Saturday, August 15, 2009

Slouching Towards Geneva

Frankenstein's Womb – a graphic novella by Warren Ellis, by Warren Ellis & Marek Oleksicki

Malek Oleksicki's name does not appear on the cover, so according to my own rules I should not credit him as a creator of this, but it would stick in my craw to only credit a title's writer and not the artist.

Warren Ellis has been active in comics for some time now. He has written a lot of stuff, some of which is great and some of which is complete rubbish. Transmetropolitan is probably his big title, but I have never read that. For me, his best work is Planetary, a beautifully drawn (by John Cassaday) title in which the mysterious undercurrents of a fictional twentieth century are excavated. Conceptually, it was not completely unlike The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Pat Mills, but Planetary was done less for laughs and was not so much about the creators showing off their nerdy knowledge of justifiably obscure fictional characters.

Frankenstein's Womb begins with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley, and her step sister Claire Clairmont travelling in a coach to meet Lord Byron by Lake Geneva, a journey seen previously in an early episode of Grant Morrison's The Invisibles. They stop by an old castle, and Mary goes in alone to investigate, meeting the monster created by Frankenstein in the novel she then had yet to write. The monster shows her various things from her past and future – her birth and her mother's consequent death from puerperal fever, Shelley's death, and then in the far future a dead hospital patient being revived by electricity. In purely plot terms, not much really happens, but it is very atmospheric.

A lot of the credit here must go to Oleksicki's art, which manages to portray the hideous grandeur of the monster without dissolving into pastiche of the character's various filmic portrayals. The depiction of Mary is also impressive. It would be easy for it to be crudely sexualised, given the period costumes, her somewhat racy life, the kind of people who read comics, and her youth at the time (I think she would have been just nineteen). The black and white art, though, suggests a depth to her character without fetishising her.

I sometimes lean towards the idea that Warren Ellis is not actually that great as a writer, except that sometimes he can serve as a catalyst allowing artists to produce great work. When combined with pedestrian artists there is nothing there to retain interest. In this case, I think the story is interesting enough, and atmospheric in its own right, but it is the art that really shines. I must keep an eye out for further work by Malek Oleksicki.

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