The fantastic worlds of Rork (1984)

Article Information
TitleThe fantastic worlds of Rork
AuthorMat Schifferstein (Sherpa)
AuthorRené Smulders
Context Information
Magazine PublicationStripSchrift (1984, number 181)
Article Contents
from the article "The fantastic worlds of Rork (1984)":
Endlessly the young Rork questions his foster father, who tries to answer them as well as possible. On the night before Rork's tenth birthday he turns to his wife: "We don't have have any answers to his questions any more. Someone else should...". Meanwhile Rork's asleep and dreams that he's talking to strange, colorful creatures from another world. In this dream he also meets Tanemanar, the master of dreams. When Rork finally awakes after three nights of haunted sleep his hairs have turned white as a sheet. A moment later Tanemanar comes for him. Rork has shown an extraordinary intelligence already. Short after he awakes from the dream mentioned above he gets his first supernatural perception (a vision of the future, in which he sees the house of his parents go up in flames). He then spends many years with Tanemanar and has become, you could say, a sourcerer's apprentice. Rork learns a lot very quickly, and in Le cimetière des géants the time is right for his initiation in a great secret, that of the passages to other worlds. A secret that even Tanemanar has never mastered.
Both religion and magic believe in the existence of multiple worlds. One of these worlds is ours, the human world. Other worlds are peopled by spirits, gods and demons. Those worlds are unimaginable by man (and thus terrible).
Religion also has the concept of transgression or passage. But, ordinary man only enters one passage, at death. He leaves the realm of the living and enters the world of the dead. Rork obtains the power to pass from our world to parallel worlds in Le cimetière des géants. Hence Rork's no ordinary human. In La tache we read about Rork: "an apparently young man, whose birth wasn't witnessed by even the eldest inhabitants of Alien's point". In Le maître des rêves he concludes: "... that was the last time I saw my parents. That was three centuries ago." And in Le prisonnier du désespoir he reflects "I can't age".
Yet transgressing can be dangerous even to the highly gifted Rork. The battle between Rork and Pharass, the guardian of the Passage is central in the second bundle of Rork's adventures. We shall not go into this, since this album will only appear in half a year.
Back to the beginning. In november 1978 the first episode of Rork appears in Tintin/Hello BD (fr); Kuifje (nl): Un siècle pour une maison. A promising work of the young artist Andreas, that draws attention mainly by a mature drawing technique and the well told story.
Some influences are noteable, namely that of horror-and-fantasy writer Lovecraft and of draftsman Wrightson. Of Berni Wrightson (whom Andreas introduces in the first story as the young writer Bernard Wright) we recognize the typical, cramped postures of the persons: wide spread legs and arms, tendinous hands, faces with mouths whose ends are drawn downwards, and the 19th century clothing and waving cloaks. Furthermore Wrightson uses certain, very conspicuous camera positions, like the bird perspective (for example looking into the room from between the beams of the ceiling). He also has a specific way of drawing lines, among others a specific way of indicating shadows, namely by hatching.
We find this in Andreas work unmistakably. In the black-and-white pictures that are published at the start of the first Rork album, Fragments, are published we recognize Wrightson's last work so precisely, the black-and-white illustrations for Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein', that we can see this as an ode. In his strips Andreas shows that he is very well capable of telling his own story, even with borrowed techniques. He perfects these techniques as well, and uses them in a very personal way. For example he uses a very abnormal page layout and often plain spectacular perspectives.
H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), an American writer of pulp fiction, is loved by some adepts of the fantastic story. His stories assume a self-developed Cthulhu-mythology: "All my stories assume the fundamental knowledge or legend that this world once was inhabited by another race, that lost its support by practicing black art, yet lives on elsewhere, perpetually prepared to take over the earth once again" (Wordt Vervolgd I).
