as the Incal.  These characters look much more the hero part.  In anyone else’s story, they would be the heroes, the ones to save the day.  The Metabaron is a man of action, big, tall and knows how to fight.  He should be the obvious hero of Jodorowsky’s story but if Jodorowsky is interested in finding an inner humanity, the Metabaron can’t be the lead lead in this book.  He’s too perfect here.  There’s little internal struggle to focus on with the Metabaron as he’s the obvious fighter and has a clearly defined role but there’s no room for growth or development of this character.  With Difool, Jodorowsky has a character that should be kept as far away as possible from having to save the universe but there he is, with all of his faults and foibles needing to represent mankind at the end of everything.

Then what about Sunmoon, the young androgynous boy chosen to be the host of the Incal and the dual-gendered leader of the universe.  While Sunmoon was raised by the Metabaron, he is actually John Difool and Animah’s, the protector of the one of the halves of the Incal, son.  We learn about Sunmoon’s true parentage early in the series and he serves as a reflection of what Difool could be.  From Difool, we have this perfect-looking child who’s able to bring a peaceful unity to the universe but Sunmoon lacks the character and humanity of his father.  The chaste and perfect son, raised by the perfect warrior, doesn’t reflect the true face of humanity but shows us an ideal image of it.  Sunmoon has Jodorowsky’s “inner humanity” already at the start of The Incal so there’s no journey or quest to take with him.

I wonder how much of Difool is Jodorowsky, or at least an aspect of Jodorowsky who may be on his own path to his “inner humanity?”  Even as he knows he has to help save the universe, all Difool really wants to do is drink, smoke and screw.  It’s all that’s ever on his mind.  From later in the Penthouse interview, you can see that sex is a natural, and Jodorowsky would say essential, part of his life.  It’s part of that humanity that he’s searching for and should be embraced as such.  John Difool’s own journey begins with drunkeness and debauchery.

I never drink, I don’t take drugs. I am not against anything human beings do to reach their completeness. Drugs can help some experience. But I am against taking drugs to have fun. This kills your health.

The world changes from alcohol to marijuana. That is good. Marijuana is better than alcohol. Magic is better than reading. I don’t know what you read in the U.S. Love stories? War stories? Idiocies. Magic goes with marijuana. It really prepares the person to have real, new magic. The real solution is man without any kind of dependencies. The real conquest of the complete man. Now we are children playing games.

(from the Penthouse interview linked above)

“Children playing games.”  That’s a great description for Difool, who has every chance in the pages of The Incal to grow and to develop but can barely see past his own wants and needs.

Joining Jodorowsky on this search for an inner humanity is Moebius.  The Moebius.  From the American west of Lt. Blueberry to the far reaches of space and the Airtight Garage, Moebius had already proved by then that he was an artist who could draw anything.  Moebius’ range and skill gives Jodorowsky the freedom to go crazy with his story.  For the 10-15 years before The Incal, Moebius was searching for his own inner humanity as he created stories like The Detour and his Arzach short stories.  You can see his creative search for something new and different as Jean Giraurd took on the name Moebius and went from drawing westerns to writing and drawing these science fiction fantasy stories that were more about his and our journeys through the world than it was about the science fiction or fantasy.

As Jodorowsky wrote about the search for our inner humanity, Moebius drew the world that hides that from us.  The cities of drawn by Moebius are worlds of distractions and temptations to get lost in.  The wilderness in Moebius’s drawings are barren stretches or lush forests, tempting and dangerous.  The world shows us beauty and distractions in Moebius comics, trying to lead us and seduce us.  More so than his Blueberry stories, Moebius’ fantasic artwork is about the mystery and potential that exists in every line on the page.

Moebius goes everywhere visually in this book.  Personally, you can see this transition from his 70’s underground-influenced style to his latter classic and clean look as he progresses throughout the nearly 10 years it took to produce the complete story.  Even as there are changes from the Blueberry-era Jean Giraud to the Moebius who first drew The Horny Goof, you can see changes in Moebius as he ages and becomes more comfortable in his own skin.  His artwork becomes more refined and more simplified.   Maybe it’s the acceptance of his own ever-changing role in comics as he went from being the brash rebel upstart to an undeniable master to maybe even a statesman by the end of the 1980s but Moebius’s own personal development gives The Incal a feeling of progression and time.

While there is the natural progression that happens with any artist present in The Incal, you’ve also got to pay attention to the conscious choices that Moebius makes throughout John Difool’s story, particularly the physical appearance of Difool.  Difool’s appearance changes as his role in the grand scheme of things changes.  He starts out as a bit of a slob, a man who has to pay for any sexual experience.  He’s a long, lanky character whose most predominant feature is the nose that matches his stature.  For being the “hero” of Jodorowsky’s story, Moebius makes him one of the least physically stunning characters in a story full of near-goddesses, heroic metabarons and wickedly evil technopriests.

That is until the third part of the story where Difool becomes an Adonis even as he starts to play his greater role in the story.  As he actually does become somewhat enlightened and the hero, Moebius begins to draw him as a handsome god-like man, with smooth features and flowing hair.  Maybe it’s Difool becoming the hero he wished he could be but he certainly looks like the traditional messianic hero a story like this needs.  Or maybe it’s Moebius drawing the inner character of Difool and showing us the brief bit of beauty in John Difool before the last half of the story reminds us that for all he can do, John Difool is incapable of change.

In the end of The Incal, we’re actually right back to the beginning as Jodorowsky and Moebius have John Difool falling through space just as he was in the beginning.  The universe has been rebooted, everyone has moved on except for John Difool.  That was never his role or his destiny in this story.  John Difool isn’t the hero who gets his reward in the end.  His karma doesn’t allow that.  He’s told point blank that he still has much to learn so he gets to do it all over again.  He helped save the universe but he didn’t save himself.  To bring it back to that Penthouse interview, Jodorowsky wasn’t interested in making John Difool into some noble heroic figure; he wanted to find a bit of that inner humanity in his character.  Difool is doomed or chosen (depends on your point of view, I guess) to be on that journey forever.  That may be Jodorowsky’s way of telling us that our own searches should never end.

Posted via email from Wednesdays Haul’s posterous

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3 comments for “Finding some truth in THE INCAL

  1. Nico
    January 12, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    It is a beaaaaautiful analysis! 🙂 I enjoyed it a lot! Thank you

  2. Diego Tejeda Zavala
    July 27, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    WOW Excellent anallysis, now I can comprehend the things I didnt understand 🙂

  3. Zak Gilbert
    October 22, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    Seems like Stephen King may have taken “The Incal’s” ending and used it for his “Dark Tower” series. And to think, I had such high regard for that story. “The Incal,” questions the humanity of whoever reads it.

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