Mirror, mirror | Simon Callow on The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Mysterieux retour du Capitaine Nemo.
This week has been incredibly hectic work-wise but I’ve managed to keep these posts going, so here’s the last one devoted to an appreciation of the Cités Obscures of François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters. A week of posts barely scratches the surface of their vast and involved creation of alternate worlds, fantasy design and architecture, and Borges-like metaphysical speculation. When I try to explain my disaffection with the popular end of American comics, it’s works such as these which I offer as an alternative. The problem, of course, is that only a handful of the books have been translated into English, a detail which tells you all you need to know about English-speaking comics publishers and—since demand fuels the market—their readers.
This final set of pictures is a selection from Schuiten and Peeters’ L’Echo des Cités (1993), a facsimile edition of the main newspaper which serves the cities of the Obscure World. Unfortunately, this remains untranslated but the bulk of the book is full-page illustrations, many of which are among Schuiten’s best. A number of these were later reprinted as limited lithograph prints.
Les rêves engloutis d’Oscar Frobelius.
We’re at the penultimate post in this week-long tribute to the Cités Obscures series of François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters, and there isn’t enough space left to cover some of the more recent volumes in detail. What follows is a quick skate through three more major works.
L’enfant penchée (1996), or The Leaning Child, is an expanded version of a 1995 children’s story by Schuiten and Peeters, Mary la penchée. Mary is the young daughter of wealthy industrialists from Mylos struck down one day by some cosmic calamity which shifts her centre of gravity, causing her to permanently lean at an apparently impossible angle. When she’s bullied at school she runs away and joins a circus. A meeting with scientists and astronomers leads to a resolving of her affliction, and the repairing of her ruined life. This is a fascinating story for a number of reasons, not least the existence of a parallel narrative taking place in our world which is conveyed using photographs, and which unveils some of the metaphysical aspects of the Obscure World. The story of Mary is also flawlessly drawn. Schuiten uses a black-and-white style modelled on the work of old magazine illustrators like Franklin Booth, and there are further references to Winsor McCay and Jules Verne.