Science Fiction Studies

#21 = Volume 7, Part 3 = November 1980

American SF Comics

Boris Eizykman and Daniel Riche. La Bande dessinée de science-fiction américaine. Paris: Albin-Michel, 1976. 128p., illus

One of the authors of this monograph on American S-F comics, Dr B. Eizykman, is also the author of two other studies on SF, SF et Capitalisme (1972; see SFS No. 6) and Inconscience-fiction (reviewed in SFS No. 21). On the other hand, he has also recently published a remarkable study on one of the 19th century precursors of "didactic" comic strips, "Der Strawwelpeter". un analogue graphique et narratif des machines de tortures et de persécution pédagogiques au XlXe siècle (Paris: Phot-Oeil, 1979).

Eizykman and Riche set forth in this well-documented monograph a rather critical and provocative theory of US comics. They reject offhand the type of nostalgic "history of comics" too frequently made of a finicky chronology of names and dates, mimicking canonic "literary histories." For the authors, SF and comic strips are to be seen as "blown up nebulas," expanding structures that should be investigated with an eye to their centrifugal vectors rather than their "stable" nuclei. One of the authors' theses is that 20th-century US comics, in their most inventive (and peripheral) output, escape linear chronology of "plastic progress." Some cartoonists early in the century already display a bold iconic inventiveness comparable to contemporary "underground" production and seem to anticipate our "schizophrenic" post-modernistic world rather than mirror a quiet post-Victorian society. The authors are therefore unwilling to believe in any "unity" of SF comics production, although they find a common denominator in its mirroring "a totalitarian police society, repudiating every utopian desire, a production whose function is to reinforce an established system drifting from one crisis to another." But this function has been constantly counterbalanced by an opposite critical and satirical tendency, from W. McCay in the early 1910s to the contemporary underground cartoonists, and through the whole production runs a "multidimensional plastic invention." Such a subversive convention is already at work in Gustav Verbeek's cartoons early in the century. "In its reversible plates and its upset space he already experiments with alien spatial and emotional configurations--a marvelous SF that makes preposterous any figuration of a `future world' closely copied from the most abominable aspects of our totalitarian society" (p. 7--a good sample of the somewhat frantic style used by E. and R.). SF comics are therefore the scene of a struggle between a "literature of reduplication" repeating ad nauseam the paranoid axioms of industrial societies, a lethal apparatus absorbing every trace of fantasy into the "already-known" of hegemonic ideologies, and a utopian output which rebels against any attempt at "normalization," unbinds desires and subverts conventional codes, be they aesthetic or political. Some classics among the US "funnies" are analyzed in detail, such as Buck Rogers, Brick Bradford, Flash Gordon, and Connie. A study of Superman and several other superhero strips illustrates the axiomatic conflict between idiotic political indoctrination and factors of "polymorphic perversion" and irony.

This monograph, rather untidy (probably an influence of the topic on its criticism), is also constantly interesting and. to my mind, represents the first serious attempt at taking into consideration S-F comics without collector's infantilism and lenient nostalgia.

For the benefit of the reader, I append to this review a select bibliography of French research in SF comics (or in comics in general, with a section on, or relevant to, SF):

Adhémar, Jean, et al. L'Aventure et l'image. Paris: Gallimard. 1974.

"La Bande dessinée et son discours": [special issue of] Communications, 24:1976 "La Bande dessinée kébécoise." La Barre du Jour, 46-49: 1975.

Benayoun, Robert. Le Ballon dans la bande dessinée. Vroom. Tchach. Zowie. Paris: Balland, 1968.

Blanchard, G., ed. See: Sternberg, J. et al.

Bremond, Claude. "Pour une gestuaire de la B.D.," Langages, 10:1968, pp. 94ff.

Carpentier, André, ed. See: "La Bande dessinée kébécoise."

"Les Comics," La Méthode. 10:1963.

