The Marchenoir Library is an unusual graphic novel in that its story is not linear in a typical way — in fact, its story is not so much what’s on the page as what’s in the mind of the reader. In this respect, it’s a very personal book. More to the point, it inspires personal feelings in each reader that makes the experience of reading it singular in a way many books are not. It is designed that way.
Since my experience is not going to be yours, perhaps I should clarify it for you. The Marchenoir Library consists of a complete collection of covers from the fictional book series about the “ex-celebrity superheroine, ex-singer-songwriter, now working as a hero to pay off a debt she incurred in her younger days” known as Marchenoir, accompanied by brief descriptions of the plots of each book. It’s like a collector’s guide for a book series that doesn’t exist. The descriptions are energetic, designed to enthrall you with exclamatory suggestions of each book’s story, and then entice you to go make the purchase, that is if the books really existed. They are like microfictional cliffhangers that together function as an outline to a proposed book series.
When I was a kid I encountered episode guides for the first time in the magazine Starlog. Back then, episode guides were not a standard, available thing. Someone had to take great care and effort in compiling them and then had to have an outlet for the result of that work. I’m sure there were fanzines in the 1970s that did that, but in the mainstream, magazine racks that a kid would haunt, Starlog was the gateway.
For some reason, the form fascinated me and I began making my own episode guides, but not to actual TV shows. It was a creative endeavor for me and the TV series that I made-up for these episode guides were wholly fictional. But with each, I had scenarios for their airing that would affect the plots I wrote down and the directions the shows went in. Some were long-running and popular. Some were meant as summer replacement series. Some were canceled. One show I did twice, the long-running original and then the more modestly-successful remake. Some of the episodes featured plots that were derivative of real TV shows. Others were my own thing. And throughout and across the episode guides, themes and plots often reappeared.
That’s what The Marchenoir Library made me think of.
There are aspects that differentiate The Marchenoir Library from my own childhood efforts, of course, the most notable one being A. Degen’s wild, flowing, playful illustrations, which bring a playful and erotic quality to the books being listed. And Degen’s plots for The Marchenoir Library are much more original than many of mine for my creations, but they also share a penchant for recurring themes and plots — it often seems that the very fabric of reality is being threatened or that Marchenoir has lost “herself” and has to fight to gain back her identity or is trapped inside some dream world. Regardless, what lies at the center of The Marchenoir Library is, I think, similar to what lied at the center of my homemade episode guides — a sense of playfulness and a desire to enact that in a brief format rather than an intricate one.
And in The Marchenoir Library, it works. Completely. It leaves you wishing that these books really existed, but also knowing better and being thankful that they don’t. They are better for not existing. The possibilities are wider, propelled by the parameters that are established by this handy guide. You, too, might come up with your own additions, a sort-of fan series guide that echoes fan-fiction but is far less burdensome. Or you might just embrace the form itself. Series guides, the new story-telling format for the short attention span age. Just remember I created it in the 1970s. All I want is my fair share.