Monday, July 15, 2013

Rahan: le fils des ages farouches

Formative years.
How much are our personalities shaped by our early imaginary role models? Would I be different if I had grown up reading comic books about military macho-men fighting for flag and country or would I still be my recidivist self?

Rahan. It would be unfair to begin this description by saying that the comic is set in the stone age, that Rahan is a caveman. Rahan is an idealized intellectual in the existential vein. He is a free individual, traveling the world helping his brothers and sisters, those-who-walk-upright, to survive the brutal demands of the prehistoric world. A vital, proactive exemplar of human virtue, he is part scientist, part explorer, part statesman, part rebel, part inventor. A renaissance man. A world citizen. Rahan is globe-trotting enlightenment in a loincloth.

Normally I'd link something here, either the wikipedia page, or the official website. However, no single presentation I can find online does it justice. In a nutshell, this is what I'm talking about: the original collection, written and drawn back in the 70s by Lecureux&Cheret, 27 issues of usually three stories each. The Nouvelle Collection contained good material but much of it was reprinted older episodes or if new often of lower quality, slightly more sensationalist or repetitive, showing signs that Lecureux was running out of steam. I don't particularly care what came afterwards. Apparently there's been a televised cartoon series and Lecureux Jr. took over writing the series, and sometime in there it turned into something not worth mentioning.

But ah, the old stories. They were carried as much on Cheret's art style as on the writer's knack for dreaming up stone-age scenarios. Maintaining a sense of wonder whenever a flightless bird or anachronistic dinosaur or giant stingray crashed into a panel hinged on maintaining an overall low-key, realistic, well-proportioned setting, and the drawings do this while also keeping the perspective pretty consistently locked close on Rahan himself, an almost first-person experience.


Rahan has two possessions (aside from his leather diaper) - one is his ivory knife, a symbol of both his freedom and wanderlust and his sheer will to live. The other is a necklace of five claws, each representing a virtue, passed among the chiefs of his doomed former clan and finally handed to him by his dying father in the midst of a volcanic eruption. Very dramatic.
Funny. They didn't feel the need to add 'and the French way' after wisdom and loyalty. He also never demands to hear the lamentations of anyone's women.
If the necklace is Rahan's conscience, his superego, then the knife is his id, his impulsiveness, his drive. Most adventures begin or end with him twirling ye olde coutelas d'ivoire on a rock, skull, upturned pot or other round surface so it can show him in which direction to travel next.

There is a good deal of variety in the adventures. There are monsters to fight in some, landscapes to traverse in others, tribal chiefs to depose elsewhere. There is never, EVER a true supernatural element involved, discounting the anachronistic dinosaurs or overgrown wildlife. Ghosts, spirits, gods and magic of any kind are always shown to be products of misinterpretation of natural phenomena or of deliberate deception.

Many stories are just adventures. Rahan has to overcome a challenge and he uses some natural principle like melting and re-freezing water or invents anything from fishing poles to aqueducts to oil lamps or the flute in order to do so. Others showcase a single interesting one-shot character (Le sacrifice de Maoni, Le rire de Tanaka.) A couple are sprawling epics (La valee de tourments.)

However, the most relevant to my developing mentality as I devoured my uncle's old collection of comic books was the fact that in every issue of Rahan, reason, intellect and fairmindedness triumph over brute strength, tyranny and ignorance. The most common recurring villain archetype was a tribe's shaman, witch doctor or other type of mystic keeping his people enthralled to superstition and miserable subservience. And Rahan trounced them. Every single con-man.

There's much of Rahan still rattling around inside my skull. Tenacite, bien sur. As much as I can. Et courage. I don't always live up to it, but I try. Loyaute ou generosite, not as such. These are social functions. Perhaps I simply have not found a deserving tribe as yet. Mais la griffe de sagesse, cela has dug a furrow to my heart...

My kingdom for an ivory knife.

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