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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:

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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.

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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.

11 COMMENTS

  1. I am super excited to see this. A few years ago, while visiting Argentina I kept seeing striking graffiti of a scuba/astronaut looking dude. While checking out a local comic store I discovered The Eternaut and was totally taken by it. I even bought it in Spanish, which I can’t really read, because it was so interesting (along with the back story of course). This is a must buy!

  2. That’s a MAGNIFICENT comic! Careful readers will notice a lot of similarities with the Falling Skies TV series, but Eternaut is much better.

  3. I need to buy the US edition, to put alongside my other four (an italian – the first I’ve read, two argentinians and a mexican). Yeah, I really love that comic!

  4. Now if only some poor soul can work though the quagmire of right issues pertaining to Héctor Germán Oesterheld’s other great work; Mort Cinder.
    Now *that* is a book which needs a reprint.
    IN ENGLISH.

  5. As an argentinian and a huge huge HUGE fan of HGO’s work, I’m getting mixed feelings from the coverage this edition is getting in the USA press. True, Oesterheld was involved in the clandestine leftist movement in the 70s (And produced some very interesting work in that context), but during the 50s he was standing in a whole different, more typical “burgeois intelectual” place. I’m worried that people will pick the book up trying to decode a million sociohistorical footnotes, and miss what the comic is about- one of the best classic Sci-Fi comics ever produced, with writing that was possibly lightyears ahead of North American and European output at the same time. I can guarantee that if you allow yourself to forget the political context and just read it like if it were an EC comic or a newspaper strip collection, you’ll be more than pleasingly surprised. (And hopefully Fantagraphics can keep up the good work and publish more comics by HGO, so that anglo readers can really get to know the rich history of Argentina’s biggest hidden gem)

  6. Huh, which rights issues for Mort Cinder? That story has been published all over Europe without a hitch. Just this year a portuguese edition came out, I know the editors personally and the only difficulty they had was getting the best possible reproduction materials…

  7. This book is a beautiful artifact-the production is really impressive. I’m about half-way through it and I’m surprised at how gripping the story is. Thank you, Fantagraphics!

  8. Thanks for the great coverage! I’m so glad that the book is getting the attention it deserves, and I’m so grateful for the beautiful design work that Ong and the Fantagraphics team did. Would be nice for the translator to be mentioned, too!

  9. Well y bién, I’m happy, muy feliz, knowing that El Eternauta from Oesterheld y Solano, yes y yes, a truly gem of our Buenos Aires’ barrios de la historieta, its finally looked at and readed to in your country. Those years, our fifties, were magnificent, pivotal works of tragicomics everywhere, it was a rain of gems with human adventures inside, all of them totally written by Mìster Héctor Oesterheld. It was, still is, so good and deep, the arts, the words – and the silences between them – the ever humid brushstrokes…
    The extraordinary drawings of Pratt, Breccia, Roume, presented us your Far West (Sgt. Kirk), the fantastic dreaming nights of the imagination (Mort Cinder) our history (Patria Vieja) and the place in wich we lived, Buenos Aires (El Eternauta) trough Solano Lòpez’ eyes, hands and hearts. Some people is capable to arrive, to posess or, in the case of great necessity, to invent the meaning soul of things. That was Solano and Héctor unforgettable Buenos Aires Mistery Tour.
    Then there were the usual, indifferent, killer, reality with his military madness, his capitalisms’ suicidal avidities, the disparitions… I must say that most of the time the historieta is much more interestin’ than the History, at least those historietas.
    Thanks a lot and good entertainement.
    José Muñoz

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