Convard, Didier. Le Français et la bande dessinée. Paris: Nathan, 1973.

Couperie, P., et al. Bande dessinée et figuration narrative. Paris: Musée des Arts décoratifs, 1967.

Covin, Michel. "La bande dessinée psychélédique," Critique [Paris], 294:1971. pp. 1018-1025.

Eizykman, Boris. "Pseudo-synthèse des penchants science-fictifs de la bande dessinée," Inconscience fiction. n.p.: Kesselring, 1979. pp. 13-32 [and other chapters in the same book]

François, Edouard. L Age d'or de la bande dessinée. Paris: SERG, 1974.

Frère, C., and N. Phelouzat, edd. "Les Bandes dessinées," Mass-media, 1. Paris: Bloud et Gay, 1966.

Fresnault-Deruelle, Pierre. La Bande dessinée, essai d'analyse sémiologique. Paris: Hachette, 1972.

------------------------. Récit et discours par la bande. Paris: Hachette, 1977.

------------------------. "Le verbal dans les bandes dessinées," and other contributions in L'Analyse des Images [=special issue of Communications. 15: 1970].

Gagnon, Claude-Marie, and Sylvie Provost. "Bande dessinée," Bibliographie sélective et indicative de la paralittérature [=Cahiers de L'ISSH, 24 1978]. Québec: Université Laval, 1978. pp. 71-79.

Lacassin, Francis. "Etude comparative des archétypes de la littérature. populaire et de la bande dessinée," Entretiens sur la paralittérature. Paris: Plon, 1970, pp. 201-228.

------------------------. Pour un neuvième Art. Ia bande dessinée. Paris: U.G.E., 1971.

------------------------. Tarzan ou le chevalier crispé. Paris: U.G.E., Christian Bourgois Dominique de Roux, 1971. Partim.

Larochelle, Réal. La Bande dessinée ("Pour l'enseignement du français au secondaire"). Montréal: Hurtubise/H.M.H., 1972.

Marny, Jacques. Le Monde étonnant des bandes dessinées. Paris: Centurion, 1968.

Martinez, Lea. "L'Analyse structurale des bandes dessinées," in A.-M. Thibault-Laulan. Image et communication. Paris: Editions universitaires, 1972. pp. 171-182.

Moliterni, Claude, et al. Histoire de la bande dessinée d'expression française. Paris: SERG, [1972?].

Pernin, Georges. Un Monde étrange: la bande dessinée. Paris: Cledor, 1974.

Pierre, Michel. La Bande dessinée. ("Idéologies et société") Paris: Larousse, 1976.

Rey, Alain. Les Spectres de la bande. Essai sur la B.D. Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1978.

Robin, Christian. Travaux dirigés et bande dessinée (...) J. Paris: S.U.D.E.L., 1974 (and additional booklet Livret du professeur. Paris: S.U.D.E.L., 1974).

Sadoul, Jacques. L'Enfer des bulles. Paris: Pauvert, 1968.

------------------------. Panorama de la bande dessinée. Paris: J'ai Lu, 1976.

Siclier, J., and A.S. Labarthe. Images de la science-fiction. Paris: Ed. du Cerf, 1958.

Sternberg, J., et al. Les chefs-d'oeuvre de la bande dessinée. n.p.: Planète, 1967.

Sullerot, Evelyne. Bandes dessinées et culture. n.p.: Opera Mundi, n.d.

Van hamme, Jean. Introduction à la bande dessinée beige. Bruxelles: Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique, 1968.

Verbruggen, Pierre. ed. "La Bande dessinée." [special issue of] Le Bibliothécaire. 11 :1972.

Versins, Pierre. "Bandes dessinées," Encyclopédie de l'utopie et de la science-fiction. Lausanne: L'Age d'homme, 1972. pp. 93ff. et passim.

