Click here to return to the main site.
Graphic Novel Review
The twenty-first century’s greatest living children’s author – Christopher Grahame – is drawn back into Castrovalva, the world of his childhood imagination, when the stress of his fame starts to weigh on him. But Castrovalva has gone to hell in his absence – devastated by war, famine and loss. And now Christopher can’t wake up. Has he lost his mind… or his innocence...?
Originally published in 1996 for the now defunct Caliber Comics and republished in colour in 2004 by Dark Horse, Kingdom of the Wicked marks an early stage in the partnership of British comics veterans Ian Edginton and D'Israeli (Matt Brooker). With titles such as Scarlet Traces, Leviathan and Stickleback jointly under their belts, the introduction to this volume by Edginton makes plain how he relishes their collaboration and the chance to revisit a cherished early work, his first creator-owned story. It's somewhat appropriate that Kingdom of the Wicked dwells on the creative process and how it dredges up formative experiences, sometimes with unpredictable and nasty results.
The protagonist Christopher Grahame (his surname likely a reference to the author of The Wind in the Willows) is an inoffensive soul, happily married with children, who has bankrolled the escapist realms of his chaotic childhood into worldwide publishing success, with movie deals and the opportunity to write an official sequel to Lewis Carroll's Alice stories beckoning. Before long an increasingly severe case of blinding headaches and blackouts threaten to undo Grahame's good fortune, as he finds himself beset with horrific waking visions of his story-book land under siege from a brutal, capricious dictator, with gentle teddies and toy soldiers embroiled in a bloody struggle for survival. It's up to Grahame to find the connection between his illness, the visions and the childhood traumas that inspired his work before the dictator, who grows more real and powerful with every moment, overwhelms him.
Reading Kingdom of the Wicked, it's easy to see why Edginton and D'Israeli's collaboration has been renewed over the years since its initial publication – they play to one another's strengths effortlessly, with Edginton concocting all manner of horrific monstrosities for D'Israeli's visual flair to bring to life. Even the more everyday scenes such as a PR party or a visit to a doctor's office take on ribald life, with the posters on the surgery wall bearing lurid images and slogans, reminiscent of the background material in Kevin O'Neill's Nemesis The Warlock. Shock value isn't Edginton and D'Israeli's only recourse, though – some of the scene transitions between dream and reality, with objects gradually replacing one another, are beautifully envisioned and make excellent use of the comic page, without striving for 'cinematic' effect the way comics artists are often tempted to do.
The denouement of the story, while as gruesome as its setup foretold, is unexpectedly heartfelt and fully in keeping with its protagonist's spirit, as Edginton resists the urge to brutalise Grahame's character despite the ugly revelations he's forced to endure. It's a fine work that showcases two highly accomplished comics creators, whose later works together and separately are well worth seeking out. A great release to begin the year from Titan.