Figures and Representation of the Fantastic in Andreas's Work (2001)

Article Information
TitleFigures and Representation of the Fantastic in Andreas's Work
AuthorPhilippe Sohet
Context Information
Magazine PublicationThe International Journal of Comic Art (2001, number 2)
Magazine PublicationOtrante (2003, number 13)
Article Contents
from the article "Figures and Representation of the Fantastic in Andreas's Work (2001)":
There is no fantastic but the narrative.
Charles Grivel (1962:26)
Undoubtedly, Andreas(1) is one of the most fascinating authors of the European graphic novel. Born in Germany (1951), he studied "sequential art" in Belgium. He now lives in France where he keeps abreast of American comics(2). His first stories were influenced by H.P. Lovecraft and Berni Wrightson, but the name of Andreas is now associated with more than 30 books and many short graphic novels all done in his own very particular way of story-telling. Many of these creations belong to the fantastic. The cycles of Rork (7 volumes), Capricorne (5 volumes) and Arq (4 volumes) are the best known, but some of his other productions (Cyrrus, Fantalia, Aztéques, Le Triangle Rouge)(3) are equally intriguing, enigmatic, and difficult to classify according to the traditional styles.
His work often strikes the reader as difficult. Rather than in the gothic universe of the stories or in the virtuosity of the graphic style, the real interest of this author lies in the exploration of the narrative possibilities of the medium. Each of his productions can be read as a reflection on the graphic novel, its reader, and the act of reading.
Figures of the Fantastic
A first look reveals that Andreas's work, without by any means being limited to this, draws regularly on the twists and turns of the fantastic -- monsters, buildings oozing with anguish, time and space distortions, the theme of fragmented identity, and a style that does not scorn the effects of the "gothic tradition." An analysis of the particular sets of themes which support this fantastic universe may prove interesting, and research into the origins of this author's production could help enlighten us as to the connections between the imaginary worlds that meet in the sagas of Rork, Cyrrus, and Cromwell Stone. These three sagas have indeed come into existence within a quite limited period of time(4), and they are all based on the tension and disorders induced by the presence on Earth of a fragment of "another reality," which will have to be returned to its source. These similarities between the frameworks are further reinforced by the recurrence of certain elements which resemble each other closely(5). The kind of approach that we propose here should, however, reveal some rifts and shifts in this set of themes of the fantastic, given the fact that the exo-fantastic (denoting improbability in terms of "alterity"(6) ) is replaced by the endo-fantastic in some of Andreas's recent works(7). The fantastic of Coutoo, for example, rests entirely on Toby-Toby's and Coutoo's altered identities, which will be studied below. In the same way, the disturbing tension that we feel in Le Triangle Rouge stems from the confrontations generated by the will in its desire to master the strata of the universe of dreams, which may be thought of as intimate and supremely indomitable at the same time-precisely because of its refusal to submit to the rules of will and even of consciousness.
The Representation of the Fantastic
From its very beginnings, however, research into the fantastic has shown how little its specificity can be attributed to its thematic register only. Most of the elements used in the fantastic can indeed be found in other narrative perspectives, and, conversely, some fantastic accounts are based on frameworks which make only minimal use of such elements.
The fantastic appears to be an effect of both representation and figures. It is, to use Bellemin-Noël's apt words, "a way of telling" (Bellemin-Noël, 1972). Producing this "effect of the fantastic" entails essentially a shift from the universe of the characters to that of the reader, i.e., an ontological hesitation. This fundamental fissure is at the basis of the fantastic and the tensions of the irreconcilable that it evokes. As an effect of reading, the fantastic invites us to go back to the processes of representation by which it has been generated and which connect an author's personal practices to the expressive layers of a specific medium.
Writing about Andreas, and especially about his works Cromwell Stone and Cyrrus, Thierry Groensteen has used the term "hystericalization of the medium"(8) to refer to the organization of the steps which allow the author to "materialize the impalpable". He describes the main procedures of this "frantic and almost mediumistic" style(9) , which turn Andreas's work into "a machine of which all mechanisms converge to throw the senses into a panic and to deprive the reader of his rational points of reference."
