Michael Moorcock is a writer of great acclaim with an oeuvre full of interesting gems, spread across the ages. James Cawthorn is a remarkably skilled and talented storyteller and artist. Put the two together and you have a terrifyingly exciting piece of work. And that’s really what Chronicles of Hawkmoon is. It’s James Cawthorn adapting the classic novels of Moorcock, completely through his lens. This rare and wonderful collection contains the first two books, before the ultimate publication of the parts that come after.
It’s a massive, gorgeous collection full of astonishing art that feels like looking at a time capsule. One is transported back into times long past and given a lens into a sensibility of old. It’s precisely what one hopes and expects a classic collection like this to do and it’s a marvelous read from start to finish. Divided into the two parts, The Jewel in the Skull and The Crystal and The Amulet, Chronicles of Hawkmoon is a time less science fiction fantasy epic steeped in pulpy sensibilities.
The world has been changed after great and terrible events of the past and now in place of our usual world, a fantastical science-fiction fantasy civilization has grown. In place of Britain, there is Granbretan and The Dark Empire and the world is now full of gigantic flamingos which people may ride across countries, strange technologies and bizarre sorcery. It’s a wild world with a sprawling history of its own, despite its roots being in our own and it presents eternal conflicts and wars that are waged in service to higher powers and beliefs. For some that is The Emperor of the Dark Empire, the immortal and undying Huon. For others it is The Runestaff, the legendary and mythic object that rules and guides destiny of all. In a lot of ways, it’s reminiscent of iconic tales such as Star Wars and fans of that franchise should find some to like here.
Dorian Hawkmoon, the noble and rebellious hero is a dynamic and dashing protagonist and his mythic role in the greater saga is one that is incredibly thrilling to follow. Cawthorne’s raw, black and white pencils portray a classical hero in a heightened world, one which is metaphorical at its absolute best, where in conflicts are waged over the simple things we all understand to this day: pride, greed, wrath, lust and more. There’s a harsh veracity to Cawthorn’s pencil work, which manages to make great use of the blacks to accentuate key elements. His characters emote and perform in ways that are just believable enough, while Cawthorn enhances them and their world with the most dynamic and strange of sequences. From nightmarish visions of a devil surrounded by planets to moments of psychedelic and shamanic sorcery at work, Cawthorn’s thick lines make it all work. There’s a beautiful crudeness to Cawthorn’s art which really sells the reader on the barbaric and fantastic reality Hawkmoon and the rest of his peers inhabit. That being said, it is far from simple work, as Cawthorn clearly slaves away to achieve appropriate and clear textural differences to convey a sense of lived-in history to his world. He wants you to know that each element is something different and this is a rich universe and the detail and precision with which he presents certain things is spectacular.
The captions which grant the work its mythic quality, clearly from the novels, are fantastic, if dated. The lettering may pull readers out and certainly takes getting used to. And while it certainly won’t work for everyone, if one chooses to engage with the work within the context it was made, for the time it was made, soon enough, there’s a level of immersion that comes with it.
The collection also opens with a lovely, informative and engrossing introduction by creator Burne Hogarth and also features a rare and informative interview with Cawthorn about his work and career. For a Moorcock or Cawthorn fan, this is easily a must have, as it’s a whole new way to experience classic stories and through the lens of one of the greatest illustrators in comics history, with great insight into his work and process. This is a valuable piece of comics and literary history and it should not be missed.
The Chronicles of Hawkmoon: History of the Runestaff Volume One is a lovingly put together collection that is absolutely worth it. It’s a must-have for not only fans of the creators involved but for history buffs, fantasy fans and anyone willing to jump into wild worlds full of pulpy sensiblities as well as swords and sorcery.
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