Journals dealing, exclusively or not, with comics:

Désiré. Bulletin d'étude des illustrés, fascicules et livres populaires. Paris, 1966

Giff-Wiff. Paris, 20:1966- [Mimeographed from No. 1:1962 to No. 19:1966].

Horizons du fantastique. Asnières s.S.: 1966

Phénix. Paris. 1966

See also sections or chapters on SF comics in the yearbook L'Année 1977-1978 de la science-fiction et du fantastique, and following years [Paris: Julliard].


What's Wrong with SF Film Criticism

J. P. Bouyxou (in collaboration with Roland Lethem). La Science-fiction au cinéma. Paris: Union Générale d'Éditions (Collection 10/18) 1971. 514p

While film studies as a discipline has perhaps shown a greater interest in popular generic forms than has literary scholarship, the position of SF within the latter is in many ways the more respectable one. Within the developing domain of paraliterary studies, SF has been granted a certain prominence; it figures importantly in debates concerning genre, and an increasing number of university literature courses are devoted to it. However, the extensive re-evaluation of popular cinema within film criticism of the 1950s and '60s, particularly in France and the US, directed the most serious attention to such forms as the western, the melodrama, or the gangster film, which have come to be regarded as the canonic, and, in some cases, "classical" film genres. Writing on SF films has been ghettoized within specialized, usually buff-oriented publications, and is usually marked by an isolation from the central currents of film theory and a high concern with such aspects of film production as special effects.

J. P. Bouyxou's La science-fiction au cinéma manifests and suffers from this ghettoization. Though presented as "une remise en cause de la science-fiction"--the back cover promises this, and one chapter bears it as a title--the book does not question or seek to replace existing definitions of SF so much as it simply offers a number of idiosyncratic judgments and observations about specific SF films. Bouyxou is especially condemnatory, both of those films which evince an interest in scientific progress (Marooned) and of those suspected of subordinating the SF to the political (Dr Strangelove). However, these tendencies are not argued to be outside the generic boundaries of SF; rather, they are regarded as betraying what Bouyxou advances as the potentiality of cinema in general: an evocation of the fantastic and the oneiric. The book thus examines those films commonly accepted as SF in terms of their contributions to this wider objective, without the latter contributing in any way to a reformulation of SF as a generic category.

Most of the book's 514 pages are taken up by rather pedestrian chronological histories of SF cinema, organized by country of origin, and further according to "Les grands themes de la SF" (space-opera, human metamorphosis, etc.). These are in themselves of less historiographical value than the briefer chronologies to be found in the special issues of Cinéma d'Aujourd'hui and l'Avant-Scène reviewed elsewhere in this issue. The critical evaluation of individual films is weakened by Bouyxou's off-hand and gratuitious pronouncements upon those filmmakers and films associated with literary or high-brow cinema and criticism: Bunuel is dismissed as "senile," Robbe-Grillet as "petit-bourgeois," and Hawks, Ford, and Walsh as "old reactionary western-makers." The anti-intellectualism which is regrettably frequent within writing by SF enthusiasts takes the form here of a rejection of those directors and films having any stature within mainstream film criticism.

The treatment of such films as l'Année dernière à Marienbad and Weekend is especially marked by such anti-intellectualism, and by a tendency to subsume these films under the rubric of "the fantastic" or suggest that they partake of the SF. Bouyxou seeks to include l'Année dernière à Marienbad within SF on the assumption that it deals with "parallel universes," and Weekend because of the unworldly non-versimilitude of the well-known lengthy pan across a series of wrecked cars. These aspects are regarded as compensating, through their "fantastic" qualities, for the dry academicism of their directors, though, I would argue, they are at the heart of the formal experimentation with narrative chronology which renders such films important. Bouyxou insists that they are radical in the sense of a liberation from the ordinary, and that "academic" accounts of these sequences in a formalist vocabulary are recuperative.

