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The Eternaut Hardcover – September 27, 2016
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From Publishers Weekly
Oesterheld's gritty and ruminative series, published in an Argentinian newspaper from 1957 to 1959, is one of the great alien-invasion stories of the golden age of SF. But until the long-overdue arrival of this beautiful, highly gift-worthy slipcased edition, it was practically unknown in the broader comics world, a status soon to change. One night in Buenos Aires, Juan Salvo is playing poker with his buddies when snow starts falling. But it's not just a weather anomalyâit's the deadly first wave of an alien invasion. A taut against-all-odds plot quickly snaps into gear, with Juan and his buddies fashioning deep-sea survival suits and tromping through an eerily empty, snow-shrouded city to do battle with ever more deadly waves of remote-controlled monsters. Lopez's noirish black-and-white art, the equal of his EC Comics contemporaries, cleverly highlights both Oesterheld's moody philosophizing and the high-octane action scenes. The complicated twists and existential bleakness deliver a richly mysterious experience. As with much '50s science fiction, the political subtextâmade more poignant by the knowledge that Oesterheld agitated against the Argentinean government and was "disappeared" in 1977âis so smoothly embedded in the plot that it slides right past most readers while still resonating once the true masterminds are revealed. (Nov.)\n
“In Argentina, The Eternaut is a cultural milestone ... López draws the massive adventure in a sharp-edged, high-contrast, varyingly detailed manner... [A] fascinating and exciting work.”
- Ray Olson, Booklist
“A sense of hope underlies the series, and it can be read as the struggle of the everyman to shirk off the yoke of oppression and to circumvent the cycle of slavery that war begets.”
- Shea Hennum, Paste
“...The Eternaut is a particularly compelling work, and it occupies an interesting point in Latin American literature. ... In much the same way that Tarantino spins poetry from trash cinema, Oesterheld constructs a political allegory out of sci-fi serials and adventure novels. ...[I]ts apocalyptic lens facilitates its argument that anything can be overcome by unity, by refusing to accept oppression; it is, at the end of the day, a paean to the human spirit.”
- Shea Hennum, The A.V. Club
“Oesterheld and López’s Argentinian classic from the 1950s [is] newly translated by Mena with a deftness and energy befitting the Borgesian, literary quality of the narrative... Elsewhere, López’s vigorous and occasionally terrifying drawings bring us from one hair-raising moment to the next, one part R. Crumb, one part Goya, one part Edvard Munch. ... These two stories, of course, point to a larger one: that of how we deal with the daily catastrophes and pitfalls of human existence, with or without extraterrestrials.”
- Max Winter, The Boston Globe
“...[T]here is more to [this] brilliant comic than meets the eye. It is at once both science fiction and political allegory. But fear not. Although Fantagraphics’ magnificently luxurious edition comes with all the necessary historical information, you need know nothing of Peronism to enjoy it. This is one of the most exciting comics you’ll ever read.”
- Rachel Cooke, The Guardian
“...[The Eternaut is] one of the pillars of South American comics…”
- Chris Arrant, Comic Book Resources
“The Eternaut may just be the most interesting graphic novel of the season. ...[M]ore than just a rollicking science fiction story, [The Eternaut] is a national saga for the fight for freedom from repressive government... And it’s gorgeous.”
- Heidi MacDonald, The Beat
“[The Eternaut] is considered one of the greats of Argentinian comics and one of the great genre books ever, period... and to have a fancy version of it available for libraries and readers is a dream come true.”
- Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
“...I’m absolutely enamored that Fantagraphics was able to finally get this graphic novel published in English. Two of the most radical creators in Buenos Aires have a breadth of inspirational and beautiful work that has long been unrecognized to the modern audience. This is some of my favorite kind of science fiction -- political allegory and teeming realism coupled with the absurd, limitless boundaries of space, time, and science.”