The stories of Lovecraft are full of the threat of the Unnamable, the Terrible. They are full of damned, occult knowledge, cursed books and the insanity of those that once have been in contact with what is to remain asleep, forever hidden. Lovecraft has written succesful stories, like 'the Shadow over Insmouth', 'The haunter of the dark', 'The outsider' and 'The thing on the doorstep'. In the Netherlands, several bundles have been published, mainly by Bruna. Lovecrafts horror is not subtle, and many of his stories are boring and grotesque, but he has inspired many people, amongst whom Philippe Druillet and Alberto Breccía, who have each in their own way tried to express the Unimaginable.
H.P. Lovecraft's influence returns in Rork in the visible or invisible presence of that which cannot be comprehended: Bernard Wright who suddenly starts to write in an unknown handwriting (Un siècle pour une maison), the impression that remains after Neels' house is destroyed by something of outer space (Point fatal), the inhumanly great structure and the presence of something that leaves large footprints, yet remains (luckily) unseen in Low Valley, the unavoidable theat of an approaching death that leaves the writer just the time to commit his terrible discovery to paper (Le prisonnier du désespoir), and the monster in Les oubliés, that inspires the people to express their feelings of hatred towards eachother, resulting in killing eachother. Lovecraft himself appears in the first episode of Révélations posthumes, a series of stories that Andreas made together with François Rivière for (A Suivre), in the same period the first 'Rork' stories were made.
The Rork-syndrome
The first Rork story of Andreas is promising, and the following stories will only get better. Who then expects that Andreas will become one of Tintin/Hello BD (fr); Kuifje (nl)'s heroes is mistaken: 'Rork' hasn't entered a single reader's top ten.
For one thing, this is because Andreas' stories are not easy. Drawings and text require concentrated reading, and that invokes a near death sentence at the redaction of Tintin/Hello BD (fr); Kuifje (nl). It cannot be a coincidence that the brilliant 'Rork' stories are replaced by the more artificial and rather boring story La caverne du souvenir. Just like the intriguing stories of 'Wen' (by Eric) have been replaced by the adventures of 'Fool' (site-editor: Dutch: Dwaaskop).
13 Stories of Rork were placed over a period of three-and-a-half year, with an occasional year-long inter-episode period. In the beginning, at the time of the stories that were later bundled into the first book, Fragments, this caused few problems for the readers, since these stories were rather autonomous. Any way, the infrequent appearance did the recognition, and thus the popularity, no good.
The later stories, to be bundled in Passages, are connected and reflect previous episodes repeatedly. By means of flashbacks Rork's past is unveiled, and the complete history is finished. That was impossible to trace in Tintin/Hello BD (fr); Kuifje (nl). The later stories of Rork are too hard (or rather: too subtle) to be published in a scattered way. Not only the redaction, that waited up to a year before publishing stories, is to blame, but mainly Andreas, a perfectionist who never wants to be satisfied with a result.
Whether 'Rork' will come back is unclear. A mysterious, autonomous episode has appeared in Super Tintin/Kuifje 18: Cosmos (1982), but in Tintin/Hello BD (fr); Kuifje (nl) the 14th episode was never placed. It forms the final act of the cycle and in it all lines of the story will meet. This episode concludes book two, Passages that will appear in September. Up to then all readers of Tintin/Hello BD (fr); Kuifje (nl) will have to wait for the unravelling of the story. Despite all shortcomings of publication frequency (by one Tintin reader even called the Rork-syndrome) the fact that Rork is stopped is a great loss to Tintin/Hello BD (fr); Kuifje (nl). We think the readers of the albums Fragments and Passages can agree to this.
Rork is, as we have seen, a magician. The master of dreams has initiated him "in countless secrets from books that (he has) only seen at his place" (Le cimetière des géants). The initiation of the magician has a different purpose then that of the believer. In the same way religious man believes and reverently approaches to superhuman in astonishment, the magician wants to acquire knowledge to get control over the supernatural, powers from different worlds. Where religion bases itself on belief, magic basis itself on knowledge. Knowledge of the supernatural is written in books an initiate can read. We see Rork often absorbed by books. But for the same reason his enemy Ebenezer, in Le retour de la tache sets fire and later tells Rork: "I really only wanted to burn your books...since that is where you could have learned the secret of miss Darkthorn's powers and develop a counterforce."
