June, 1982, the first episode of Les Murailles de Samaris was presented to the French public on the magazine A Suivre, it was the first of twenty books that make up the body of works published in Belgium by Casterman from 1983 to the present. In Les Cités Obscures, François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters created a proper fantasy world with a high degree of internal consistency, a comic book series that features the “dark city”, which, from time to time, changes its name and face.
The ones by Peeters are tales of imagined and imaginary cities, stories inspired by Verne’s visions, by Kafka’s existential psychosis, Walter Benjamin’s “resentment”, but especially by Jorge Luis Borges, through which the impassioned critique to the ruling class impunity which speculates on the urban development of the city is delegated to other realities, parallel worlds, or time lags.
Schuiten’s meticulous style, inspired by Gustave Doré and Giovan Battista Piranesi and their chiaroscuro, depicts an architecture become allegory of itself, wisely declining Victor Horta to imperialist utopias of Albert Speer, the Baroque monumental ephemeral, the futuristic visions of Antonio Sant’Elia, while the delicate colors used are the result of the stylistic lessons of the creative genius of Winsor McCay.
Cities are always protagonists of stories of men and women who live on the reflection of a real world, in a time and space suspended in a sort of “future perfect” delimited by blurred and imprecise boundaries. The life of the alternating characters is often dominated by the extraordinary “superstructure” that hosts them, many suffer from ills directly attributable to the architecture or urban form in which they live. These stories take place in an atmosphere that evokes the excitement, amazement and wonder that characterized the new goals of scientific research, technological and industrial development typical of the Belle Époque. That sense of wonder that, from a positivist point of view invested many aspects of reality and that, over the years, has been irretrievably lost.
I suggest a visit: exhibition “BELGIUM – THE KINGDOM OF CARTOON” at WOW Comics Space, Viale Campania 12, Milan.
Until October 6, 2013
Images are from the Belgian edition published by Casterman