You’re probably familiar with the image of Juan Salvo.

At least in passing. Like Hugo Pratt’s illustrations of Corto Maltese, Francisco Solano López’s design for Juan Salvo is likely something you’ve seen before. A man in a scuba suit with a rifle. If you primarily only read North American comics, you may not connect it with what’s considered one of Argentina’s most important and popular comics, created by López and Héctor Germán Oesterheld, The Eternaut.

What we see from the window is worse, infinitely worse than the silence.”

Eternaut 1969

The Eternaut 1969 is a reboot of the original by Oesterheld and Alberto Breccia, as translated here by Erica Mena. It tells the tale of a deadly snowfall that kills everyone it comes in contact with. Unleashed at the hands of alien invaders on South America. And of the survivors, essentially abandoned by their leaders and the world, fighting back against them. Including Juan Salvo, sent back in time to tell his story.

Science fiction is often used to tell stories allegorically that represent contemporary issues, so it’s no surprise to see it here. The idea that South America was sold out by the rest of the world and the aliens being puppets to some broader power a comment on what was happening in Argentina at the time. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were other parallels that would be more apparent to people more familiar with the time and politics. It reminds me a bit of Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius in that regard.

Breccia’s art took an intriguing turn here. It became more experimental, more expressionistic, in technique, shading, and tool. It’s incredible. His art still has a solid, realistic framework for his characters, detailed and expressive, but there’s a different approach to texture. A kind of noir framing for many panels. And a surrealistic look for the aliens. It’s an interesting development that leads to more experimentation and stylistic shifts in his later work.

Only the very strong will survive, those who know how to watch out for themselves.”

Despite the popularity of the original, or maybe because of it, The Eternaut 1969 by Oesterheld and Breccia was cut short with an ending rushed in the same year it started being serialized. One of the things that I quite like about the Fantagraphics editions is the supplemental material that gives context for the work. Here regarding complaints that the magazine Gente had received regarding the art.

And apparently Oesterheld’s politics. Though, aside from length, there isn’t a huge departure between the two versions. It’s not exactly the same, which makes it interesting to see the differences between the original version of The Eternaut and The Eternaut 1969. I recommend seeking out both volumes from Fantagraphics. For historical context and for an entertaining sci-fi story.

Eternaut 1969

Classic Comic Compendium: THE ETERNAUT 1969

The Eternaut 1969 (The Alberto Breccia Library – Volume 3)
Writer: Héctor Germán Oesterheld
Artist: Alberto Breccia
Translator: Erica Mena
Publisher: Fantagraphics
Release Date: December 2 2020

Read past entries in the Classic Comic Compendium!