What comic books did you read as a kid? Me? I grew up reading Thorgal and Funky Koval and Chninkel. These graphic novels were way above my maturity level, and I would be oblivious to their more complex nuances, but I loved them nevertheless. I would giggle at the strong sexual contents, and would marvel at the complexity of the sf or fantasy worlds they depicted. Every few years I would pick up these books and re-read them and each time I did it, I would understand them better and find something that I missed on the previous reading.
Sadly, I no longer have any copies of Funky Koval and Thorgal. They got borrowed and not returned, or still slowly rot at the bottom of a book case at my mom’s house, and ocean away from my current location. Fortunately I kept a copy of Chninkel and I was able to re-read it once again some time ago – this time around as a grown ass man. And you know what?
It’s still pretty damn good. Violent, bloody, full of explicit sexuality, irreverent, dirty but also rather clever, imaginative, funny and well written. I’d highly recommend it to all comic enthusiasts, and manga lovers who are willing to venture out and check out European comic scene. Sadly, up until now I could never find an English version of the book.
In the last few weeks however I begun to see it pop up everywhere. Apparently a scanlation group Manga-Sketchbook has released an unofficial English translation very recently. And since the internet is a great machine for caching and copying data the book has been replicated on dozens of different websites.
If you are interested in reading it, I recommend the copy at Manga Volume. You can read it right in your browser with a clean, and easy to use interface. If that’s down there is a similar online copy at FindManga.com, AnumeA, Manga Gamestotal and AnyManga.com.
If you hate these online readers you can always download all 10 chapters from Reality Lapse here. The whole thing is broken down into 10 zip files which makes it a bit inconvenient but that’s what we have for now.
I scanned through the scanlation and it seems faithful to the original, but the translation seems a bit shaky in places. Granted, I only read a Polish translation myself (the book was originally written in French). Still, the English version of J’On (the main character) looses a of his dry, sarcastic wit. Still, Manga Sketchbook folks did an amazing job either way. Translating fiction is extremely difficult – and despite popular belief it has nothing to do with fluency in a given language. It requires a lyrical soul, strong literary intuition and a way with words in the destination language. A translator has to not only faithfully convert messages between two languages. She has to be able to replace un-translatable local idioms to equivalent ones, be able to carry over the puns, wordplay and innuendos of the original without losing the overall message and much more. Translating a graphic novel is a herculean task, and anyone attempting to do it in their free time should be given props.
The story takes place in a fantasy world of Daar ravaged by a centuries long war waged between armies of the three immortal rulers of the realm. No one even remembers the reason for the war, or how it started. It is simply a fact of life that the armies of the immortals must battle every time Daar’s two suns meet in the sky. Like clockwork their armies roll out, and engage in ritualized mindless slaughter. There are no goals, no objectives, no strategy – just three armies clashing at a battlefield and fighting until no one is left standing.
After one of such battles, J’On – a sole survivor left to die on a battlefield has a vision. A creator of the universe appears to him (taking a form suspiciously similar to the Monolith from Clarke’s Space Odyssey) and tasks him with ending the war. If he fails to do it the world will be destroyed.
The only problem is that J’On is a Chninkel – member of a diminutive slave race, and as such he has no say in the grand politics of the warring nations. His people are used as cheap labor, cannon flooder and often as living foot stools. Member of the higher races would quicker kill a Chninkel than to listen to his advice. How could someone as J’On bring about peace on a world that knew only war for centuries? Why would a creator deity choose such an unlikely creature to be his prophet?
The answer is simple – a creator of billions of worlds has no time or patience to look for a better candidate. J’On was around, and thus he got the job. Being a slave is irrelevant, because in the eyes of the creator all living things are equal.
And so, J’On becomes the unlikely hero and a messiah of his people. He sets out on a heroes journey, gathers followers, disciples, performs miracles (usually by accident or using magic, rather than the divine might he was supposedly granted) and pisses off all the immortals in the process.
Rosinski and Van Hamme take the Unlikely Hero trope and combine it with the Messianic Archetype. In fact, J’On’s story parallels that of another famous messiah quite closely. It is basically a story about a savior who was born to a bizarre fantasy world as a lowly slave, has no divine origin, no divine powers, no confidence and no inclination to be a messianic figure. What if the savior was just a cowardly, shifty, horny little guy who just wants to be left alone.
I highly recommend giving it a read. The black and white artwork is excellent, the world is captivating, imaginative and demented and the story is well written and executed flawlessly. Its’ a sweeping epic, broad in it’s scope but fast paced, interesting and clever. If you were ever curious about the European comic book scene, read Chninkel. It’s a classic!
Oh, and a word of warning: the book can be a bit raunchy in places. Some panels are definitely NSFW. I wouldn’t even say anything but after living in US for more than 10 years not I know some people can be a bit touchy in regards to any kind of nudity, even if it’s hand drawn. So, if you are more on the prudish side, or easily offended – handle with care. Otherwise dig in! It’s free, and I believe it is somewhat legal. To my knowledge the book was never released in English so the scanlation doesn’t infringe on anyone’s copyright yet. At least I don’t think so. Well… It’s a gray area.