The Originals – The Essential Edition by Dave Gibbons (graphic novel review).

Dave Gibbons’ has been one of the most prominent names in sequential art history. He was a regular contributor to ‘2000AD’ since Prog 1 (co-creating ‘Rogue Trooper’, 4 years later) and an important part of ‘Doctor Who Weekly/Monthly’ working as its lead artist for many years from the magazine’s inception. Most famously, his aesthetic, which brings a slight element of the cartoon to grim realism, was an important part of the seminal ‘Watchmen’.

But throughout his career, Gibbons had either drawn the scripts of other people or let other people illustrate his writing. At the friendly insistence of Karen Berger, then editor of DC’s ‘Vertigo’ imprint, Gibbons would get the opportunity to do both. Out of it came ‘The Originals’, a deeply personal work from Gibbons that resonated with audiences and ended up winning the 2005 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Novel.

Inspired by Gibbons’ past as a mod in the 60s, ‘The Originals’ plunges us into a retro-futuristic city where the suits may be the epitome of mid-20th Century chic but their prized bikes hover and the nightclubs look like something from another planet. Lel and Bok are two friends who want nothing more than to join The Originals, the coolest gang out there. After a confrontation with arch rival gang, The Dirt, Lel finds himself becoming drawn into the inner circle of The Originals and finds that his whole life has changed. A 16 year-old lad now has a world of drink, drugs and the beautiful Viv all to look forward to. But, as is the nature of these things, Lel soon begins to discover that all of these things have a price to pay. For Lel, the song lyrics ‘Hope I die before I get old’, from The Who’s ‘My Generation’, may turn out to be prophetically true.

The story of ‘The Originals’ does go over some well-worn tropes that will be familiar to anyone with even a passing recognition of the likes of ‘Quadrophenia’. ‘A young boy suffers from a great of teenage angst, throws himself headlong into a life of hedonism and soon discovers that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be’ is a story that has been done before and will be done again. But Gibbons does everything with such style and panache that it’s easy to forgive any narrative familiarity. Certainly, the story moves along at a cracking pace as Gibbons ups the stakes and adds in a few doses of grisly violence that puncture Lel’s perfect world.

Mixing elements of drab industrialism with a spiky futurism, ‘The Originals’ makes a daring move by being in black and white. This not only emphasises the grey drabness that Lel and friends inhabit and want to escape from but also has a certain amount of elegance and cool with Lel’s checkerboard suit coming across as the height of stylish status symbol. Gibbons never goes overboard with the futuristic setting and this is a familiar world with only one or two touches of the ‘out there’. There’s recognisability here a reminiscent in some ways of Judge Dredd’s Mega City One, something relatable and exceedingly British for everyone reading. But there’s enough of a sense of ‘otherness’ to understand not only Lel and co’s retreat into another world but also how gangs such as The Originals seem strange and impenetrable to many.

This ‘Essential Edition’ of the book comes with a new introduction and afterword from Gibbons, who reveals many of the inspiration behind it and it’s clear how personal the work is to him. This is partly what makes the book so successful. There’s a real sense of connection here, with Lel being a rounded character with flaws and strengths as opposed to a simple teenage thug/saint. How people grow up is very different yet strangely also the same for people across the world.

There are also 32 pages of development including a fun few items such as ‘mind map’ where Gibbons put down his associations with the word ‘Mod’. It’s a fascinating insight into how an artist/writer develops small ideas into the story we finally see.

‘The Originals – Essential Edition’ is a lovely and unique graphic novel that straddles the line between the comic book world and realism. Gibbons’ accomplished story and art create a book that is not only stylish to look at but engrossing to read and this reprint does the story justice.

Laurence Boyce

July 2018

(pub: Dark Horse Publishing. 192 page graphic novel hardback Price: $29.99 (US), £24.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-50670-562-0)

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