Many years ago I bought Cities of the Fantastic: The Invisible Frontiers Vol 1 from my local (-ish) comic book store. I liked it, but never got around to getting volume two, which concluded the story. The other day I was reminded of it and decided to amend that.
The Invisible Frontier is a story in the “Cities of the Fantastic” (“The Obscure Cities” in French) world, by Belgian creators François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters. I’ve not read any of the other stories (in fact, only a few have been translated to English and most of those are out of print) but this one stood well enough on its own.
It’s a story of political intrigue, social commentary, sex, and, of course, geography. Roland, who comes from a family of notable map-makers, gets a job at the prestigious Center for Cartography of Sodrovno-Voldachia. The Center has been in a bit of decline, but Marshal Radisic has big plans for it. Some of Roland’s colleagues, like the ambitious Djunov, are excited about the possibilities. Djunov sees this as an opportunity to do away with the Center’s “archaic” techniques and replace them with his machines and computers. Others fear that there is a dark purpose behind the Marshal’s plans. And what of the mysterious woman Roland meets, who seems to have a map on her lower back?
(Click to make tres grande)
There is a dreamlike quality to the whole thing, with beautiful evocative art and a twisty plot. However, everything, from the art to the story to the characters is fixed to “reality” just enough to keep things from spiraling off into fantasy or surrealism.
What’s more, the resolution of the plot is not at all what one might expect. It’s hard to say much without giving everything away, but it all comes together in a very surprising yet quite satisfying way.
I’d love to get some of the other stories in this series, but, as I said, the few that were translated are out of print and pricey. And to make matters worse, while I was grabbing volume two on Amazon I fell down a French sci-fi comics hole and fear I might be in here for some time. They had a deal with volume one of Valerian, so I got it, and I put volume one of Orbital on my wish list.