This analysis, and the author's assertion that the cinema is an inherently oneiric medium, lead me to suspect his affinities with the diluted surrealist aesthetic which has long existed as a minor current within French film criticism. (It is frequently associated with the magazine Positif.) Bouyxou finds the fullest expression of the cinematic fantastic in such films as Feuillade's serialization of Fantomas and the surrealist shorts of the 1920s, and, like the Positif critics, is at his weakest in coming to terms with the modernism of European cinema of the 1960s. The attempt to situate both the origins and the highestachievements of a fantastic cinema in the early years of surrealism and the underworld adventure film is consistent with this aesthetic, but prevents his book from addressing itself in any meaningful way to contemporary discussion of SF and the cinema.

--Will Straw

Two Special Issues on SF and the Cinema

Alain Schlockoff, ed. Cinema D'Aujourd'hui(1 rue Metz, 75010 Paris) No. 7 (New series: Spring, 1976). Special issue: "Demain la science-fiction."

Though never at the center of critical controversy, in the manner of Cahiers du Cinéma or Cinéthique, Cinéma d Aujourd'hui regularly publishes issues which are of value as works of reference because they are devoted in toto to specific subjects. (Previous issues of this sort have concentrated on Jean Renoir and on eroticism in the cinema.) The magazine's stated purpose is one of combining basic documentation on a subject with a representative and foundational range of articles about it; these articles are usually equidistant between essayistic criticism of a journalistic variety and academic work. This issue's reference material includes: a listing, with capsule reviews, of 50 "films-clés" of SF cinema; a description of some 35 SF films in preparation at the time of publication; a satisfactorily complete chronology of SF films made between 1898 and 1975; the choices of six critics as to the ten best SF films of all time; and a regularly comprehensive bibliography (with scaled reviews) of books and magazines devoted to SF in the cinema.

Jacques Goimard's introductory article, "La science-fiction telle qu'en elle-mme enfin..." represents the almost obligatory effort to define SF generically. Nevertheless, Goimard's proposed definition--"La science-fiction est un genre comportant un changement de vraisemblable et remplissant une function mythique"--whatever its subsequent longevity, is arrived at through a detailed discussion of Todorov's treatment of the fantastic, and avoids the tendency of similar attempts in film criticism to simply cover with an all-inclusive definitional web a given corpus of films. Goimard is cognizant of the necessity for a definition capable of accounting for the differentia specifica of SF within a generic typology.

Jean-Pierre Andrevon's "Répères idéologiques pour une chronologie de la science-fiction au cinéma" is briefer than its objective--an account of the links between SF films and ideological contexts--would require, but is suggestive nevertheless. The remaining articles have the limitations of encyclopedia entries: one on SF literature and cinema, another on special effects in the films of Fritz Lang, and a rather unnecessary discussion of neglected SF films. Goimard's introduction and the bibliographic and filmographic materials constitute the central sources of interest in this special issue.

L'Avant-scène du cinéma (27 rue St.-André-des-Arts, 75006 Paris) Nos. 231/32. 1st-15th July, 1979.--L'Avant-scène du cinéma is highly regarded within film studies circles for its regular (at least one per issue) publication of film scripts which are frequently based upon transcriptions from actual prints, and thus more reliable than working screenplays. The issue under review contains the scripts for 2001: A Space Odyssey and Don Siegel's 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and is presented as a special issue on SF. The script for 2001 is particularly valuable, with exhaustive descriptions of camera positions and detailed credits. (Though it is not stated, I assume dialogue for both films is based upon the dubbed versions released in France.)

Jacques Goimard prefaces the script to 2001 with a step-by-step account of its conception and production, drawing primarily on material published in English, but from a sufficiently large number of sources for his synthesis to be of value in itself. Goimard further contributes a list of the 80 SF films he regards as most important, with capsule reviews for the first 32, and many illustrations. While his selection is no more debatable than others, the continuing tendency to rely on such lists as filler material within publications devoted to SF cinema is itself of questionable value.