- Roderick Ruth, Comicosity
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The second thing was the actual translation. It's incredibly close to the feeling of the original. There's a lot of things that can't be translated from spanish to english, but the translator team did an amazing job and I think that english speaking audiences will not be missing a lot. Kudos for the small introduction which also helps to situate the work in the time it was conceived.
Definitely one of the most prized comics in my bookshelf. Many thanks to the team who made this possible, as I believe this is one of the most important and groundbreaking works in 20th century comics that sadly hasn't gotten that much attention outside of spanish speaking audiences.
The Eternaut, written and created by the prolific writer Hector German Oesterheld and illustrated by Francisco Solano Lopez finally appears for the first time in the English language. Considered a cult classic not only as a comic book series but as a science-fiction graphic novel due to its length (over three hundred pages long), The Eternaut first appeared between the years 1957-59, serialized in the weekly Argentinean comics magazine Hora Cero (Zero Hour).
You must take in context that at the time this series appeared, TV sets weren’t the commodity we have now, but rather something that only very rich people possessed back then. The rest of the population either listened to the radio or read newspapers and comics. Hora Cero was one of those comic magazines that carried many strips covering everything from westerns to war stories, thrillers, and adventures. The creator of the magazine (and main writer as well) was Hector German Oesterheld who not only wrote intelligent, well-crafted strips, but had most of his stories taking place in South America — usually giving the best roles to the Indians in his western strips (something unheard-of at the time), and telling the atrocities of War (WWII) instead of the heroism of its participants.
The Eternaut is a science-fiction series that doesn’t take place in an alien world or in outer space, but rather back at home, and more precisely in Argentina during the 1950s (though by the end of the story we’re led to believe it took place in the future: during the following decade). The series tells of how a comic book writer (which artist Solano López drew to resemble Oesterheld) meets a time-traveler who has lived through eternity. The story also features an alien invasion by cockroach-like giant creatures (done a couple of years ahead of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers), but it was the fact that it took place in Buenos Aires, and showed the struggle of its people against a more powerful enemy in the very streets of the capital that it captivated the imagination of the whole Argentinean population. The series appeared as weekly episodes that ran 3 to 4 pages long, having the readers wonder if the events covered within weren’t actually taking place in their hometown. Some of them even feared going outside lest they ran into one of the insect-like aliens — pretty much in the same way that Orson Welles’ radiophonic version of H. G. Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’ had caused much panic in the US earlier in the 1930s.
The story is built around as a serial, every episode ending in a sort of cliff-hanger leaving the reader begging for more next week. As such, it’s recommended that the reader follow the story by chunks of eight to twelve pages, instead of trying to read it as a whole. The story is meant to be savoured slowly as a TV show or weekly radio program.
The story has also been open to much re-interpretations, many “critics” claiming that Oesterheld had foretold the future of his own country by showing the struggle of the citizens against a more powerful enemy (aliens standing for the military that would oppress Argentina many years later). Truth of the matter is that in the original story both the military and the citizens fight side by side against a common enemy, making it purer escapism than a “secret agenda with a hidden political message.”
Although the story does suffer from a rather abrupt conclusion, and many doors that were opened along the way don’t reach a satisfactory resolution. This was caused by most of the artists departing from Oesterheld’s magazines when they found a more lucrative market working for the British, leaving him practically on his own running his magazines with no artists aboard. Add to the fact that the printer was also printing more copies and selling them without telling Oesterheld, led to the demise of his publishing venture, compelling him put an end to the most popular series they carried, The Eternaut, before they definitely closed their doors, and thus satisfy the strip’s many followers.
Nonetheless, you can’t kill a good series, and as such, it was revisited in the late 1960s, this time with a different artist: Alberto Breccia. However, Breccia’s avant-garde artwork and Oesterheld’s clearly leftist script, proved a pill too hard to swallow for its readers, and again the strip was put to an early end.
As Oesterheld was also a collaborator with leftist militants known as Montoneros opposing the Argentine military government, he had to take into hiding to continue writing his many other series and stories. His life unfortunately came to an end when his four daughters, also leftist militants, were captured and shot down by the military, a sort that soon followed Oesterheld (although one of the many “disappeared”, it is alleged he “died” in captivity in 1977).