On the other hand, Jan Baetens, in an as yet unpublished study (Baetens, 1997), shows us to what extent the effect of the fantastic seems to rely on an opposite strategy in other works by this author. With Révélations posthumes (Andreas, 1991), we are far from a hyperbolization of expression; on the contrary, an extreme restraint of the author's figurative potentialities is evident here: the effect of oscillation(10) is brought about primarily by creating tension with the codes that are characteristic of the medium itself.
The studies mentioned above will guide the observations below. Whereas these studies focus on the effect of the fantastic on the stylistic and modal levels, we will try to introduce some insights from a more specifically narrative perspective.
We will limit ourselves to two examples from Coutoo (Andreas, 1989) and the cycle of Cromwell Stone (Andreas, 1984 and 1989) concerning the same issue, i.e., the opening sequence of the story. The opening sequence and the incipit in particular occupy a special position in the mechanism establishing the contract between the author and the reader. Would there be strategies specific to the opening of a fantastic story, or, more precisely, are there any fantastic openings of the story in Andreas's work?
Coutoo: An Incipit of the Improbable
The first page of Coutoo (see Figure 1) appears as a singularly disconcerting incipit(11). The first reading leads one to notice an opposition between the scene at the top of the page and the one in the last panel. Characters and places differ: we do not know how to integrate the space in the last panel with Pestrone's apartment. Two cultural frames are also present: Italian-western (the paradigm of violent jealousy punctuated with Maa, Basta...) combined with an odd mix of traditional Africa and modernist settings (the circle of fetishes, Toby-Toby's clothes, and the architecture). But this juxtaposition, already intriguing in itself, becomes definitely disturbing as soon as the two universes have to be seen as interconnected: the character at the bottom continues the rejoinders of the one at the top! Moreover, all the principles of composition used on this page inescapably lead us to this inconceivable confrontation. The Toby-Toby character, in the large panel, has some characteristics in common with Gina above him: sitting like her, in frontal position, he is perfectly aligned with the panels in which she is shown. Moreover, Pestrone's dance of gestures and words, which literally surrounds the "column" formed by Gina's two panels, seems to recur in the last panel, with the displaying of balloons around Toby-Toby. As to the text, the interconnection of the two scenes assured by the continuity of the dialogue from one scene to the other is intensified by a very felicitous slip of the tongue. As a whole, Pestrone's angry speech is relatively precise: he states, orders, interrupts, gives information, expects answers, challenges, interprets; but one retort stands out because he hesitates, "There's aphro...somethin' 'r others!" This wavering in the flow and the vague meaning (something, others) makes a phonetic jump possible from "aphro" (aphrodisiac) to "afro" (African), i.e., a double meaning that allows the two signifiés to be part of the universes of both the first and second scene. Moreover, this balloon is perfectly aligned with Toby-Toby's vertical axis, in the "column-space" which runs across and unites the two scenes(12).
Thus, the opening page of Coutoo has a similar impact as some of Escher's most popular patterns (Samson, 1987:11), in which the fantastic effect stems from the confrontation between the codes of realism and the "irreality principle" of an "improbable totality" (Bessière, 1974). Confusing the reader in Coutoo's opening(13) represents more than a simple surprise effect: his first attempts of building a reality with the current codes of probability will be proven ineffective(14).
Moreover, far from clearing up a misunderstanding, the next pages do nothing but increase this feeling of confusion: on the second page, Toby-Toby becomes the bearer of an additional voice, but it is especially the third page (see Figure 2) which serves to confuse the reader even more. From the outset, this page makes a complete formal split from the first two pages. The chromatism and the typography are radically different. The verbal elements change from dialogue to narrative. Moreover, the regular format of the panels and the recurring space, represented consistently from the same angle, are in opposition to the changing point of view which characterized the first two pages.
