July 1, 2021

Review: The Eternaut 1969

The Eternaut (1969)
Written by Héctor Germán Oesterheld
Illustrated by Alberto Breccia
Translated by Erica Mena
Available now from Fantagraphics
Review copy

The Eternaut, serialized from 1957 to 1959, is a seminal work of Argentinian science fiction. The Eternaut 1969 is a reboot that never quite found its audience and was canceled and quickly finished in a few breakneck chapters. In 1976, the author Héctor Germán Oesterheld, would write a sequel to the original, shortly before his works were banned in Argentina.

I appreciate the work Fantagraphics put into this volume. There's explanatory material before and after the story to help place The Eternaut 1969 in Argentinian culture, including the political background of the story. It also discusses its place in the ouevres of both Oesterheld and Alberto Breccia, who did not draw the more famous version. (That was F. Solano López.) This material helps explain why the comic was cancelled and why it still deserves to be remembered as a work of art.

I can understand why it failed. Apparently, many of the complaints sent to the magazine it ran in (Gente) said that Breccia's art was impossible to follow. Breccia's art is often abstracted; when the aliens appear, their form is more suggestion than depiction. There's an intriguing textures and bold use of white. Artistically, it is compelling. But easily comprehensible, it is not. I'm sure the magazine printing also wasn't as neatly done as Fantagraphics' presentation.

The story of The Eternaut 1969 is quite compelling. A time-traveler (traveling through eternity instead of space) comes to tell his tell to a comic-book artist. One day, snow begins to fall in Buenos Aires. It kills. Juan Salvo, his wife, daughter, and friends survive, but soon discover that South America has been sacrificed to alien invaders by the rest of the world. Their small steps toward survival are interrupted when the military presses them into service. The Eternaut 1969 is pessimistic about both world and local governments.

At the time, it made Oesterheld controversial. But seven years later, he would become one of the desaparecidos. Over 30,000 people were forcibly disappeared by the Argentinian government when a U.S.-backed junta took over the country. It's a chilling ending to his biography that adds weight to the hastily finished, imperfect The Eternaut 1969. It's not a popular story, but it is an honest one. In the end, this graphic novel is as compelling for the story of why it failed as well as the art within.

Fantagraphics recommends pairing this work with the original The Eternaut. Their English version is currently sold out, but being reprinted. I do think it is fascinating to be able to compare the two.

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