The White Lama (1988-’93) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Georges Bess


The White Lama is a story about a white boy, born in a village in Tibet and becoming the next incarnation of the Lama in Tibetan religion. The kid then grows up to attain enlightenment and to defend the Tibetans in their time of need from encroaching, warlike others with his Buddhist magical superpowers. If that sounds like the worst kind of white saviour story and cheap Orientalist appropriation that you could imagine, then your impression would be right. It is exactly that. And it is no surprise to me at all that this story has been written by Alejandro Jodorowsky, because he would write such a story. That man has perfectly embodied the archetype of the embarrassing grandfather. The one who just can’t get with the times, and who you don’t want to put in the same room with your girlfriend. 


I greatly enjoyed reading this comic and even admired it. I’ll try to explain why.

The thing with Jodorowsky is that he has worked with the finest artists Europe had to offer. Georges Bess is a fantastic comics artist and he has travelled extensively in Tibet – a place that occupied him greatly. For this comic, then, I suspected that much of the story was created in close cooperation between writer and artist, and Bess poured his heart into the artwork. The landscapes, the villages, the faces, the carpets, tools and surroundings, the costumes, it all looks fantastic and inspired by actual visits to the place. Each page is also dense with storytelling; it is a very full story for which the panels nearly can’t contain the great vistas and dynamic angles. It’s like a big-screen Western with dramatic landscapes, contained by a small old TV. The story is broken up a quite a few chapters and I found myself savouring the story by reading a short chapter at a time.

The story is ludicrous, but never boring. We’re always in the middle of some wild plotline with demons, sorcerers, double-crossing monks, or even the Abominable Snowman. Gabriel, the young kid, has his origin story. He needs to be trained to become a warrior, which is one of Jodorowsky’s favourite themes. The man’s grasp on Eastern religions seems tenuous (not that I’m an expert), but Jodorowsky is all about Becoming The Warrior, raaaah! whatever that might really mean. Gabriel is put through a harrowing exile and struggle to get there. I don’t know why Jodorowsky is so focused on this warrior idea but it featured heavily in his Metabarons series and his preparations for his Dune film that never came. Another reason why the story is never boring is because this is an unusual fantasy story. Every ten pages or so, something supernatural happens, something with magic in it, and whenever that is the case, the magic is strange, shocking, unsettling even. The visuals are full of liquid-looking magic, floating people and transformations. Thus the comic becomes a memorable one.

Gabriel is unfortunately not a very compelling protagonist. For most of the story he is just this young blonde kid who has to endure a lot of hardships, and he is wise and noble beyond his years which makes him a bit of caricature. It’s such a straightforward Campbellian hero story that Gabriel is annoyingly innocent and competent. He has little personality. Plus, the story follows a very predictable formula. In broad lines you know where it is going. Compared to The Incal and to Jodorowsky’s movies, this is calm, restrained, whereas the appeal of those other works lay in that you had no idea in what madness you found yourself. This is one of his more accessible works, therefore, and leverages the basic power of a hero story and does that well, even though Gabriel the character remains at a distance.

There are a lot of villainous characters in this story, which of course leads to their comeuppance at the end and Gabriel’s rise as a heroic figure of deliverance. The story is a lot more complicated than a simple revenge tale. Jodorowksy wanted to focus on Gabriel’s spiritual enlightenment, and a tale of blood and gore doesn’t fit the Buddhist angle. The moments of violence serve as another lesson to not let pride and hatred consume your life. Particularly forceful is the moment when Gabriel has to let go of the pain that his mother is feeling, and finds his own way forward. He makes mistakes, has to atone for them and tries to find wisdom. Gabriel’s journey follows the age-old wisdom that you first need to fix yourself and learn what matters before you can truly help others. 

I think, deep down, that Jodorowsky wants to be the white lama.

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14 Responses to The White Lama (1988-’93) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Georges Bess

  1. Bookstooge says:

    This book offends me. We prefer People of European Descent, not that racist ‘white’. I can totally understand why you wouldn’t want the J-dog to meet your gf if he has outmoded ideas like that.

    How was that? I was aiming for pretentious twaddle 😉

    Glad you were able to enjoy this. Your comic experience seems to be totally hit or miss…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Offended huh??? I’m still waiting for an argument!
      Nah but I kinda like J-dog. He’s bad, but he’s never boring.

      Yeah it’s been hit or miss lately. I’m very forgiving if the art is good even though the story isn’t special, and I can stand boring art if the story is good. This one has good art, and a well crafted story, if a bit basic. It’s a balancing act between art and story for me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bookstooge says:

        I wish art mattered more to me. But unless it is really bad, I don’t tend to notice it. so there are times I even wonder if matters to me. It’s like knowing you’re color blind….

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think there are big differences how art is treated in comic books between the American market, the Japanese market and European market. I’ve noticed that much of the American comics have art that is very functional and quickly produced, for speedy publication, using the computer for colouring. Especially the Marvel and DC comics. Whereas in Europe there is a greater focus on art where artists sometimes take years to produce a single volume and colour everything by hand.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Paul Connelly says:

      Well, if your twaddle meter isn’t broken already, just read some of the news articles that characterize ruling class sock puppets Rishi Sunak and Nikki Haley as People of Color. In which case half the populations of Sicily, Greece, Turkey and Armenia must qualify for that label too, which I somehow doubt they would subscribe to.

      In future decades we may have to reset the calendar from BC and AD to Before Twitter and After Twitter, to really capture the “world turned upside down” character of the times. There may be a good SF story premise in that!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wakizashi33 says:

    The art in this book looks gorgeous! Good to hear it’s a more accessible Jodorowsky story because I think he was tuned into another station, if you know what I mean. I would’ve loved to have seen his version of DUNE. Ah well.

    I’ve noticed that Marvel have recently been “re-imagining” some of their characters who could be listed under the “white savior trope.” Iron Fist immediately springs to mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know Iron Fist, but I think The White Lama would receive a lot of criticism from the Twitter crowd if it had been more known.

      Yeah this story is more grounded than J-dog’s usual work. It’s still bonkers at times. But it doesn’t suffer from his machismo psychosis.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wakizashi33 says:

        Iron Fist used to be a blonde haired blue eyed white boy called Danny Rand. He was created in the 1970s during the martial arts craze. This is from Wikipedia:

        “In an apparent response to the racial backlash against the character and the negative reception of the television series, Marvel announced in 2021 that Danny Rand will leave the mantle and a new younger Iron Fist of Asian descent will be introduced in a new comic series helmed by an Asian creative team.”

        So the “fish out of water” angle to the character and story is over. That was kind of the point of the character, too. Oh, and currently only Asian creators can actually write the character now. It doesn’t matter if they are “good writers” or not, just as long as they aren’t Caucasian. Do you get the feeling we’ve gone too far the opposite way?

        Liked by 1 person

  3. catdog says:

    “If that sounds like the worst kind of white saviour story and cheap Orientalist appropriation that you could imagine, then your impression would be right. It is exactly that.”

    Ok, ok, you’ve sold me. I will now read White Lama.

    The concept sounds superficially similar to Kipling’s “Kim”.

    Liked by 1 person

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