Very few comic writers can lay claim that they died for their work and opinions. Although Oesterheld had been a geologist, he was always proud of being a comic book writer, which pretty much took care of any ambition he might’ve had on being a novelist. His scripts are among the very best, and like Kurtzman at the time, was more interested in showing the reality of the world than creating one of puerile heroics. Although incredibly verbose (he’d put to shame someone like Alan Moore), Oesterheld was never boring. Artist Breccia, known for adapting classic works of literature into wordless comics, said of Oesterheld: “His stories were so good, that you couldn’t take any of the words away.”
Special mention must go to Franciso Solano Lopez’s art, done with thick brush strokes and lots of shading, creating an uneasy eeriness to the whole story, and fitting perfectly in a black and white format. Solano Lopez had a rich and fruitful career in comic books, working all over the world, and continually moving around once his son, also follower of the Montoneros, had to leave the country. He ultimately worked for the US, especially for Fantagraphics, with a series of erotic stories. He passed away on August 12, 2011.
About this Fantagraphics version:
Unfortunately Fantagraphics doesn’t mention anything on how they got this almost pristine version for the book, so I’ll try to fill in here. You get the impression this must’ve been a piece of cake, but in fact it’s more complicated than that. For years the Spanish versions have relied on the badly printed 1950s original series (due to the low standard of printing back then and the cheap quality of the paper used). When Oesterheld “disappeared”, Solano López handed Oesterheld’s widow the original pages he had in his possession and told her that she could use any money she could make on it, as she surely would need it more than him. She unfortunately sold the rights and all the original art to an Argentinean publisher, and thus for a while wouldn’t get paid for any published version of the book. The publisher, instead of using the original art for a new print, sold most of it to an Italian collector, and produced a book reproduced from the printed version of the series appearing in the Hora Cero magazines, changing only the headers of each chapter, which contained a brief summary of the previous chapters, by asking Solano Lopez to fill in with new art the missing parts. This book version has since been used all over the world for many years. The quality isn’t very good, and much of the fine detail in the art is botched by reproducing a badly printed version.
Cut to a couple of years ago, and a French publisher manages to contact the Italian collector who has most of the original art still in his possession (though some pages are missing), and decide to scan all the documents again, and finally come with a pristine and clean version of the story.
Meanwhile, at the other side of the Atlantic, American translator Erica Mena (not to be confused with the hip-hop artist of the same name), who usually translates foreign poetry into English, decides to translate El Eternauta as well. After her daunting task is over several years later, she presents the work to various book publishers, and Fantagraphics, who had previously worked with Solano Lopez, decide to give it a try. Although the translation is quite good, Mena got confused as to the series title, and gave it a totally nonsensical one. I wrote Fantagraphics explaining the true nature of the name, and also told them that there was a pristine version of this book available in both France and Italy. Since Fantagraphics never replies to any messages or emails, I thought they would most probably use the shoddy Spanish version of the book (which Mena had used) and probably left the rather silly title the translator had given (though I believe I wasn’t the only person to write them about it). But lo and behold, to my surprise Fantagraphics actually did their work and got rid of the silly title, and at the same time got hold of the scans of the original pages as well. Not only that, they created a font based on the original lettering used for the series. Double whammy! They even tried to “clean” up the art on some of the pages for which they didn’t have any scans of the original art, which sometimes gets rid of the thick blotches on the linework and shadows, but other times, some lines from Solano Lopez’s pen and brush inking simply disappear (though the art was mostly inked with a brush).
Nonetheless, this is the best version of El Eternauta that exists to date (until someone else finds the missing art), and thus is recommended to both new and old fans as well, as it doesn’t get any better than this.
On a last note, though this book is in black and white, the story is simply one of the best graphic novels of all time, right up there with The Watchmen. You won’t regret buying it!