As dossiers, these treatments of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are exhaustive. L'Avant-scène regularly includes passages from reviews contemporary with the release of each film, director filmographies, production notes, and detailed information on remakes. The script for Invasion of the Body Snatchers is well illustrated with frame enlargements suitable for stylistic analysis. While L'Avant-scène's writing is characterized by the absence of an editorial style or an engagement with developments in film study or criticism, it fulfills its encyclopedic project satisfactorily.

--Will Straw

SF in Scandanavia

Cay Dollerup ed. Volve: Scandinavian Views on Science Fiction:Selected Papers From the Scandinavian Science-Fiction Festival 1977. Anglica et Americana, vol.4. Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen.1978. 123p. DKr.10. (Available from Dept. of English, Univ. of Copenhagen, 84-96 Njalsgade. DK-2300 Copenhagen, Denmark.)

Volve is the old Nordic goddess of fate, and this book is a selection of papers from the Scandinavian SF Festival jointly organized by the Danish SF Cirklen (SF Association) and the Department of English at the University of Copenhagen in 1977--with one unidentified article added later. The authors comprise the Norwegian critics and authors Oe. Muhre and Jon Bing, the Swedes S.J. Lundwall and J.H. Holmberg, the SF writers Brian Aldiss and P.J. Farmer, and 11 Danish critics. The editor defines the volume's aims as "(a) to present outsiders with some important aspects of SF; (b) to describe the Danish SF scene: and (c) to present some Scandinavian papers on SF, the standard of which is comparable to those written in other countries"; he also points out that most contributions stress the difference between the US and the European views of SF. This brief introduction is followed by "SF and the Mainstream," a brief edited discussion between Dollerup, Muhre, Lundwall, and Farmer, where the three Scandinavians identify the hostility of the "mainstream" to SF as stemming from mutual ignorance and inflexibility, the conflict of the "two cultures," and the US inventions of the SF ghetto and a style conditioned by payment per word. In the next article, Professor B. Nordhjem claims The Lord of the Rings for SF and analyzes some of its aspects, including a discussion of Old English and archaic words in it.

A section of the book is called "The Danish Scene" and is composed of five articles. E. Swiatek, editor of the SF critical journal Proximal discusses the introduction of English-language SF into a small country with a very high proportion of "bilingual" readers, in several waves starting in 1957, and the authors' publishing houses, magazines, and fans involved; the latter are organized from 1973, and engage in some book publishing (SFS readers will want to know that this includes bibliographies of SF and of SF criticism in Danish) C. Schioler, electrician and secretary of the SFC, surveys a Danish tradition of SF from Falster's (Voyage to the Moon, 1731) and Holmberg's satires through several other names such as H.C. Andersen's in the 19th and J.V. Jensen's in the early 20th century to the first technological SF (14 works by Niels Meyn in 1911-57), scattered efforts between the World Wars including notably Mogens Klitgaard's anti-Nazi The Planet of the Insane (1933) and the postwar works of 17 "mainstream" writers, of whom N.E. Nielsen and T. Eskestad are singled out. This Danish SF concentrates on social issues and eschatology at the expense of facile adventure and aliens. Its average hardcover printings are 3-4,000 copies, and paperback 6-8,000. The opus of Niels E. Nielsen is then given a separate brief "introduction" by the statisticians S. Kreiner Moller and J. Pedersen, who summarizes three novels of his, though we are told that more than half of his 17 books--including ca. 50 short stories--are SF. A second "introduction," by editor P. Toft, is devoted to Erwin Neutzsky-Wulff, whose half a dozen works in the 1970s seem, from the description given, to be religious fantasies or science-fantasy. The section on Danish SF concludes with a few pages on critical works about it written by J. Guld, who refers to his Bibliograti over litteratur pa dansk om science fiction indtil 1976 and C. Schioler-E. Swiatek's Dansk science fiction index 1741-1976 (both 1977), which I take to be the two bibliographies mentioned by Swiatek, as well as to P. Rasmussen, Science Fiction (1974) a teaching guide prophylactic against SF, and to two anthologies edited by Tage la Cour and Jannick Storm.

