By Garen Ewing
The Book: At the beginning of Volume Three, Julius Chancer and Lily Lawrence are recovering from the electrifying end of Volume Two. What does the future hold for Evelyn Crow and her gang of desperate villains? Do Julius and Lily have the strength to prevent evil millionaire Urkaz Grope from enacting his evil plans?
The Review: The third and concluding volume of Garen Ewing's The Rainbow Orchid was published last month by Egmont UK, picking up almost immediately after events in Volume 2 but quickly reuniting Julius Chancer's expedition - perhaps too quickly, given the dramatic conclusion to the previous episode.
(Maybe author Garen is not just drawing on the storytelling of TinTin but the weekly classic 'film serials' of old with their glorious cliffhangers to keep their audience coming back for more).
For those who came in late, The Rainbow Orchid tells the story of an expedition to find a fantastic, possibly mythical, orchid, rumoured to grow somewhere in the depths of the Hindu Kush. It’s set in the 1920s with the main characters being a young historical researcher, Julius Chancer, and a silent-film actress and her agent.
As Garen recently described it: "I’d say it’s a sort of lost-world adventure, Rider Haggard meets Tintin!"
It's a gripping conclusion, with the kind of to of the hat to Herge (and Haggard) we've come to expect from this wonderful ligne claire series, but with a modern take of action, adventure and intrigue that leaves plenty of openings for further adventures and returning villains.
The production quality of the book is again superb, with glorious 'fly leaves' of fictional souvenirs from the adventure (newspaper cuttings, film posters, exhibition tickets etc) complementing Garen's well-honed, beautifully-realized ligne claire art. It's a shame the book hasn't also been published in hardback, which would do these even more justice.
Ten years in the making since its first appearance in indie comic magazine BAM, fans have waited a long time for the conclusion to Chancer's first epic adventure, but they won't be disappointed - even if it might prompt an unusual interest in learning the Kalasha language in some households. Garen skillfully wraps many threads, both in distant lands and in Britain, as Julius finally nears the object of his expedition, again pitted against the deliciously iredeemable villainess, Evelyn Crow.
Much of this final chapter takes place largely in a lost world where ancient technology offers the possibility a frightening development in the arms race, should those secrets fall into the wrong hands, but also the location of the Rainbow Orchid itself.
Be warned: there's a lot of exposition in this final chapter, as we find out more about the mysterious Meru, who has helped guide Julius on his quest, and the secrets of the Kalash are revealed. But if you're prepared to weather that - and full marks to Garen for carefully crafting a complex and intriguing ancient civillisation in so few pages - then you won't be disappointed by the outcome. (It certainly hasn't put off fans who have kept the book in Amazon's Top 100 Children's Graphic Novels chart over the past month).
Credit should not just go to Garen for creating this wonderful adventure - and news that more are in the works is welcome - but also to Egmont UK, for their faith in the project and bringing it to bookshops. Let's hope success for The Rainbow Orchid prompts them to publish more original graphic novels.
• There are more details of all The Rainbow Orchid books on Garen's Rainbow Orchid website which includes a shop through which you can order signed and sketched copies of the books.
• The downthetubes reviews of the previous volumes are here: Volume 1 - Volume 2
• Garen will be promoting it at various comics conventions this year. He is current scheduled to be at the Bristol Comic Expo on 12-13 May; Stripdagen in Holland on 2nd - 3rd June 2012; and and Thoughtbubble in Leeds on 17-18 November 2012.
• The original version of the story and its artwork has gone through various stages over those ten years since BAM! and Garen explains some of the differences and his reason behind the changes on The Rainbow Orchid blog. This also includes a few brief images from the new book and roughs of the cover and some other pages.
- You can also read an interview with Garen about Volume 3 and his art here on Comics Beat, where he reveals some of his plans for the future.