In addition to these formal differences with the preceding pages, the third page also organizes a systematic game of jumps in the reading action. The first-person narrative mode may, during the reading of the first few panels, give the illusion that the only represented character is the bearer of these thoughts: this illusion is broken in the sixth panel where he is referred to with "Like this guy!" The fixed point of view and the movement of the victim-to-be towards the front of the stage can lead us to assume that the classic aggressor's point of view in a situation of suspense is represented (see Figure 2). This idea dissipates in thin air in the last panel, when the aggression comes from an unexpected angle. At this moment, the reader may infer from the narrative in the previous panel ("I can imagine the sound") that, rather than a "directly shown perspective," a reconstruction of reality by another character is presented. More precisely, the reader is shown how a character--the reader of the file (page 4)--reconstructs the way another actor has reconstructed a scene he has never been part of! Additionally, at this moment in the reading process, it becomes almost impossible to integrate this new information with the parts of the story already suggested in the first two pages.
Far from confusing the reader gratuitously, this opening sequence aims at introducing the specific elements of the fantastic which rule this story at a pragmatic level. Andreas makes the realm of the mystery novel tip to the fantastic by putting the fundamental unit of character and voice between parentheses. Building on this tension, the narrative will produce a disturbing opposition between a character that has several "voices" (15) and a "voice" portrayed by several successive characters. (16)
With Coutoo, this essentially fantastic motif is made particularly effective through the sophisticated use of this narrative system. By using the possibilities of a mode of expression suited to the comic strip, Andreas confronts us with situations of improbable juxtapositions and successive dislocations in the narrative.
The Return of Cromwell Stone: The Strangeness of a 'Déjà-vu'
With Le retour de Cromwell Stone, the fantastic becomes fixed in a more classical set of themes of the relationship between man and fragments of alterity. But as an element in a series--a sequel to a previous volume--the challenge in this volume is no less precise. According to Todorov, a fantastic story loses part of its evocative power during a second reading. Because all doubt has been dispelled, any re-reading of a fantastic story becomes a kind of meta-reading (Todorov, 1970: 95). So how could the feeling of hesitation and confusion, which is so characteristic of the fantastic, survive at all? In The Return, indeed, the story takes the traditional path of the fantastic and stages the quest of an innocent character/narrator trying to come to terms with a reality beyond his comprehension, in which he has to face his shattered perceptions. But this in itself is hardly enough to restore the experience of sensory friction in the reader-besides, what Todorov said about a re-reading can also be said about a story's sequel. How can we re-establish this feeling of confusion in a story where the elements of the fantastic are already familiar and have been put in context in advance? In fact, far from trying to minimize this effect of re-reading, Andreas uses it as a stepping stone to develop other narrative strategies aiming at the fantastic effect.
The opening page of The Return of Cromwell Stone (see Figure 3) does not, unlike the one in Coutoo, attract attention by the construction of an improbable reality. On the contrary, the Andreas reader is rather struck by a strange feeling of familiarity, a "déjà-vu." The reader cannot but compare it to the opening page of the first story of this cycle (see Figure 4), which it recreates in theme as well as composition. This recreation is both meticulous and strangely shifted. Just as the incipit-page of the first Cromwell Stone, it is structured around a composition with two similarly proportioned panel sequences (about 2/5 and 3/5 in height), and it presents a similar distribution in the panel sequences: the top panel sequence consists of five panels, and the bottom panel sequence is filled by only one image. We also find the same distribution of elements (one character is running towards the right in the top panel sequence, and the building to which the character is running is shown on the bottom panel) and the same system of focus: zoom-in in the top panel sequence, general overview in the bottom panel sequence, with quite similar postures on certain panels (17). To this, we can add the recurrence of a quotation in the bottom image (18).
