Les Cités Obscures: format as creative stimulus and reinforcement of fiction

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Since its appearance in 1983, Schuiten’s and Peeters’ Les Cités Obscures has become one of the most stimulating series in contemporary European comics. This article studies the saga in relations with its materiality by examining the multiplicity of formats used by the authors and by pointing to two-tiered implications: sometimes the format determines the content of the fictional work, at other times it is the content that constraints and shapes the format of the fiction. Schuiten and Peeters show that, if support is used skilfully, it is possible to reach new heights of expression. We first analyze how the authors have used the two traditional formats of European comics (magazines and albums) and how the very materiality of the medium has led them to present different versions of the work. Secondly we study how the multiplicity of formats increases with the rising of the authors’ prestige, which allows them to make more challenging creative efforts such as with giant-size albums or illustrated books. Thirdly and lastly, we will point to how the authors’ concern with format ends up exceeding the dimension of the printed page (the comic strip’s traditional form of expression) and spills over  to other media: it expands the world of the Cités Obscures in a pioneering website, a DVD, conferences, exhibitions and also some architectural renovations integrating reality as a gateway to the universe of fiction, thus blurring the boundaries between the real and the fictive.

Key words

Les Cités Obscures, Schuiten and Peters, European comic.

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