The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, is considered by many to be the first British graphic novel. Written and drawn by its creator, the acclaimed graphic novelist Bryan Talbot, it was first serialised in the adult SF comic Near Myths in October 1978, featuring the character Talbot had previously introduced in The Papist Affair in 1976, a short strip for Brainstorm Comix where Arkwright teamed up with a group of cigar-chewing biker nuns to recover the sacred relics of St. Adolf of Nuremberg from “a buncha male chauvinist priests”. But The Adventures was a far more serious and ambitious tome. Stories were later continued in pssst! magazine, interrupted in 1982, less than half complete, though republished in a collected edition.
Between 1987 and 1989 Bryan Talbot completed the story, published as a series of nine titular comic books by Valkyrie Press, followed by a tenth issue containing articles about the history and production of the comic and some extended back story and character information. It was subsequently published in the United States by Dark Horse Comics.
The Michael Moorcock-inspired story of a reluctant soldier fighting across a multiverse of parallel Earths was inspirational to many creators, including Alan Moore, Dave Sim, Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman – who wrote a short illustrated poem, Luther’s Villanelle for the comic’s final issue.
It won four Eagle Awards and the Society of Strip Illustration Award for Best Graphic Novel, was adapted into role-playing games and a 3-hour audio drama starring David Tennant as Arkwright. The second Arkwright graphic novel, Heart Of Empire, began publication by Dark Horse in colour in 1999, collected in 2001. Both books have been in continual print since they were first published. Since then, Talbot has worked on many other comics and graphic novels, including Alice In Sunderland, Dotter Of Her Father’s Eyes and the Grandville series.
And now, in 2022, we are to get the third Luther volume from Bryan Talbot, The Legend of Luther Arkwright, 46 years after his original story first saw publication. To be published by Jonathan Cape in the UK and Dark Horse Books in the US, Bryan Talbot has completed the script and has started drawing it.
Like the first two books, The Legend of Luther Arkwright, to be released nearly 20 years after the last one, contains a strong anti-fascist theme. The first book, appearing against the background of the rise of the British extreme right, with the coming-to-power of the Thatcher Government and the National Front marching on the streets, was a forerunner of V for Vendetta. At the time, Talbot was doing voluntary illustrative work for his local Anti-Nazi League Group. Now, with the extreme right on the rise again, all over the world, the timing of the book is especially pertinent.
Heart of Empire told a different kind of adventure, told in a different style. The Legend of Luther Arkwright, is intended to be another stand-alone story in this tradition, while still maintaining continuity with the Arkwright mythos.
The Legend of Luther Arkwright, a 220-page hardback black and white graphic novel, is set 51 years after the events of Heart of Empire and takes place on several very different parallel worlds, though Arkwright, being a homo novus, looks not a day older.
The previous two books are currently available as a lavish 550-page hardback Arkwright Integral version from Dark Horse. This will be republished next year in a trade paperback omnibus edition, minus all the extra material contained in the Integral version.
Only three years to wait. We’ve waited a couple of decades as it is… we can cope.