However, paradoxically, the similarities of these incipit-pages (see Figures 3 and 4) help bear out some distinguishing characteristics that are essentially thematic (19). The male character is replaced by a young woman; the feeling of salvation (At last!) becomes one of dejection (I can't bear it anymore!)(20). Besides, the mineral elements (rocks, cliff) and aqueous elements (sea, rain) that dominated the first incipit have now been replaced by an abundance of vegetation (trees, herbs, plants) and full darkness after dusk. The most significant element, in this play of similarities and differences, is reserved for the reading: the quotations seem to fit together and react to each other. The first quotation ends with three suspension points, whereas the first word of the second quotation, "because," is preceded by three suspension points. Thus, the second quotation seems to be an explanation of the first one: "Fear is the oldest emotion of mankind because man is but a tiny creature...(21) Despite the constant plot shifts in the volume, the feeling of familiarity initiated on the first page does not diminish during the reading (22), and the composition of this incipit-page becomes emblematic of the narrative strategy in its entirety, since this volume actually resumes the first one, both in its general conception and in its set of themes.
Similar structural effects are used in both volumes: abrupt narratives, multiplying flashbacks, and even second-level flashbacks (23), so that the reading oscillates between three distinct but interlaced levels of temporality (24). Even the frameworks of these narratives seem to echo one another: here again, Cromwell Stone returns from Europe to America by boat; here again, the "key" is on board; here again, "wreckers" will step in during the crossing; here again, Stone and his companion will come back to Loatham, revisiting places that are still recognizable, despite the invasion of vegetation--Stone's house, the water tank, the enigmatic tower. Thus, the title, The Return of Cromwell Stone, has a threefold meaning: the return of a character who has been away for ten years, the return of a character to the site of his past adventures, and the return of the framework of the first volume.
Surprisingly, this familiarity does not diminish the effect of the fantastic in the narrative. On the contrary, it constitutes the very essence of this effect. With The Return of Cromwell Stone, the reader is not simply confronted with a series of events that is innocently added to those of the first volume. Instead, the linearity of the chain of events is reinforced by a logic that takes the shape of a spiral. A new, shifted loop presents itself: not only does The Return stage events that seem to repeat those of the previous volume, it also includes these in a larger view, providing the framework of the first volume with a new series of events, upstream as well as downstream. Far from being a useless repetition, this movement has a destabilizing effect because the narrative, as it unfolds, systematically modifies many perceptions and certainties previously acquired by the reader who, confronted with these reversals (25), will be led to a new and surprising reconstruction of the way this universe works. Thus, the author's strategy can be perceived more clearly-far from minimizing the proximity to previous adventures, he builds on the reader's acquired knowledge and plays a structural game by introducing elements diverging from this knowledge (26). It is from this forced re-reading, maintained by the narrative structure and its shifts, that the feeling of confusion arises, which was effectively begun on the opening page (27).
As we have seen, in Andreas-quite apart from the important role played by the classic figures of his imagination and by his stylistics of representation-the effect of the fantastic has come to hinge rather on the fragile and yet decisive oscillation between the reality of the story and the ambiguity of its narrative. As Grivel (1992:27) has put it, "the fantastic serves as a tool for trickery in the logic of the narrative" (le fantastique désigne une feinte de la raison narrative). This is precisely why this genre lends itself so well to a study of narrative strategies and modes of expression aimed at achieving this effect of confusion.
Translated by Nicolas Ritoux/Petra Kalshoven.
1) Andreas Martens.
2) His works are published in French and in part translated in German, Dutch, Spanish, and now in English (Dark Horse).
3) See references at the end of this paper.
4) In 1984, Cromwell Stone, Cyrrus and the two first adventures of Rork (Andreas 1984 a, b, c, d) were published simultaneously.
5) To mention only a few examples, Mil's talisman recalls those of Parthington (father and son), and the labyrinthine drawings on the same talisman share some characteristics with the key in Cromwell Stone and with the numerical cube in Rork. Both Rork and Cromwell Stone have some "frontier runners" among its characters, who use quite similar paths through caverns near the coast with shipwrecks and monstrous carcasses lying around.
6) Embodied, for example, by the classic figures of the monster or the "other world."
7) These approximations (exo and endo-fantastic) are akin to what Todorov (1970) referred to with his classification of the discourse of the fantastic in themes of "I" and "you."