To the magician the science of the supernatural is not an impossibility, since everything reflects everything: for example we can trace matters of this world in the constellation of the stars (the macrocosmos) or in the intestines of an animal or the cards in a deal of cards (the microcosmos). To the magician it holds: as above, so below.
Rork possesses a lot of knowledge. That knowledge brings with it many dangers. Point fatal starts with the line: "Rork knows that even in the loneliness of his own home he isn't safe to a sudden interruption by unknown forces, that seem to observe him continuously". In Le cimetière des géants Tanemanar says about the knowledge (of passages) that Rork is to gain that he will carry this as a "continuous threat".
A good example of how everything is connected is the story Point fatal. When Adam Neels (read Neal Adams, an American comics artist) makes a sphere burst other spheres may burst as well. Andreas doesn't explain exactly what occult relationship exists between the spheres, but does make Neels explain his invention: "One places a sphere between the rings... places the needles against the sphere... and spins the flying sphere twice... notice the pattern of lines that is drawn... () In all this mixup of crossing lines there is always one point where five lines cross. It requires only a light pressure to..." and the sphere bursts.
At first one is inclined to think that the sphere that was placed in the device has gone weak by all the markings on its surface. But that doesn't explain the synchronous exploding of other spheres of the same volume that are positioned elsewhere. We must thus presume that Neels has a much more fascinating theory: every sphere has a weak spot, and with his device he is able to determine this spot. The bursting of all kinds of spheres proves his theory, and he is proud of it.
To the magician Rork it is a small leap of thought to then imagine the earth's sphere, and a nut that discovers that fatal point on the earth's surface. "All right, agreed" says Neels, "that has occured to me... but who would be crazy enough to saw through the branch he is sitting on?" Rork: "Exactly, a nut... or... yes, indeed, a nut..." Neels: "O, You always exaggerate! You spoil my beautiful invention."
Rork holds something back, but we can guess his thoughts: the same way Neels can burst the spheres in his laboratory, an alien power, to whom the earth is a mere toy ball, can burst the earth. What happens to us on a small scale (microcosmos) can happen elsewhere on a large scale (macrocosmos).
A minute later the events start to follow up rapidly as the villagers, that have had some hindrance of the side-effects of Neels' experiments, decide to destroy Neels' cabin to end it all. At that moment Neels has to admit that he has found the fatal point already, and has build his cabin on top of it. Almost immediately a supernatural force lowers "an enormous mass". Lucky for us Neels has made a mistake in his calculations. Understandably, since he is unable to build a device of suitable size for thís calculation.
We then return to Andreas' precision. At the moment Rork reaches Neels cabin (2nd page) we can see a kind of ivy growing above it. If we watch really carefully we can even see a cable and a hook in it. This is a detail we probably won't notice, but it returns at the 6th page. The page, in which Neels explains to have build his cabin on top of the fatal point, offers a top view (bird perspective) on the cabin and the people running towards it.We can see clearly that the cabin has been hung up with these cables between two trees. Alongside these cables the ivy curls. Thus Neels was afraid the weight of his cabin alone could mean an overload of pressure to the earth's surface.
The bird perspective through which we see the cabin is therefore not only very pretty, but very functional as well. And it certainly is not the only thing that is extremely effective: when at the same page the mass in the form of a giant needle descends from the sky, Andreas uses a picture that spans the full height of the page. For the impression of the needle in the earth's crest he chooses a large picture, to do justice to the giant proportions of the needle. For the picture in which Rork and Neels conclude that "somewhere up there () there is a power that is after our planet" Andreas takes a frog's perspective to also show the starry sky above. One star is blue...the color of the needle! Andreas uses more techniques very functionally to tell his stories. For example his use of color, or the composition of the pages.
