Most works of fantasy have to do with quests or journeys. The genre lends itself to these, and it is far easier to tell a story about the fantastic when you do it in a X-and-friends-went-from-A-to-B-to-find-C-with-which-they-could-do-D-and-this-is-what-befell-them-on-the-way format.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy follows this formula. As does Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series (two trilogies, the first one of a third, and going strong). Graphic-novel-fantasies use the formula, too, although not as much as prose-fiction-fantasies—their very medium seems to give them the freedom to experiment.
Some graphic-novel-fantasies (the second most popular genre within the format, after superhero-graphic-novels), such as Garth Ennis and Steve Dillion’s blasphemous Preacher books, are about a quest, but the most get by without having to worry about quests or journeys.
While we’re on the subject of blasphemy, Mike Carey’s Lucifer books (11 of them) are as blasphemous as they come. The books are full of journeys and quests, big and small, important and irrelevant. The most important journey of these is metaphysical (Carey is a deep one): What happens when Lucifer Morningstar (or Samael, or the devil, in layspeak) tries to play God. The Lucifer books are filled with engaging characters (like Elaine Belloc, the half-human daughter of archangel Michael) and ideas (demons harvest the fields of hell, where the damned toil for a drug called pain, much like drug lords trade in cocaine), and Carey, artfully and slowly, manipulates hundreds (literally) of them along towards the end.
Habitual readers of comic books will know some of the characters—they were created by Neil Gaiman in his Sandman books, and Carey borrowed them for his own use. In the Sandman books, Lucifer abandons Hell and sets up a nightclub in Los Angeles. Carey’s series takes the story from there.
There’s always been something portentous about Carey’s writing—he authored some of the later books of the Hellblazer series featuring John Constantine and another offshoot from the Sandman, a book called The Furies. The man, however, is happy to allow his portents to talk for themselves. In an age where books that could have been great are merely good because they are overwritten, that’s a blessing.
That’s another thing about graphic novels—they can tell stories without words if they need to.
P.S: Carey’s for-a-lark comic version of Gaiman’s Neverwhere, a quaint story about the London below London, and one salaryman’s adventure there, is now available. It does justice to the original (a BBC television series, and a book), and that’s high praise indeed.
Write to R. Sukumar at firstname.lastname@example.org