Another way portraits of Elric can classified is by the musical genre they evoke or were influenced by.
Elric was born in 1961 and matured over the decades since, which means his teenage years, the most musically-influenced period of a young person’s life, ran through the 1970s and 80s. These were the eras of, first, the blues-oriented rock of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, then death metal. Some artists have also viewed him through the lens of psychedelia, but IMO this was all wrong. Elric wasn’t about acid and free love and tripping. He was quite clear in his thinking and moral development, unfazed by sexual temptation, and too violently flawed to be a hippy. The 1960s were not his decade. As a character, he was a still a child and not a participant.
The above panel is from a Marvel Elric comic series that appeared in 1980 with P. Craig Russell as the artist. Though created well after the 1960s it shows the psychedelic influences of Moebius and The Yellow Submarine movie, with touches of Roger Dean and Aubrey Beardsley. Russell has made a career out of this fairytale style, using a more mature, tempered version for the art of The Problem of Susan graphic novel I reviewed here. It’s appealing, but given the mature content of the Gaiman stories, disturbing; and also, I think, disturbing for Elric, who needs a darker, less clownish tone for his story.
I mean, Yyrkoon fighting in a checkerboard robe with white feather trim? Not very threatening to me, especially given his open-scalp cowl with its silly spiked earmuffs that look like flower frogs.
Of course, the artist may have intended him to look ridiculous. He also has flaming red hair, a snub nose, and simian lips, elements which might have been conceived to look grotesque (notice that Clockwork Orange lower eyelash too) to contrast with Elric’s noble grandeur. Yet he comes across as a Cirque de Soleil performer. Which, let’s face it, is also grotesque, but it’s a childlike, happy grotesque, in the manner of Dr. Suess. Not a kitchen sink grotesque.
(I don’t mean to rag on the artist with all this, exactly; I would happily read any graphic novel he does. But costume design is not his strong point, as this conception of Killraven says in spades.)
The 1980 comic outing was not the first one for Elric. In 1972 Marvel teamed him up with Conan the Barbarian for a few issues, Elric wearing a red headpiece that can best be described as a drooping gnome hat.
Strange hats were a trademark of Moebius’s loner characters. Michael Moorcock, who wrote the script for the comic, hated that piece of psychedelia, as did a lot of fans, one of whom mocked the depiction in this panel from a 1978 underground comic.
The point of all this is that Elric was clearly made for Heavy Metal, not Acid Rock. I was convinced of this when I saw a very good cosplay Elric at the 1983 Worldcon stride onto stage to some persistent gnarly riff that was a near-perfect match for his swordplay. The picture below recreates for me the same sense of funhouse menace, cheesiness, and rock n’ roll.
I can’t place the name or the group of the blues instrumental I heard then, even though it was popular at the time on AOR radio. It might have been by the American rock band Blue Oyster Cult, which was influenced by, and in turn influenced, Elric’s creator Michael Moorcock. Moorcock came to collaborate with the band on lyrics in response to a fan letter from one of the members. Allen Lanier, keyboardist for the group, dated poet and performer Patti Smith who had also provided lyrics for the band. Smith was, of course, one of the seminal figures of punk rock. There. I’d never thought I could draw a line of influence from Elric of Melnibone to Patti Smith, but there you have it.
As Elric was influenced by Heavy Metal (the music genre and the magazine of the same name) he began to take on the characteristics of a rock star himself. The Elric below is a re-created version of an earlier one that appeared in the D&D Deities and Demigods manual that appeared in the early 1980s. The manual contained descriptions of various pantheons for roleplay and among them was the Melnibonean one, which featured Elric, Yyrkoon, Arioch, Pyaray, and other beings. Jeff Dee was the artist.
Dee’s Elric makes the “devil sign” with his left hand and looks like a more handsome member of Gwar. But the pantsless bell bottoms, shaggy hair, and his long, flexible torso recall Jimmy Page and Mick Jagger.
But, the Heavy Metal influence also meant Elric began to be more clothed. This version, to cover the front and back of a book, shows him in elaborate black armor with a beaked dragon and a scene of warfare. Though Melnibonean dragons are said to be multicolored, here the beast is black, to match his master.
Another black-garbed, classic Heavy Metal Elric with a goofy-looking dragon that looks more like a seahorse.
This sketch conveys the fluid energy of Elric amidst spines and spikes, the visual embodiment of power chords.
A menacing Elric in armor that goes above and beyond in the realm of armor detail. He’s on the verge of turning into a dragon.
Elric dripping with skulls and shadows, bleakness, death; and a naked chick clinging to his side. It’s not so different from from depictions of Conan the Barbarian; yet Moorcock conceptualized Elric as the anti-Conan. At any rate Conan never achieved Heavy Metal fame the way Elric did. Perhaps the mighty Cimmerian was too simple, too stupid.
Yet occasionally Elric had a Conan moment, as in the two pics below.
What separates a Heavy Metal Elric from a Goth one? I’d say the stark contrast between black and white in the latter, in which Elric acquires black eyeliner and lips. Also, the lack of motion. Heavy Metal Elrics move, or are about to move, or just were moving. Goth Elrics are more contemplative, less active, and more prone to melancholy.
A composite Elric utilizing a model, costuming, and photo manipulation. One can imagine him dancing jerkily, hypnotically, in some strobe-lit Goth club all by his lonesome.
An Elric that goes beyond mere Goth into HyperGoth, Advant-Goth, territory. Piotr Jablonski has done several of these strange, moody Elrics, some wearing questionable garb like this puff-sleeve leather ball gown.
An Emo Elric? He might be wounded or just depressed.
Julien Telo’s Elric is one of the most Goth yet, so Goth I can’t even imagine him speaking. This graphic novel came out in 2021 and was much darker than Marvel’s version.
I am not sure who the artist is for this Elric, but he’s clearly cousin to Telo’s version. My hunch is it’s Jean Bastide, who did the Goth Elric pictured first in this article, as the style is very similiar.
And here’s where things get confusing. A four-volume Elric graphic novel series, adapted by Julien Blondel, was published in multiple editions from the years 2013 to 2021, and they feature not only Julien Telo and Jean Bastide as artists, but also Didier Poli and Robin Recht. To add to the chaos each edition seems to have had different covers depending on the country of release, and without actually reading the credit page I can’t say for sure which artists did which cover. But despite the multiple artists the dark, Gothic look is consistent, which I lay at the feet of whichever one created the style bible.
An Aubrey Beardsly Elric, complete with skull.