Phillip Pullman is best known for the His Dark Materials series, a set of children’s fantasy novels that challenge much of the received wisdom for the entire fantasy genre. His work, as a rule, is both accessible and clever. The Adventures of John Blake is his first attempt at a graphic novel, and it’s a rather stunning debut.
Originally available in serial format via popular children’s comic The Phoenix, The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship sets out a rather interesting and odd world. The titular character is a young man who happens to be trapped upon a mysterious ship called the Mary Alice. The ship has something of a reputation; sailors throughout the ages report the same ship and the same young person with a rather intense glare. When the crew of the Mary Alice rescue a 14-year-old Serena from drowning, the young lass uncovers a shocking secret. The ancient scooner is trapped in time, doomed to skip from era to era.
This is the opening pitch for the series and the world. There is of course, much more to it. We get all of Pullman’s favourite motifs here. Super competent super spies, seemingly arcane GPS style devices that are wondrous in application and nature and of course, very, very competent young people doing the right thing in a world filled with corrupt adults.
This is essentially a very well paced thriller with a smattering of fantasy elements. Strip away the strangeness and we still have a very solid adventure story. Add the strange devices, the time travel experiments and spy-fi elements and what we get is a cracking read for people of all ages.
Fred Fordham’s art is rather gorgeous. It’s cinematic in an animated sort of way; the entire book feels like it’s pulled from an incredibly high quality animation. The attention to detail is spot on and the character design is clever and smooth. Fordham also has to draw an awful lot of background and even though this is (sort of) set in the real world, the detail is nothing short of fantastic.
The book is part one of a series, but this is a complete story. There’s little in the way of cliff-hangers, but we’ll definitely look forward to the next one.
THE ADVENTURES OF JOHN BLAKE: MYSTERY OF THE GHOST SHIP / WRITER: PHILLIP PULLMAN / ARTIST: FRED FORDHAM / PUBLISHER: GRAPHIX / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW