Originally started some ten years ago in black and white in the small press magazine BAM!, Garen Ewing’s adventure of Julius Chancer has had as long a journey as its erstwhile hero has in the story. Originally published as three separate colour volumes by Egmont between 2009 and 2012, The Complete Rainbow Orchid collects the three individual parts of the story into one flexi-covered album that also includes a selection of extra new features.
Set between the two world wars, Julius Chancer is the assistant of archaeological researcher Sir Alfred Catesby-Grey who used to work for the Empire Survey Branch and now locates antiquities for collectors. A seemingly innocuous comment about orchids being entered into a competition at the British Empire Exhibition sets Sir Reginald Laurence and his movie star daughter Lilly against the resources of international businessman Urkaz Grope when the two men make a wager over who will win. Grope’s intention is to get the ancient Trembling Sword of Tybalt Stone, and the land and titles that come with it, from Sir Reginald who, to win the wager, believes that he needs the semi-mythical Rainbow Orchid to beat Grope’s Black Pearl Orchid. The quest for the Rainbow Orchid takes Julius, Lilly and their friends first to France and then India where they trek into the mountains of the northwest frontier followed by Grope’s personal assistant Evelyn Crow who will stop at nothing to ensure they do not return with the orchid – if it actually exists.
This is very much an old school adventure romp as readily entertaining to adults as it is to children. The plot owes much to the lost valleys and worlds of H Rider Haggard and Arthur Conan Doyle while the art style is the ‘ligne claire’ (clear line) style most associated, in the United Kingdom at least, with Herge’s Tintin books. Yet with its mixture of intrigue and archaeology, it perhaps owes as much to Edgar P Jacobs’ Blake and Mortimer albums which pair a secret agent with a scientist and have now been published in English by Cinebook.
The reason why Grope wants the sword, and the lengths he is prepared to go to own it, do much to give the quest narrative an unexpected depth while the Empire Survey Branch, a Torchwood-like organisation, suggests that not all our heroes’ colleagues may be as innocent as first anticipated. As the quest continues through Imperial India, the book builds up a remarkable cast of dozens of different characters while displaying an impressive attention to the detail and history of its real locales as well as its fictional ones.
With 117 pages of artwork and another 17 pages of extras showing the evolution of the characters and locations, plus the front- and end-papers which both add details to the book’s conclusion, The Complete Rainbow Orchid is a package that delivers both great art and an intriguing plot to new readers while presenting those who already have the individual volumes with previously unseen extras that enhance the story.
• The Adventures of Julius Chancer website is here – www.rainboworchid.co.uk
• Garen Ewing’s illustration website is here – www.garenewing.co.uk
• Garen Ewing talked to downthetubes about The Rainbow Orchid and his other work here
• Rainbow Orchid creator Garen Ewing will be appearing in the Stripped strand of the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Sunday 25th August 2013 at 10:30am to talk about Seeking the Rainbow Orchid
On the same day Garen will also be appearing with Nick Sharratt and Dave Sutton at Comic Consequences at 2:30pm as well as taking part in Amnesty International Imprisoned Writers Series – In Graphic Detail with Hannah Berry and Jon McNaught at 5:30pm. Tickets for these events are available from the Edinburgh International Book Festival box office.
This review was first posted on the Stripped Book Fest blog and is re-posted here with full permission.