Andreas picks his colors with care. For ordinary scenes the colors are more or less realistic. In Le maître des rêves the dreams of the ten year old Rork were depicted in conspicuously bright colors, to express the living experience of a child.
Impressive is Andreas when he uses shades of merely one or two colors, like in the flashback in Le prisonnier du désespoir, that is done in brown and grey, and the passage scene in Le cimetière des géants, in which the color changes from purple-violet to blue-grey.
Andreas' attention to colors expresses itself in other moments as well. Thus at some point he had to make a summary of past stories for Tintin/Hello BD (fr); Kuifje (nl), because they had waited a long time with the publication of the sequel. This page (site-editor: Fragments Summary) Andreas shaped into a disc, with Rork in the middle and the figures that stage the episodes around him, each story a segment of the circle, that isn't closed since the story isn't over. This page was printed in black-and-white in the album Fragments but in Tintin/Hello BD (fr); Kuifje (nl) it appeared in color. It was performed as a colorful disc: the segments of the disc each were performed in shades of one color, and this main color passed into the next segment's color: from yellow through green to blue, purple and red. The center space, with Rork in it, was white: Rork is the sum of all parts.
As we finally consider the symbolic level, we see that Rork who's dressed in black in later periodes finds himself opposite an opponent, Pharass, who is dressed entirely in white. This way the war between Good and Evil is for once expressed in a non-traditional way.
The composition of the page
Andreas uses increasingly stranger looking pages in the course of the stories. He uses page layouts we have only seen at Crepax, like pages with oblique pictures, or full of small fragmentary images. One can find very beautiful pictures of Rork. Let's take the first two pages of Le cimetière des géants as an example. The first page offers us a view of the room. We look through the beams of the ceiling into the room. We can see books everywhere, and Tanemanar and Rork are just going outside. The second page consists of six page-wide pictures below each other, in which we come from high above Rork and his master, going down, while approaching the two persons, and then, still descending, move away from them again, until at last we find ourselves far below Rork and Tanemanar. Across this page you could, so to say, draw two diagonals: the camera that moves from the upper left to the lower right, and the persons moving through the wood from the lower left to the upper right.
This is not only tightly scheduled and esthetically sound; it is also - and that what important in a strip - very functional. At the last picture the two persons approach from the woods to an abyss, into which they will descend shortly. Through the fast lowering of the camera the reader is already standing below, making the abyss appear to be very deep.
The same way we can look at the next pages in the same story, in which Andreas draws huge monsters (large picture), followed by a descending Rork and his companion (small pictures, read from top to bottom), followed by the beast breaking through the ceiling (vertical picture, read from bottom to top). Experimental, indeed, but remarkably well readable, and thus well thought through.
Images and text
Every strip is told with texts and images. Text and images each have their own properies, though. Andreas makes use of that. He for example opposes text and images occasionally. The text at the beginning of Point fatal reads: "Its a sombre, savage forest. The people of the village rarely dare to go there..." The image indeed shows us that sombre, dark forest, yet at the same time a cabin, and the shadow of a man falling on a treetrunk. The image contradicts the text, more or less, and prepares us for the next picture, in which we learn that the old Neels lives in the cabin, and we see that the shadow belongs to Rork, who is approaching the cabin.
Andreas uses, particularly in his later stories of Passages, many pages without text, which in itself is a piece of art few authors are capable of. In the forelast episode (the last one to be published in Tintin) he even tells two stories at the same time: one by means of the texts and one by means of the images, having a very dramatic effect. The text reflects the conversation between Rork and the private investigator Raffington Event, and the images show what happens concurrently, elsewhere, between the opponents of Rork. At the last picture of the episode Rork concludes his story, and his enemies reach his house at that moment. All elements are present for a (sensational?) finale.
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