Madwoman of the Sacred Heart
Alexandro Jodorowsky (story), Moebius (Illustration), Florence Breton (Colours), Daniel Cacouault (Colours), Zoran Janjetov (Colours) and Scarlet Smulkowski (Colours)
I came across this strange saga by the sheerest of chance – saw it in passing and couldn’t help but pick it up because of two reasons:
Jodorowsky and Moebius.
Personally I’m a HUGE fan of every single image ever crafted by the man who called himself Moebius. He is to my mind the finest comic artist ever – his style, his visuals, his panelling and especially his designs are truly the stuff of legend. And the pairing of this creative powerhouse duo has given rise to some real landmarks in the comic world. Not as well known to the average person as their American counter-parts, but known and respected amongst those who look at the medium through a wider scope.
So it was that I went into this book-in-three-parts with a fairly high level of expectation, but by the very nature of the story and the setting, with that expectation tempered ever so much. The main reason for that is because both of these creators excel at the surreal, at the out-there, at the kind of story-telling where you can let your imagination craft the unimaginable. There was the possibility that this book would have that in a more super-natural sense perhaps, but it was not a given.
I read through the first book and was intrigued. It was a great deal more toned down and a great deal less surreal in the concepts, but the events transpiring for our “protagonist” – aging philosophy professor Mangel – finds him leaping down a philosophical and ethical rabbit-hole. Is young Elisabeth crazy? Is that voice in his head a real voice or is Mangel himself already insane and didn’t know it? What will be the consequences of his actions and what is the morality of taking advantage of a deluded person – if in fact they are the deluded ones and not you?
It was intriguing enough that I decided to read the story through and went and found the next two installments.
While not quite like a lot of books I’ve read by them in some respects, the interpretations of various philosophies – Kant in particular – as well as the questions raised on the ethics/morality I mentioned before as well as a healthy dose of religious belief, all playing on the same field, definitely drew me into the crazy events unfolding.
Jodorowsky weaves a tale that is certainly intriguing if you can follow it, I can imagine people not familiar with the ideas/concepts that Mangel wrestles with perhaps being quite as engaged. There are more than a few moments where the dialogue was heavy enough in expressing a philosophical idea that I had to read it over and then ponder context for a few moments, so it could be a potential turn-off for some. But then even amongst the unfamiliar, this is a great example of expanding ones mind and awareness of ideas – it’s pretty much how I learnt a lot of the philosophy I know today.
Moebius of course does what he does best and creates pages that would be great fun to look over even without any text at all. His characters range from very realistic to almost caricature-ish or whatever else that moment seems to require – the same for the settings and backgrounds that are such an integral part of the comic narrative. From the city, to the forests and fields, to the jungles of South America and the dream-walking sequences and everything else, each has a visual style that maintains a common base-style and yet has an energy that works so well with the story being told in those panels and pages. The word I would use is that they’re all “evocative” of the feeling each one is supposed to bring out in you.
It’s rare to get a comic, a book or anything that is so strangely balanced in its approach to touchy subjects like religion – largely they tend to either be preachy, soft pedal or go to an unpleasant extreme. This comic does none of those on the face of it – of course it would have some stern Christians perhaps claiming blasphemy, but if you read the book for what it is, you’d know that’s just silly. The interplay between Mangels philosophy and the unwavering faith of Elisabeth is the backbone of the story and reasonably well put forth. The fact that they are able to inject a touch of humour every now and again and make things feel not quite as bizarre as they should by all rights, is a testament to the skill of the creators.
Where it suffers though is that one the one hand each part is a stage in the journey of Mangel and by proxy, the reader, but somehow in the last part in particular I guess I was a bit underwhelmed. Perhaps it’s a side-effect of my non-religious nature and personal philosophy, but the eventual ending was a tad unsatisfying, though the part of the third book with the aged mystic Dona Paz was possibly amongst my favourite things out of all three books.
The final words, for me, are that this book is a mixed bag. If you like playing with philosophy and ideas and more specifically, such debates in the context of religion and reason, then this is definitely a book worth reading to expand your repertoire and thinking. It’s also genuinely quite entertaining so might be worth a try even if it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea (unless you’re a very fundie prude) simply because you never know what might catch your fancy and at the very least you’ll be intelligently entertained.