8) This "hystericalization of the medium", which he defines as based on "a concatenation of effects driven to a point of superlative overheating," was first suggested in Groensteen (1985:55) and explored in more detail in a subsequent article (Groensteen 1987: 33-35).
9) These procedures, called "contraction" and "distortion," refer to the marked fragmentation of specific pages, the vertical stretching of panels which impede the classic way of reading, variation in the scale of representation with unexpected disconnections, the frantic dance rhythm which seems to rule the postures of characters as well as the movement of panels, the vertigo created by striated surfaces coming together, and a rhythmical use of decorative elements (Groensteen 1987).
10) Obviously, we have to make a distinction between the effects of oscillation and confusion usually associated with the fantastic, and the perplexity brought about by the nearly cryptogrammatic organization of stories like X-20 (Andreas, 1990), which are based rather on the idea of the rebus.
11) It should not be considered too strange to use the word "incipit" when talking about a page rather than a panel in a comic strip, since perceiving the page panoptically allows it to be seen (rather than read) in its entirety.
12) From this point of view, another detail becomes a metaphoric mechanism, recalling the juxtaposition of these two distinct but interconnected universes: the sets of stripes (see Figure 1). Two sets are shown: the long lines of the venetian blinds (left) which cast their shadow like a carpet on the floor, and the zebra-skin stripes. These two elements reflect the polarization which makes the scene in this panel quite intriguing in itself: modern civilization vs. traditional African civilization. Situated at the crossing of the two sets of stripes in the key-space of the "column," Toby-Toby becomes the bearer of their intersecting (the shadow cast by the blinds runs across him and is rippled by his clothes), and thus of the universes that they evoke.
13) It is remarkable how this opening page as a whole picks up the effect of its first panel: it "hits" us like the slap scene. Displayed in a moment of intensity, the actions (of both the first picture and the page) will not be integrated in an explanation until later, counting essentially on their immediate effect of astonishment.
14) In fact, Toby-Toby cannot be in the next room from Pestrone (why else would he hear only his retorts and not the woman's?), and the idea that Toby's image represents Gina's fantastical vision of herself, or, conversely, that the domestic row is nothing but Toby's fantastical perception, is neither plausible (the same realistic representation codes apply to the two parts of the same page) nor possible (because this idea is denied as early as on the next page).
15) Toby-Toby, identified as "Fato."
16) Coutoo will take over Hingle's son, Krafft senior, and maybe Krafft junior.
17) In A1 (first panel sequence, first picture) and A2, the characters are running in the landscape; in A3 and A4 they look back towards their pursuers; exclamation in A5.
18) In English every time, with the translation underneath, accompanied by a rather closely resembling set of themes of the fantastic.
19) ...because the main differences in composition turn out not to be differences after all: the change in axis from an oblique separation of the panel sequences to a horizontal one follows the change in focal direction of the characters, aiming for their goal. On the other hand, a new element is introduced in the very precise line around the balloon: three straight edges and one irregular side, scalloped, fringed in a pattern of waves or mineral cracks (which lends a sepulchral tone to the utterance). The logic is quite specific: it is the side closest to the vocal opening (the mouth) that presents this characteristic. This highly stylized presentation of speech is emblematic of the fantastic status of this story: it symbolizes the oscillation between reality and the onset of improbability.
20) The connection between the panels becomes a large curve (via the tree, the branch, the scarf, and the head) that seems to press down upon the character.
21) A link that will turn out to be representative of the relationship between the two volumes.
22) This parallelism between the two incipit-panels is reinforced by the two epilogues, which may be analyzed by the same twin-principle of resuming and shifting. The epilogue page in The Return of Cromwell Stone announces its epilogue status and concludes with a frontal image of a thankful character, but it also refers to another page in the first volume (#33) by recalling some details (the dark panels, the fall, the creature with tentacles), thus contributing to the questions which, inevitably, emerge at the end of the reading.
23) A series of "flashback sequences" in which a recitation of previous story parts is recalled.
