A couple of years ago, I discovered Julius Chancer completely by chance at the Manila International Book Fair at a publisher’s rep booth, and being a Tintin fan, I was instantly attracted to the cover art. Upon closer inspection, I saw it was an omnibus of “The Rainbow Orchid” adventure, and I knew I wouldn’t find it in the bookstores — I felt it was too good to pass up. I inquired about the book and they told me it wasn’t for sale, and I wheedled and wheedled until they finally agreed to sell it to me (It wasn’t cheap. Haha). I’d been meaning to read it, but with all the moving around my books have been doing in the past couple of years, it got lost in the stacks and only resurfaced as I was packing some books for storage after last year’s monsoon.
Written and illustrated by Garen Ewing and published by Egmont (incidentally, also the publisher of Tintin), The Complete Rainbow Orchid won the Young People’s Comic Award at the 2013 British Comic Awards.
It is the roaring ’20s, and our titular character Julius Chancer is a young assistant to historical researcher Sir Alfred Catesby-Grey. “Jules” is overeager but well-meaning, in essence biting off more than he can chew because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut in front of a nosy reporter. Julius comes to the aid of silent film sensation Lily Lawrence and embarks on a quest to find the mythical Rainbow Orchid, as referenced in the work of ancient Greek philosopher and botanist Theophrastus. Together with Lily and her bumbling publicity agent Nathaniel Crumpole, Julius leads an expedition to Karachi, India, where the rainbow orchid was last seen.
Of course, the comic adventure wouldn’t be complete without your requisite baddies, which come in the form of the goon squad that will go to any lengths to stop them from finding the rainbow orchid. Answering to the shady businessman Urkaz Grope, the wily Evelyn Crow and the thuggish Box (and several other hired henchmen) are in hot pursuit of our team, with lots of action-packed encounters throughout the story.
Highly reminiscent of Herge’s Tintin comics, The Rainbow Orchid showcases a great blend of adventure, history, archaeology, and myth, revolving largely around the fictional ‘lost’ people of Urvatjan, in the heart of Mohenjo-daro, a settlement in the Indus Valley civilization. While I think there’s still a lot of room for the character of Julius Chancer to unfold, there’s some excellent storytelling going on, and overall, the book was a fun and engrossing read, with a fantastic support cast, lots of thrilling scenes, elaborately detailed mythology, and great humor all throughout. I’m glad I got the compilation because those cliffhangers would’ve been totally agonizing for me.
The artwork is exquisite as well. I really love the ligne claire style – literally “clear lines,” pertaining to lines of uniform thickness, cartoony characters, flat/muted colors and intricate backgrounds – and there aren’t many modern artists that employ this old-timey treatment. The visual narrative is solid — after reading the book I proceeded to “read” the panels without the words, and I was even more impressed at the cinematic quality of the illustrations.
The best thing about the compilation is the bonus material at the end, showcasing character sketches, the creators’ notes, the making of the page, and cover art for all three volumes, giving the reader an insight into the creator’s process, and all the effort that went into it. Fascinating stuff, which I enjoyed poring through as much as the story itself.
I’m making some well-earned shelf space for Julius Chancer right next to my collection of Tintin comics. Definitely looking forward to more Julius Chancer adventures, and I hope they eventually make their way to the Philippines!
The Complete Rainbow Orchid Adventures, softcover, 4/5 stars