The Rainbow Orchid Volume 1: Julius Chancer’s beautiful adventures…
by Garen Ewing
It’s taken a long time for Garen Ewing’s Rainbow Orchid to get a release that will finally do it some justice, but this first volume in Egmont’s three volume series is pretty much a perfect way to experience a series that has been lauded high and low for many, many years.
Getting the obvious comparisons out of the way first; it’s done in a perfect ligne claire style and immediately evokes all of those nostalgic memories of childhood Tintin volumes, which, not coincidentally are also published by Egmont. The deliberate positioning of The Rainbow Orchid with Tintin is an obvious one, and each Rainbow Orchid volume is being released in a European album format. But to be fair, everyone who sees The Rainbow Orchid for the first time, as I hope many of you will do after reading this, will make that immediate and obvious comparison. But Ewing’s not simply apeing Herge, his influences are probably more Edgar P. Jacobs’ Blake & Mortimer and Yves Chaland’s Freddy Lombard but sadly the ligne claire knowledge here in the UK seems to begin and end with Herge’s well travelled reporter.
Luckily, Garen’s one of few UK artists able to pull off ligne claire and he does it perfectly – clean lines, dot eyes, 4 tier page structures all build up the perfect look – it takes incredible skill to make something look this clean and simple – a skill Ewing has in spades. But the simplicity is deceptive, as a closer look at the pages will show you. The amount of complicated detail, the intricate period stylings, the expressive body language throughout; all of it adds up to something wonderful. A weaker artist would take far more lines, far more ink to pull off something far inferior.
(Clean lines, beautiful detailing and a fantastic 1920s setting – The Rainbow Orchid by Garen Ewing)
But Rainbow Orchid isn’t just something very pretty to look at – it’s also that very rare thing – a really solidly constructed, fun for all ages adventure story. Again, the comparison with Tintin and Blake & Mortimer is valid here. Rainbow Orchid has that same sense of adventure, that wonder at the world, the sense of the exotic that every Tintin album evoked when you first read it. One of Ewing’s great strengths is his research and it shows everywhere in The Rainbow Orchid; everything in the book looks just delightfully authentic.
(Julius Chancer and his mentor; Sir Alfred Catesby-Grey discuss the near mythical Rainbow Orchid that will take Chancer halfway around the world.)
Here in Volume One we have our introductions to the world of our hero, Julius Chancer, as he becomes enmeshed in a quest for the mythical Rainbow Orchid, a flower last mentioned by the ancient Greek philosopher, Theophrastus, and only believed to exist by a very few adventurers and academics around the world.
The exotic world of Julius Chancer is very much an idealised view of 1920s Britain, all beautiful stately homes, gleaming convertible automobiles, lush green fields and plus-fours. The supporting cast is composed of some stereotypes, but wonderful sterotypes they are: distinguished historical researchers, glamourous Hollywood actresses and their typically bombastic American publicists, evil and incredibly rich businessmen with square-jawed henchmen, dogged reporters and a healthy serving of beautiful women with Louise Brooks’ haircuts.
(Threatening femme fatales, square jawed thuggish lackeys and annoying reporters; just part of the Rainbow Orchids extensive supporting cast)
The quest for the Rainbow Orchid gets underway as the result of dodgy dealings by the series’ main villain, the stop at nothing businessman Mr Grope. He’s trapped the aristocratic Lord Reginald Lawrence into a rash gentleman’s bet; if Grope wins the famous Wembley Botanical exhibitions orchid competition, Lawrence has to hand over Trembling Sword Of Tybalt Stone and with it his lands and title. What Lawrence didn’t know at the time was that Grope has created a “practically unique black pearl orchid” that should easily win the competition and Lawrence turns to Chancer and his mentor to beg them to let him enter the Rainbow Orchid they have been mistakenly reported as owning. Lawrence’s desperation and a healthy sum of money, not to mention the allure of exotic travel, adventuring and the company of Lawrence’s movie star daughter Lily means that Chancer rushes headfirst into an adventure that will take him halfway around the world. By the end of this first volume Chancer leaves the cosy rolling green fields of Blighty, across the channel (by steamship naturally) to France and beyond. In the next volumes the quest for the Orchid will take us further afield, across Europe and into the Indian subcontinent. It’s good, old fashioned globe spanning adventuring, thrilling, exciting and fun stuff throughout.
(More wonderfully evocative artwork from The Rainbow Orchid; scenes like this just drip nostalgic adventure)
The Rainbow Orchid could be, should be, a huge hit for Garen and Egmont. The Tintin connection means it’s got an instant recognition factor, but beneath the obvious beauty of the artwork is an equally great, old fashioned adventure tale. It works for children and it works for us adults. An absolutely cracking adventure story.
Garen’s extensive Rainbow Orchid site, complete with the complete 1st chapter and a sneak peek at the first pages of Volume 2 is here. And you can read an interview Matthew Badham conducted with Garen here on the FPI blog.