The Vagabond of Limbo
In the realm of science fiction there are several comic books that left a deep mark on wider popular culture. For example, Alex Gordon’s Flash Gordon represents one of the first examples of such a grand influence on space operas – the concept of Star Wars consequently drew plenty from this. One can find many gems such as this in the francophone culture of illustrated novels, such as The Vagabond of Limbo. You can find more cool stuff about this in my article about The Incal.
Oh yeah, it gets weird.
Created by Julio Ribera and Christian Goddard in the ‘70s Paris, The Vagabond of Limbo in a sense represents a meta-space opera which echoes in the wartime childhood memories of its authors and the need to escape the horror of reality. Originally named Axle Munshine, this comic book encompasses all required of a grand tale – adventure, a love story and a political-ideological background. The lead character, Axle Munshine was once “The Great Conciliator” of the interplanetary alliance named The Guild, but was banished from his world for doing the unthinkable, breaking the Thirteenth Commandment – dreaming outside of normal bounds. The interplanetary Guild sits at the throne of the universe and forbids the crossing of the boundaries of the dream, but our hero, driven by the sight of a perfect woman named Chimeera broke that rule.
Exiled, he wanders the galaxy in The Silver Dolphin, the mightiest ship in the galaxy created by his long-lost father. The ship is able to bend to the captain’s will, thus able to do almost unthinkable things. The crew of the ship consists of self-replicating androids created by the father for the son and their leader is a genius android scientist named Gamon. At one point Gamon helps Munshine construct a machine which would allow him to record his dreams on tape. Munshine’s first dream is the chaos of a war on Earth. The world of The Vagabond of Limbo does not show us a future world, but a world parallel to ours, existing at the same time. Our reality is a dream for Munshine, and vice versa.
Our hero is not your average Do-Goody Two-Shoes, mind you. Munshine is a thirty year old mature adventurer who only seeks Chimeera, the obsessive image of a woman that he sees in his dreams. But, Munshine’s waking life is dominated by Muskee. Muskee is a child of a powerful Ethernaut prince who has lived for hundreds of years as a thirteen year old. He/she decides to choose gender and his/her mortality when he/she finds a person who he/she wants to grow old with – bearing in mind that the child’s father has a number of copies of the child in different stages of life.
Oh yeah, it gets weird. Muskee laughs at the world and desires of adults, but is still quite curious to know what lies there. Chimera is on the other hand, naught but a dream. As her name says, she represents imagination, a powerful projection, something abstract which gives the driving force to Munshine. This triangle of characters lies at the core of the story of the Silver Dolphin.
The visual style of the comic book is immensely powerful. The worlds that the ship traverses are numerous and they all somehow derive from a caricature of our own reality, a sort of a paraphrase of our history and cultural heritage. The entire story delves at times deep into post-modernity, deriving from Alice in Wonderland, the Bible, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and other science fiction titles, but always adding a new dimension to the original foundation. One other, I’d say prophetic vision of the modern world are the aggressive ads that often permeate some of the atmospheres in the stories, given the time when it was written.
The Vagabond of Limbo represents a very unique find in the history of illustrated novels.
The themes of the volumes are often quite philosophical, as in “The Center of Amniote” where the plot revolves around a planet that is kept in a constant state of war. When the central computer explains to Munshine and Muskee all the human and technological advancements that wars brought, as well as a strong meaning it gives to human existence, one cannot argue logic. Of course, the two characters conclude that the computer must have gone haywire, because in their world war does not exist. No less interesting is an episode called “In a World of Ploys”, where as an effect of Munshine having his blood sucked by a huge bug, different Earth time periods become mixed, represented as Hollywood movies. Medieval times, the Second World War, American wars with Native Americans, Hell’s Angels, all these things mix into a nightmare, a dream that loses its meaning. But at the end of the dream, we are left with a bitter taste of how meaningless human existence really is. The Vagabond of Limbo represents a very unique find in the history of illustrated novels.
Eroticism as well plays an important role in the story, and it is closely knit in the story. Ribera and Goddard played with this idea a lot during the realization of the series, but as the story often borders on the bizarre, so do the representations, especially explicit in the scenes of “monster” sex. Sorta like soft-core tentacle porn. Only really artsy.
The Vagabond of Limbo resonated with the art world of the seventies, and some influences were picked up by other authors. George Lucas’ strange creatures in the tavern on Tatooine very closely resemble creatures drawn by Ribera. On the other hand, the world of Blade Runner and Mad Max as well share a very similar atmosphere to some created by the French-Spanish duo.
This existentialist gem represents a dive into a different kind of comic book reading, a one that can at times be disturbing, but definitely thought-provoking. As the books are out of print these days, the volumes to look for in English are An Ultimate Alchemist and Is What is Reality, Papa?
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