It is not uncommon for Argentina to produce things that are more valued, consumed or known outside than within its borders. It happens with natural resources and products of all kinds, but also with issues that belong to the cultural sphere. Works and artists that we export even without knowing it and that are celebrated by audiences that, perhaps, show our omissions and carelessness. Carlos Nine, who died in 2016, is one of them. Remembered for his talent as an illustrator and caricaturist – he drew the cover of the emblematic magazine Humor for more than a decade – he has an authorial career as a cartoonist that is practically ignored in his own land, but published continuously abroad. The Hotel de las Ideas publishing house intends to correct this situation with the local publication of one of his fundamental works: Fantagas. Lucas Nine, author and cartoonist like his father, and Nicolas Lebedel, French publisher of both artists for 16 years, gave details about the book that finally reaches the national market after so much waiting.
—How was the genesis of this book? You got to see it firsthand, right?
—Sure, I was about eighteen when the old man did it, around 1993-94, so I was around. Cascioli had taken up the covers of Humor again, so that the main entrance to the house was collapsing; and Carlos began to think seriously about the foreign market. With an extra: he was fed up with the caricature, he wanted to make his own projects. He had already published his Crime and Punishment in France. It was material compiled from Fierro, which had been seen there as a brilliant extravagance and which had moved through a small, specialized circuit. At that time, there was no internet and the French wondered where this thing had come from, which they believed to be Spanish and how it was that they did not know it before. Delcourt, a large publisher, was interested in publishing something of his own, but something more forceful was needed as a follow-up. So the old man was fishing for ideas. At home there were some objects lying around, some things left by a friend who went on a trip: a bowler hat, among them, which our white cat was always prowling around. The combination of the bowler hat and the cat, added to an old corkscrew who passed through the place (quite heterogeneous elements that, somehow, lined up in his mind), suggested the theme of the book, a visual axis: that parody of Paris made based on kitchen elements, old cups, garbage. The corkscrew as an Eiffel Tower. There is something very Argentine there, it seems to me. I think of Paris and, since I am far away, I recreate it with whatever is in the dresser drawer. He miniaturized it, like those cities on Krypton that Superman had put in a jar. He first started working the thing with watercolors; later he realized that he did not arrive with the delivery deadlines and he went on to the cake. So the book is also a tour de force through the techniques that Carlos mastered like no one else. I remember having put together the balloons for the text, pasted on a separate acetate so as not to screw up the originals, which were incredible. All this before the use of computers.
—Why is this book fundamental in Carlos Nine’s career?
—Fantagas is the first book by Carlos Nine conceived as such and not conceived as a compilation of material published in installments for another medium (that is, the Fierro magazine, first period, where Carlos published almost all of his previous production). It is also his first book of his designed specifically for France. Which is not to say that he has tried to draw a French book: Fantagas is intrinsically Argentine. His characters move in a parody of fin-de-siècle France (that of Fantomas, that of Rocambole) that is built with detritus, with the remains of garbage. It is the Argentine vision of France, a corrosive, distorted vision. And it must be said in honor of the French who banked the game like gentlemen. Go one to sell to the English a distorted vision of England, and on top of Argentina.
—Tell me a little about the content of the originals. What will the reader of “Fantagas” find, besides incredible drawings?
—The plot is a classic serial, a parody of the deductive police laced with those tales of lavish criminals a la Fantomas. Inspector Pernot (basically, a bowler hat with legs) is an alcoholic detective who moves in a ghostly city where all the buildings and monuments refer in some way to his little vice. He pursues a diabolical criminal named Fantagas, with whom he has more than one thing in common, although, of course, Siboney, the killer cat, will stand in his way. But he would tell the reader to be prepared above all: the objects in Fantagas have a life of their own. For example, the Louis XV armchair, which awaits in the Inspector’s hall, will be the protagonist and narrator of the second part, a grand guignol drama with judicial implications.
—How was the book received in France?
—Like another cool extravaganza (laughs). He was much more widely read than Crime and Punishment, he was more accessible, but he was still the product of a minority author; people with visual culture, who can fish for references. The joke is that in France these people constitute a public, which, although not massive, can support a product. But something strange happened with Fantagas: they continued to read, and, in fact, over time, they began to read more, reversing the norm that indicates that a comic book there has a useful life of three months and something else ( the production is colossal, and the material is constantly renewed). I think this is easy to explain: the standard book of 1994 gets old in a few years, you see it and the date, the aesthetics of the moment, jump out as if printed with letters of fire. Fantagas, on the other hand, lives outside of time. That is why the book did not stop being reissued or the editors of one of the reissues asked for a continuation, Siboney, which came out in 2008, and whose inclusion in the volume just published by Hotel de las Ideas is what makes us call it “comprehensive ”. But I would say that the most obvious impact of Fantagas was on a graphic level: the French cartoonists acknowledged receipt, as had happened before with José Muñoz and, to a lesser extent, with Alberto Breccia.
—1994, 2008, are distant years. How do you explain that it just came out now in Argentina?
—It is explained by the lack of knowledge we have of our own authors. Think that Carlos won the most important prize that the French can give to a book with Saubón, at the 2001 Angouleme Festival, and the book here was only published in 2017. About 16 years later! It also has to do with the subordinate function that we usually give to comics, and in general, to any type of proposal linked to graphics, after the death of magazines. A pity, if we take into account that here we had publishing authors such as Quinterno, Divito, Landrú, Columba, etc. In general, the comic has now been reduced to a thing that is placed to decorate the back covers of newspapers (when it is placed), where it is preferable that it does not bother, starting with the author’s name, which should not take more than three letters. Or that it can be forgiven to the extent that it serves more noble and serious causes, which are generally subsidized in such a way that for the same amount of money the book, the reviews, and even enough for the gift prize are taken out. The so-called “guilty cartoon”. But this field of definitions is slippery, if we are not careful we will end up saying that the Argentine comic is a sad feeling that is danced (laughs).
Nicolas Lebedel, editor of Les Rêveurs
A tribute and thanks
—In 2006, you reissued Fantagas and two years later, the sequel, Siboney. How did the idea of making a second part come about?
—The starting point of Siboney, the sequel to Fantagas, is our new edition published in 2006. We had been impressed by its first edition, published in French by Delcourt in 1995. Meanwhile, the book was out of print and Carlos had recovered the rights of the same. We told him that we wanted to propose a new edition of Fantagas, which he immediately accepted. Maybe he already had an idea for a sequel? Carlos liked our work, and in 2006 he suggested we do a second volume. He wasn’t done yet with the characters of Fantagas and Siboney. This sequel is a treat for the eyes, its line has evolved, and although this second volume was drawn 12 years after Fantagas, there is still a strong cohesion between the two books.
—In 2017, he brought together both volumes in integral Fantagas. What impact do you think the book had in France?
—At the beginning of 2016, we proposed to Carlos that Fantagas and Siboney be brought together in the same volume and in a beautiful hardcover edition. The idea was to bring this book to light again, which was a real milestone in the career of this author, to make it known to younger readers, but also to fans who had not yet delved into his work. . He liked the idea and we consented to it. But life decided otherwise, and this publication of Fantagas Integral in 2017 was for us our tribute to Carlos to thank him for his gratitude and our collaboration for 16 years, and the opportunity to have known this exceptional artist. This edition is still available, and continues to be discovered by francophone readers.
*Journalist, scriptwriter and teacher.
You may also like