Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Fever of Urbicande

Now that Monday's post is up, I can now reveal that, starting next week, I'll be returning to the subject of The Obscure Cities.

For those who are unaware, The Obscure Cities is a French comics series. I've previously introduced the series and offered a four-part look at the first volume, The Walls of Samaris. Now, it's time to look at the series's second volume, The Fever of Urbicande.

Fair warning: it's an enthralling but complicated book, and I'm not going to rush my analysis. If you thought I examined The Walls of Samaris at length, my look at The Fever of Urbicande is going to be even longer because the book has far more to talk about. These are French comics, after all, and the best French comics can be very dense. When an artist spends a year preparing a 44-page book, it ought to be dense -- not in the negative sense of the word, but instead suggesting detail and a concision of implications. That's too often not the case with French comics, but it certainly is the case here. Also, I've loved these comics for a decade now, and I've done an awful lot of thinking about them, so there's a lot to share.

In fact, I just completed another post on it yesterday, and I've already got five posts and over 17,000 words done about the book. Combine this with the 3000-word introduction and 21,000 words on The Walls of Samaris, and I'll clearly be close to the length of a short book by the time I'm through with The Fever of Urbicande. And that's just the second book in a series that runs, depending on how one counts, between nine and 20+ books. Fortunately, I don't have nearly as much to say about most of them, but the task of finishing the entire series remains a daunting one.

It's not one I set out to do, really. When I wrote the introduction, I had it in the back of my mind that, yes, I'd like to continue and at least look at a book or two. But I didn't want to paint myself into a corner, because I knew I might not get around to actually doing the writing. Most writers have dozens of ideas percolating for a decade or more, and what determines what actually gets written is an unpredictable combination of whimsy and outside demand. I've got lots of great ideas I simply haven't been inspired to write, or that I haven't had the time and mental energy to devote the focus required to bring them to life.

Writing about The Walls of Samaris, I comforted myself in thinking that I could stop after that volume, although I'd like to at least continue into The Fever of Urbicande, since I like it so much. Now, halfway through doing so, I'd certainly like to get through three short stories the stem from Fever, and getting to the second means requires also addressing the series's next volume, The Archiviste, because its protagonist is also featured in that short story. As a result, I'm of two minds: my ambition makes me want to cover the entire series, but the practical part of my brain doesn't want me to commit to doing so and then either waffle or become crushed by the size of the undertaking, which could make me feel as if I'm chipping at something too massive to ever complete.

Also, I don't want to be pegged as "that Obscure Cities guy." I don't want to focus on this exclusively, and I know that building in breaks is important for me to maintain my momentum.

So here's my solution: I have a roadmap through the one-year anniversary of my introduction, on 11 July of this year. That should carry me through the next two volumes and two short stories, and it's a good stopping point, because it's about where I'd separate "the early Obscure Cities" from the series' next phase. During this year, I'll make sure that only around half my Monday articles for Sequart concern The Obscure Cities, and I'll build in longer, month-long breaks between volumes. I'll also feel free to write occasional pieces on other days, should they be timely in their concerns. I'll finish out the year and see what I want to do then.

I have a spreadsheet where I keep track of all of this, and as of this Monday, my Obscure Cities articles have been precisely a third of all my Monday posts (although they're only a quarter of my total posts during the same period, counting only articles and reviews, not Sequart News pieces I've written). I'm five weeks into the next block of posts, and that's the point at which I'll be back up to 50% of my Monday offerings. I'll be over that by the time I'm done with Fever, at which point I'll take a break, and I'll try to keep that percentage at around 50% while still covering what I want to get done on the series during this year. If I go over 50%, I'll correct that with another break after the year's up.

Will this be a Sequart book at some point? I've been encouraged to make it so, but I don't know. For a long time, I thought I'd write this as a book, but I'm enjoying serializing it online, which lets me get feedback and breaks the material into far less daunting chunks. And I currently think, given the subject, that this makes the most sense: as cool as a book would be, I don't see it having much commercial potential, because we are talking about largely untranslated French comics being written about in English. Plus, I like giving people this material for free, which means more people will read it.

None of what I'm writing here could possibly interest anyone, except for those interested in the minutia of the writing process. But it's the kind of thing I'm thinking about, as I think about The Obscure Cities and my plans for the coming months.


Anonymous said...

Yay, I love the Obscure Cities books although I only have the Brusels and Invisible Frontier Vol2 in those lovely NBM hardcovers. Pity they don't seem to have sold well-enough for the series to have continued. I'll be following your posts for sure.


Julian Darius said...

Thanks for the comment. I'm not sure it was a sales decision, though. Certainly, those translations are doing well on the secondary market -- just look at the prices for the first couple volumes. And there's so many that haven't been translated!

In the meantime, yes, please do follow my analysis!

Anonymous said...

Hi Darius,

I really like your Blog! Great to see that you are so thoughtful about the Obscure Cities!

Just one remark, the Obscure Cities is not French, it's Belgian. It breaks my heart (as a Belgian) that you call it French ;-) I meat François Schuiten some years ago for an interview and I guarantee you he is 100% Belgian.

I just wrote about François Schuiten and his last work "12 Ladouce" or "12 Schoonheid" (in Flemish). Have a look if you like http://bit.ly/lievensblog

Kind regards,