REVIEW: ALEISTER CROWLEY: WANDERING THE WASTE

aleister-crowley-cover
Review by David Ferguson

Written by Martin Hayes
Art by RH Stewart

Up until a few months ago, I had never heard of Aleister Crowley and here I am reviewing a second book featuring the man. This book is a biography of the occultist, poet and mountaineer. At first glance I was worried that this book would come across as too academic with the use of various quotes at the beginning of chapters and annotations at the end. This was not the case as the author decided to do his own version of Crowley’s story. He stuck to the facts while at the same time making creative decisions such as omitting aspects of the man’s history that would have ballooned the size of the novel while at the same time hinting at his interesting history. He uses the annotations to show where he made creative decisions and why. He also gives the reader books where they can delve into areas he hinted at (I personally want to read more of his history of WB Yeats but more on that later). A good example of this is the chapter where Crowley flashes through various memories each with a year and a brief description and the annotations provide expanded detail on these.

Another aspect of the storytelling that made it more interesting for me was the the use of a fictional character, William Keyes, interviewing Crowley so Crowley himself is telling the story. Crowley seems like he is far from trustworthy so can we as the reader believe his version of events? For example, in his discussion of his interaction with WB Yeats, he belittles the Nobel Laureate’s work which may have something to do with Yeats review of his own. His version of events is made all the more interesting when you read the annotations which feature notes from books by other witnesses of the events. Often their stories conflict with each other (this is where the author makes the decision of which to go with). You have all the facts that seem to paint the man as a charlatan but then there are interesting tit-bits like that fact that Yeats seemed to have been afraid of the man. He believed he was going to get some of mystical revenge. The fact that Crowley is an old man when he is telling the story does make him a bit sympathetic I think. Anyway, it is a clever way of telling the story of such an interesting man.

Looking at the art, there is a mixture of two different styles. One for the real life discussion between William Keyes and Crowley which gives you the feel of the 1940s (the time period of the interview). The other, for the scenes from Crowley’s past and memories, is more impressionistic and seem to be influenced by reference. It seems to have included photographs of the period and artwork and images of the occult. The impressionistic style often bleeds over into the real world scenes kind of like how the world of magic often comes into the everyday life of Crowley. I enjoyed both styles but I particularly enjoyed the “Interlude” chapter which was entirely in the first style and was a nice change of pace and break from the often haunting imagery of the impressionist style.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It made great use of the graphic novel format. The quotes at the beginning of each chapter set the mood. The different art styles for different settings. Hints at more to be explored by the reader and the interesting extras of the annotations that give you insight into the creative process. To me, it feels like me like a really good story that is a gateway to more. I must find that Yeats book…

Aleister Crowley: Wandering The Waste is available to buy in a number of ways outlined on Martin Hayes’ website.