Friday, September 1, 2017

The Luck in the Head

The Luck in the Head
by M. John Harrison (story) and Ian Miller (art)

Dark Horse comics, 1993

The early 90s were the peak years of the Great Comics Boom, and companies like Dark Horse were - for better or worse - devoting considerable effort to expanding the boundaries of the comic book format, and trying to attract readers who might not otherwise be interested in reading a 'comic book'.

One of their more ambitious efforts was issuing a series of four large-size, original graphic novels that were designed to showcase a more avant-garde, 'artistic' sensibility. These novels originally were commissioned in the UK by sf publisher Victor Gollancz Ltd.

One of these graphic novels was a collaboration between the UK writer M. John Harrison and the UK artist and illustrator Ian Miller. Harrison's short story, 'The Luck in the Head', from his 1985 compilation Viriconium Nights, was the subject of the graphic novel, which was published in the US in 1993.

I readily admit to not being a real fan of Ian Miller's artwork, but I do recognize that Harrison is one of the more genuine talents to emerge from the New Wave Era, so I was willing to pick up a copy of 'The Luck in the Head' and see if it met - or failed to meet- my expectations.

Unfortunately, the truth is that 'The Luck in the Head' is pretty awful.

The story itself was perhaps not the best choice to adapt to a graphic novel / comic format. It's one of the more diffuse stories in the 'Viriconium' series, and deals with the adventures of an ennervated poet / artiste named Ardwick Crome. 

I won't divulge any spoilers, save to say that Crome, who spends most of his time in a state of depression and lassitude in an apartment in the warrens of Viriconium, dreams a dream of becoming an observer, and then a participant, in a strange pagan ceremony on the city's seashore.

In the aftermath of the dream, he enters into a trying relationship with an elderly woman / witch named Manny Vooley, 'The Queen of the City'.

Miller's artwork, which reflects his affinity for expressionism, isn't very good. There is too much of a hasty quality in too many of the pages, and the use of a relentlessly murky color scheme means that often it's difficult to make out what, exactly, is taking place.

Contributing to the ad hoc, improvised nature of 'The Luck in the Head' is the inept decision to use a cursive script font, that is deliberately misaligned on the pages in order to complement the artwork's intent of imparting a sense of chaos, confusion, and existential anomie to the reader. 

This affectation, when paired with the fact that in many panels and pages the text is almost completely obscured by the art, makes much of the text indecipherable, and 'The Luck in the Head' very frustrating to read.

Summing up, 'The Luck in the Head' represents a failed effort at making a graphic novel with a overtly 'artistic' sensibility. 

Had the production team a better understanding of what makes comics and graphic novels 'work', and had they recruited a superior artist, 'The Luck in the Head' might have been successful. But I can't recommend this effort to even the most ardent M. John Harrison fans.

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