The collection continues with two discussions, one on SF and politics between Aldiss, Bing, and Holmberg, the other on SF, computers, and reality between Farmer, Pedersen, and two computer specialists, and a brief article on legal systems in utopia by Bing. But it culminates in articles by two academics. Bent Sunesen, who teaches at the Danish School of Educational Studies, argues--to my mind quite persuasively--that utopian fiction is part of SF, that SF in general is primarily literature but with the added quality of displaying openly and intensely the "speculative model" character of all literature, and that for all these reasons it is well suited to discussing educational issues. The volume's editor, who teaches in the Department of English at the University of Copenhagen, concludes with two contributions. In the first, "Science (?) Fiction in the Classroom," he usefully distinguishes among several pedagogical uses of SF: (1) stimulating discussion, where the SF is only a pretext--possibly a legitimate objective but not to be called "teaching SF"; (2)"push[ing] a point" for ulterior motives--where he suggests foregrounding these motives without employing SF might be more honest and possibly even more useful (and where, though I would agree to the extent that counter-arguments must also be presented, I am a bit dubious that the most intrinsic approach to SF as literature can be simon-pure, divorced from issues and points it autonomously carries--the necessary balance is discussed at greater length in Charles Elkins's and my article in SFS No. 19): (3) promoting science, where Dollerup--in a polemic with Patrick Moore's appendix in Science and Fiction (London, 1957) and some pronouncements in Scholes-Rabkin's Science Fiction--quite correctly points out that there are "severe limitations" in the possible uses of SF as introduction to "science fact," and furthermore that even when those limitations do not prevail a good initial grounding in science is necessary (so that it is a useful tool only for the science teacher). Dollerup nonetheless concludes--and I will not be the one to quarrel with that either--that SF has a "symbiotic relationship" with science as (1) a document of beliefs about science; (2) a cumulative system of ideas; and (3) (I presume most importantly) a literature adopting what I would call the estranged worldview of science. It can therefore be used in studying fiction, in studying "how we are made to accept the 'truth of fiction,'" and--with due caution--in studying the above-mentioned three modes of imaginative participation in some aspects of science. The volume closes with Dollerup's "On the Criticism of SF--Caveats and Trends," which presents a somewhat brief survey of general books about modern SF, concentrating on their weaknesses; the "parochial circuit of mutual congratulation" which Amis had previously complained about; the necessity of plugging SF; uncriticalness and lack of selectivity (his cases in point are some items in Clareson's checklist Science Fiction Criticism and in the histories by Aldiss and Gunn; the errors in the popular books by Ash and Kyle are surely not worth pointing out separately--one should simply say that such books are not to be taken seriously). Dollerup also complains about bias, and ends with a broadside against the "truly incredible amount of glib critical nonsense" in Robert Scholes and Eric S. Rabkin's Science Fiction, while praising two European books, Lundwall's Science Fiction and Rottensteiner's The Science Fiction Book as the only ones presenting a good overview of the field, both American and European. I find some judgments in this part of his article disputable (e.g.: can there be criticism which does not "press a point"?), and some omissions from both English and other languages regrettable. But surely Dollerup is right when he complains of the ill-defined implicit reader in much SF criticism and of the lack of guidance through the proliferating secondary literature on SF.

In the light of his criticalness, one could conclude that the volume edited by him has fulfilled his aims under (a) and (b) (the data on Denmark being very interesting but appetite-whetting, so that we expect more, longer, and more sustained discussions of this kind), whereas the aim (c) would be ambiguous if achieved (to present papers comparable to standards he has just complained about). But on the strength of the two or three best papers, the book is recommended not only to Scandinavists but also to all those interest in SF teaching and the meta-discussions on SF. Most laudably, the volume has a comprehensive index.


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