Here’s a book that has received little attention but SHOULD, especially in a world where cartoonists are still being imprisoned and worse for their beliefs.
Fantagraphics has just published The Eternaut by Héctor Germán Oesterheld and Francisco Solano Lopez. Lopez is known here for his sturdy, imaginative work for a number of publishers from the 50s, but Oesterheld is basically unknown. However, in their native Argentina, both are known for this graphic novel which, more than just a rollicking science fiction story, is a national saga for the fight for freedom from repressive government—a saga which forced Lopex to flee his native country and Oesterheld and his family to eventually lose their lives.
Shea Hennum at Paste has a write up on the outlines of the story:
Originally serialized between 1957 and 1959 in Hora Cero Semanal, El Eternauta, or The Eternaut, told the story of Juan Salvo, a man displaced in time by an encounter with an alien device. In weekly strips, Juan and his family struggled to uncover the mystery of an awesome snow that fell randomly, killing anyone who came in contact with it. This journey leads to a conflict between humans and aliens, and which ultimately results in Juan’s space-time detachment. 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. Salvo is, after all, Spanish for “Save.” He is a savior, and the series’ writer explicitly intended for the character to be a stand-in, an allegorical everyman. The series served, at its heart, as a polemic about the need to dissolve Cold War animosity and to shirk military concerns outweighing democratic ones. The resilience of the people wins the day, not overwhelming military force. But, in a cold twist of irony, The Eternaut’s writer, Héctor Germán Oesterheld, hasn’t been seen since 1977.
Oesterheld and his four daughters joined the rebel group the Monteneros, and he continued to produce some work while in hiding, but it is believed that in 1979 he and his entire family were eliminated by the ruling government.
But as recounted by the books editor Kristy Valenti in this podcast interview from Comic-Con, the Eternal saga remained a symbol for freedom in Argentina and other countries in South America that have struggled with repressive regimes. As she put it, the national saga of Argentina is a graphic novel.
Valenti Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth learned of the book from Solano Lopez himself, and made it a crusade to get it published in the US.
And it’s gorgeous. Here’s an excerpt:
The US edition has been lovingly presented in a slipcased edition, and a cover that shows the hero, Salvo, peering through a hole in the slipcase…perhaps a metaphor for the author’s life and his hopes for a more liberal society. The Eternaut is both a rollicking 50s SF story and a metaphor for a society’s struggles.
UPDATE: Also, here’s an instagram video of the book, whose production design, by Tony Ong, is among the best of the year.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.