Summer Magic: The Journal of Luke Kirby

Written by: Alan McKenzie
Art by: John Ridgway, Steve Parkhouse, Graham Higgins and Nick Abadzis
ISBN: 978-1-78108-541-7
Price: £19.99 (UK) $28.99 (US)

The Graphic Novel reprints the following stories:

  • Summer Magic” – (Prog 529 – 530)
  • A Winter’s Tale” (2000AD Winter Special 1988)
  • The Dark Path” (2000AD Sci-Fi Special 1990)
  • The Night Walker” (Prog 800 – 812)
  • Sympathy for the Devil – Prologue” (Prog 850 – 851)
  • Trick or Treat” (2000AD Yearbook 1994)
  • Sympathy for the Devil” (Prog 873 – 888)
  • Old Straight Track” (Prog 954 – 963)
  • The Price” (Prog 972)

The Journal of Luke Kirby is something of an oddity amongst 2000AD’s stable of science-fiction and fantasy serials, its protagonist is an eight year-old schoolboy who spends his formative years developing his innate magical abilities in an evocative countryside setting. Gently paced and with the title character’s strong narrative voice driving the action, it is a remarkable “coming of age” story that blends pagan mythology with that nostalgic feeling of summer holidays in the country. While few of us are able to relate to Luke’s problems with demons and vampires, the series still manages to tap into that same journey into maturity and increased responsibility that every child goes through.

The initial story-arc “Summer Magic” establishes the tone of the series early on, taking the reader and Luke on a journey to the magical world that lies hidden beneath the quiet rural village of Lunstead. Alan McKenzie’s script has a dream-like quality about it that is further emphasised by the gorgeous artwork from John Ridgway. While later stories bring colour into the mix, these initial black and white adventures heighten the emotions at play, instilling a sense of creeping terror during some of the more dramatic scenes towards the end of the tale. “Summer Magic” is an early high point for the series, conjuring up comparisons with other rural horror stories such as “The Wicker Man” and more recently, Ben Wheatley’sKill List”.

The graphic novel itself draws comparisons with Harry Potter, presenting Luke Kirby as precursor to the “young boy wizard” trope that J.K Rowling would use in her novels. The biggest similarities between the two is in the way that Luke discovers his heritage, with his Uncle Elias adopting a role similar to that of Hagrid in “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”. Personally, I would say that the Harry Potter books share more DNA with Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch books, with its focus more on the educational and boarding school mentality of Hogwarts, but there are enough similarities with The Journal of Luke Kirby to warrant the connection.

After a four year absence from the main Prog, The Journal of Luke Kirby returned with a new story, “The Night Walker”. Moving away from the countryside setting of the first story-arc, this adventure introduced a much darker tone to the series with a vampiric being preying on the small children in town. Once again, Luke was paired with a mysterious mentor who guides him through his adventures and develops his burgeoning magical skills. Ridgway’s pencils are shown in full-colour at this stage, adding a whole new dimension to the storytelling with some gloriously moody panels that underscores the horror of McKenzie’s script.

Sympathy for the Devil”, the third main storyline in the series sees a change of artist as Steve Parkhouse and Nick Abadzis take over from John Ridgway, providing a slightly different take on the character and his surroundings. The majority of this adventure takes place in the depths of hell with the mysterious Jack Hobb acting as an untrustworthy ‘mentor’ for Luke as he attempts to free his father from the underworld. It’s an ambitious storyline and decidedly different from the more realistic setting of the previous two adventures – that said, it does tie into the over-arching themes of the series with the heritage of the Kirby bloodline explored in greater detail. Jack Hobb is also an interesting antagonist for the series, maintaining the threat of evil through his words instead of actions.

The final multi-episode serial, “Old Straight Track” returns the series back to its roots as Luke and his mentor Zeke embark on a lengthy quest across the English countryside encountering a number of mystical figures along the way. Rooted deeply in Pagan traditions such as Beltane and Standing Stones, this series recaptures the tone of its initial story-arcs. Drawn by Steve Parkhouse, this storyline develops the same themes present in the series’ earlier adventures and sees Luke continuing to grow into a confident young mage. Parkhouse also provides the lettering for this tale, further establishing the series’ unique tone compared to the rest of 2000AD’s output.

The series comes to an abrupt end with “The Price”, a one-off adventure that acts as a vague parable for the character’s journey thus far, taking the form of another life lesson for the budding magician. It’s an interesting read, and one that leaves the reader wanting more – although sadly that never comes as the series never reappeared in 2000AD after this story-arc. At this point in 2000AD’s history as it edged towards Prog 1000, the comic was undergoing plenty of editorial changes behind-the-scenes, re-calibrating itself with the introduction of lots of new strips and the phasing out of long-term series such as Rogue Trooper, Finn and Strontium Dogs. Luckily, the series didn’t end on a cliff-hanger and most of the key themes were addressed and resolved within the printed adventures, but it still felt like there was more to be seen in this series.

A hidden gem from 2000AD’s vaults, it’s great to see The Journal of Luke Kirby receive some well-deserved attention from the publisher with this collected edition. John Ridgway’s art is truly bewitching, able to transport the reader to an idyllic countryside whilst Alan McKenzie’s words capture that feeling of coming-of-age perfectly. Steve Parkhouse’s work in the later stories emphasises the darker tones that fester beneath this nostalgic setting, providing further sense of maturity as Luke embraces his destiny. Subverting the “boy wizard” trope in the only way 2000AD can, The Journal of Luke Kirby is a wonderful slice of bildungsroman goodness that rewards its readers with some truly magical storytelling. Collected here in its entirety, the series remains a perfect example of the unbridled creativity that pours out of 2000AD on a regular basis.

Score – ★★★★

Summer Magic: The Journal of Luke Kirby is available in print and digital formats from Amazon and 2000AD’s Webshop.

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