Rosinski and Van Hamme’s The Great Power of the Chninkel is an epic graphic novel that offers an odd mix between The Dark Crystal, 2001: A Space Odyssey and the New Testament. Originally published in French in 1986-87 as Le Grand Pouvoir du Chninkel, it is one of the first European comic works that could accurately be described as a ‘graphic novel’ in that it tells a complete story within a set number of chapters that are usually published as one package. It is an important link in the history of European comics. An English translation appeared in 1991 but went out of print and ever since the comic is always on the verge of getting a reprint, but until that time there are online fan translations (scanlations) to be found. I read it in Dutch as ‘De Chninkel’.
So, what’s a Chninkel? The main character J’on is a Chninkel. A small Hobbit-like creature, but with the ears, teeth and big beady button-eyes of a mouse. The artist Rosinski might have taken some inspiration from the Gelflings from The Dark Crystal (1982). On J’on’s world, three armies lead by three immortal leaders are locked in perpetual war with each other. The Chninkels are a slave race for these armies. After the latest battle, J’on exclaims that he is just sick of it all. He then receives a vision from God, who appears before him as the black rectangle from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and God agrees with J’on. God tells J’on that he has five “sun-crossings” to bring peace to the world, otherwise he will unleash Armageddon and burn the whole thing down. To help J’on, he gives him The Power, but we’re not really told what it is.
J’on is a reluctant Messiah; doesn’t really believe in it all, thinks his vision might have been a dream, and this Power does not seem to work in the way he expects, if it even exists at all. He still collects a group of disciples around him who fanatically believe that he is the chosen one to deliver the Chninkels from slavery and save the world, including an attractive girl, G’wel and a gorilla. In the title I guess we can replace the word Chninkel with Christ in our mind. The novel received criticism at publication, for religious folk found that it was too sarcastic about Christianity, and many non-religious folk found it too religious. Writer Van Hamme walked a line that apparently didn’t please anyone, but it was still a commercial success.
Aside: What is it with comics and gorillas? Comics seem obsessed with gorillas. The amount of Superman issues that feature a gorilla with x-ray vision is endless. The King Kong ripoffs are endless. Mind-swap stories with gorillas are endless. Gorilla brides! Gorillas out of space! Gorilla mob boss! Wonder Woman has an issue in which she has to teach a gorilla how to play baseball. And yes, The Chninkel has a gorilla, named Bom-Bom. He’s not in it for long, though, and gets into an epic fight with a horde of gnomes.
For a story about cute mousy Elf creatures, there is a surprising and disturbing amount of nudity and sex in here, including attempted rape by evil gnomes. I wouldn’t have expected oodles of voluptuous elf breasts and hairy gnome cheeks in Jeff Smith’s Bone nor in The Dark Crystal, and neither did I expect it here. J’on too is too forward; finds it hard to keep his hands in check. I guess because he grew up as a slave he grew a Nice Guy syndrome. The attractive girl G’wel gets harassed constantly. The tables are turned on J’on by a witch. It’s a violent comic too; bloody and cruel. This is not a cute fantasy world, but a harsh place of warfare and slavery. But it is imaginative, with interesting races and creatures, and excellent drawings.
The story took a bit too much inspiration from The Dark Crystal. Not only do J’on and the other Chninkels look like the Gelflings from the film, but there is also the multiple suns and the prophecy at their crossing, and the visit to a witch woman, and the bringing together of the ancient ones at the sun-crossing. All very similar. And then we have J’on and the deliverance of his people and his crucifixion and his taking up the sins of the bad guys. And after all that a direct reference to the first scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ll be gentle and say that it pays homage to other works, but the story of the Chninkel lacks an identity of its own if you were to remove all these references.