The Great Walls of Samaris

By Benoit Peeters &Francois Schuiten (NBM)

The European manner of graphic storytelling places great emphasis on mood and style, with a much larger range of interests and themes than the English language mainstream. It is also, perforce, staggeringly accomplished in its artistic visions.

This brief (48 page) album, the first in an occasional series entitled Cities of the Fantastic, tells the bleak, fantastic tale of Franz, a young civic official of the city state Xhystos, who accepts a diplomatic mission to assess the condition of sister city Samaris.

Located far, far away, there has been no communication with the walled metropolis for a decade and all agents dispatched there have vanished with trace. The grim, arduous journey, however, is as nothing compared to the beguiling mystery Franz uncovers when he finally reaches the incredible and seductive city…

Eerie and paranoid, with architecture and design the most important characters in the tale, The Great Walls of Samaris presents a wholly believable world of familiarity and alienation, underscored with an almost Kafkaesque perversity. The aura of menace is palpable, but with only the merest hint of danger. Minds and souls are at risk here, not mere flesh and blood.

The astonishing artwork of Schuiten is entrancing, perfectly capturing – if not actually inventing – the creative anachronism of Steampunk, but with the glistening veneer of fin de siècle pomp and the foredoomed glitter of the Belle Époque concealing the bitter content with a sheen of fragile beauty.

This is an incredibly stylish, unforgettable visual experience and a damned fine classical horror story, too. Long overdue for revival and the proper respect it deserves, this is a book you’ll love if comics mean anything at all to you.
© 1984 Casterman, Paris-Tournai. All Rights Reserved. English translation ©1987 NBM.