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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Frank Bellamy's King Arthur and his Knights. Clifford Makins (Writer), Frank Bellamy (Art). Book Palace Books (2008)

A great version of the Arthur legend that is interesting for what it leaves out as much as for its gorgeous contents. The story starts with Arthur removing the sword from the stone and proving his claim to the throne. This claim is disputed by King Lot who fights with Arthur and looses and swears allegiance. Lancelot, a knight from France travels to Camelot to join Arthur's court and Arthur and Lancelot become firm friends. Mordred, another knight, plots against Lancelot ans Arthur travels to France to fight Lancelot, Mordred in his absence usurps the throne. Arthur discovers the plot, returns to England and is mortally wounded in the battle against Mordred. Arthur, dying, has his sword Excalibur returned to the Lady of the Lake who gave it to him. The story is told with great momentum, the action is swift and exciting, the story never rests, it is always pushing forward.
The format of the comic can appear a little clunky, there are blocks of text beneath each panel as well as dialogue within the panels. After a page or two the reader ceases to notice and I found myself reading the comic as I would any other. This was aided by the vivid and dynamic art. It is simply astonishing, the flowing lines and expressive details, the panels never seem static, they are full of movement. One of the most extraordinary aspects to the art is the level of detail, the way the armour on the horses ridden by the knights is drawn. It does not crowd out or slow down the action, it gives a tremendous solidity and weight to the action. The cast are a joy, Arthur is clean cut and heroic, Merlin looks like a wizard, Mordred has an unmistakable atmosphere of villainy in every motion. The story emerges from the art with force, grace and power.
The story itself is compact and cunningly structured to provide a series of rousing adventures and remain true to the broad outline of the legend. What is very noticeable by its omission is the triangle between Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot that powers so many other versions. While romantic complications may have been excluded because of the age of the intended audience, this remains a brilliantly exciting story about honour, friendship and knights going into battle. In short is is everything it should be and quite a bit more as well. Fantastic.

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