24) Even though these different temporal levels can ultimately be united in one point of view, i.e., Crown's point of view in the first volume and Marlène's in the second. 25) For example, the threats that must be countered in the first story have now become types of behavior that are to be encouraged.
26) A similar approach can be found in Chantal Montellier's work.
27) This feeling is even reinforced because nothing in the first volume seems, in any explicit way, to lead up to a sequel, despite the realms of uncertainty typical of this kind of narrative.
Andreas. 1984a. Cromwell Stone. Bruxelles: Editions Michel Deligne (translated by Milwaukee: Dark Horse, 1990).
Andreas. 1984b. Cyrrus. Paris: Les Humanoïdes Associés; re-edited, 1993, Paris: Delcourt.
Andreas. 1984c. Fragments (Rork 1). Bruxelles: Le Lombard.
Andreas. 1984d. Passages (Rork 2).Bruxelles: Le Lombard.
Andreas. 1986. Fantalia. Bruxelles: Magic-Strip.
Andreas. 1988a. Le cimetière de cathédrales (Rork 3). Bruxelles: Lombard.
Andreas. 1988b. Lumière d'étoile (Rork 4) . Bruxelles: Lombard.
Andreas. 1989. Coutoo. Paris: Delcourt (translated by Milwaukee: Dark Horse, 1990)
Andreas. 1990a. Capricorne (Rork 5). Bruxelles: Lombard.
Andreas. 1990b. "X-20". Conséquences, n 13, Paris: Les impressions nouvelles.
Andreas et Rivière. 1991. Révélations posthumes. Paris: Delcourt, first edition: 1980.
Andreas. 1992a. Descente (Rork 6) . Bruxelles: Lombard.
Andreas. 1992b. Aztèques. Paris: Delcourt.
Andreas. 1993. Retour (Rork 7). Bruxelles: Le Lombard.
Andreas. 1994. Le retour de Cromwell Stone. Paris: Delcourt.
Andreas. 1995. Le triangle rouge . Paris: Delcourt.
Andreas. 1996. L'objet (Capricorne 1). Bruxelles: Le Lombard.
Andreas. 1997a. Electricité (Capricorne 2). Bruxelles: Le Lombard.
Andreas. 1997b. Ailleurs (Arq 1). Paris: Delcourt.
Andreas. 1998a. Deliah (Capricorne 3). Bruxelles: Le Lombard.
Andreas. 1998b. Mémoires 1 (Arq 2). Paris: Delcourt.
Andreas. 1999a. Le cube numérique (Capricorne 4). Bruxelles: Le Lombard.
Andreas. 1999b. Mémoires 2 (Arq 3). Paris: Delcourt
Andreas. 2000b. Racken (Arq 4). Paris: Delcourt.
Andreas. 2000a. Le secret (Capricorne 5). Bruxelles: Le Lombard.
Baetens, Jan. 1997. "Un fantastique muet." 5 pages on Revelations posthumes (Andreas 1991)
Bellemin-Noël, Jean. 1972. "Notes sur le fantastique." Littérature. n. 8, Paris: Larousse.
Bessière, Irène. 1974. Le récit fantastique. Paris: Larousse.
Groensteen, Thierry. 1985. "Cromwell Stone." Les cahiers de la bande dessinée. n.61, Jan-Feb., p. 55, Grenoble: Glénat.
Groensteen, Thierry. 1987. "Le vertige infini." Les cahiers de la bande dessinée. n.73, Jan-Feb., p.33-35, Grenoble: Glénat.
Grivel, Charles. 1992. Fantastique-fiction. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Samson, Jacques. 1987. "Andreas et Schuiten créateurs d'univers fantastiques." Solaris. n. 72, p. 11-15, Montréal.
Sohet, Philippe. 1994. "Faux sanglant ou vrai semblant: les matrices énonciatives chez Chantal Montellier." In I'm caméra, pp. 81-103. Paris: Centre Simone de Beauvoir.
Todorov, Tsevan. 1970. Introduction à la littérature fantastique. Paris: Seuil.
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