Today see’s the long-awaited publication of Henry Blanc’s 1973 comic strips adaptation of Berceuse pour Bérurier, the 1960 San-Antonio novel. Originally published in the French daily newspaper France Soir, whose circulation was, back then, well over one million copies a day (1 300 000, in 1963) Henry Blanc’s strips appear now, some 46 years later, for the first time as a volume, in a limited edition, restricted to 160 copies (numbered by hand from 1 to 160), thanks to a non-business entity “Les Amis de San-Antonio”. This collector’s item has been carefully and admirably curated by Thierry Gautier, Didier Poiret and Jean-François Pribile, founding and long-serving members of said entity, dedicated to furthering the knowledge of San-Antonio’s work.
The comparison of figures and places suggests a widening gap between a publishing industry of which San-Antonio was once, around the middle of the past century a stalwart, a dependable source of massive income, but which has now moved on, and the world of erudite and nostalgic readers, with their necessary and irreplaceable contribution. Once a big business, and by all accounts a hard-nosed one at that, San-Antonio has now become mostly a labor of love. While San-Antonio’s literature, which found in mass-market circulation its raison d’être, always depended on its readers for its very existence, it now seems that San-Antonio’s survival from oblivion, and the question of his legacy hinges more than ever on the dedication of readers taking over their free time (or devoting their retirement) to locate and browse through increasingly fragile archives to bridge gaps in knowledge, piecing together traces left in media long discarded and retracing a history based on material artifacts now almost forgotten, or whose last remains, like in this case, are archived in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
Indeed, Gautier, Poiret and Pribile’s edition, with its detailed, erudite and rewarding introduction and the wealth of original documents it reproduces in its appendices, goes much beyond a tribute to the adaption of San-Antonio as comics, or to Blanc’s skills as an illustrator, or Robert Mallard ‘s (author of the texts under the strips) as a storyteller. It captures a moment of French cultural history, re-inscribing San-Antonio within a history of the successive forms and media it borrowed to reach its millions of readers over an entire era. As such, this edition continues to illustrate the productivity of the “cultural turn” advocated a decade ago (Jeannerod, San-Antonio et son double, PUF, 2010 ; Rullier, Gautier, Jeannerod & Lagorgette, San-Antonio et la culture française, PUS, 2010). Shifting away from the sole preserves of linguisitics and literary studies, cultural studies approaches help apprehending the multi-faceted and transmedia dimension of San-Antonio production, and articulating them with existing social conditions, representations, ideologies and industrial structures.
San-Antonio might nowadays appear as a relic from a past increasingly inscrutable and difficult to comprehend. Gautier, Poiret and Pribile’s tireless work in finding, selecting, reproducing and contextualising the strips (Berceuse pour Bérurier, the story published today, is merely one of twenty novels which served as a basis for the strips, published continuously between September 10, 1963 and March 12, 1975, amounting to a respectable total of 3536) sheds light into a moment of press and popular publishing industry which, at that stage was hard for anyone living in France to ignore, but which has slipped off almost everybody’s radar since.
From the narrower point of view of San-Antonio’s commercial success, it is easy to point out the coincidence between the start of the France Soir publication in 1963 and the recognition of the “San-Antonio phenomenon” in the following years. His 1964 book L’Histoire de France vue par San-Antonio was a best seller with 350 000 copies sold that year and became his first to sell over a million copies; in 1965 Robert Escarpit dedicated his seminar in the University of Bordeaux to the first Conference on San-Antonio. The continuous numbering of the 3536 strips re-frames the adventures of San-Antonio and gives a new dimension to their serial nature, merging the series of novels in an uninterrupted duration, emphasizing a sense of timelessness. It is now possible, based on Gautier, Poiret and Pribile’s precise research of concordances between the novels and the strips ( pp. 13-14) to establish the following correspondence between the novels (implicitly) adapted and the strips published in France Soir under a solely generic title (as “Les Enquêtes du commissaire San-Antonio” and then (from 1970, after strip 2210) “Les Enquêtes de San Antonio” ). Only the last three novels in the list below were adapted under their title:
France Soir 1963/1964 Du sirop pour les guêpes, Fleuve Noir, 1960
France Soir 1964 Du brut pour les brutes, Fleuve Noir, 1960
France Soir 1964/1965 Entre la vie et la morgue, Fleuve Noir, 1959
France Soir 1964/1965 De « A » jusqu’à « Z », Fleuve Noir, 1961
France Soir 1965/1966 Bérurier au sérail, Fleuve Noir, 1964
France Soir 1966 Des gueules d’enterrement, Fleuve Noir, 1957
France Soir 1966/1967 San-Antonio Polka, Fleuve Noir, 1962
France Soir 1967 Messieurs les Hommes, Fleuve Noir, 1955
France Soir 1967/1968 On t’enverra du monde, Fleuve Noir, 1959
France Soir 1968 Du mouron à se faire, Fleuve Noir, 1955
France Soir 1968/1969 Tout le plaisir est pour moi, Fleuve Noir, 1959
France Soir 1969/1970 Le loup habillé en grand-mère, Fleuve Noir, 1962
France Soir 1970 Descendez-le à la prochaine, Fleuve Noir, 1953
France Soir 1970/ 1971 Fais gaffe à tes os, Fleuve Noir, 1956
France Soir 1971/ 1972 Viva Bertaga, Fleuve Noir, 1968
France Soir 1972/ 1973 En long, en large et en travers, Fleuve Noir, 1958
France Soir 1973 Emballage cadeau, Fleuve Noir, 1972
France Soir 1973 Berceuse pour Bérurier, Fleuve Noir, 1960
France Soir 1973/1974 Ça ne s’invente pas, Fleuve Noir, 1973
France Soir 1974/1975 Sérénade pour une souris défunte, Fleuve Noir, 1954
Henry Blanc, San-Antonio, Berceuse pour Bérurier, Édition établie et présentée
par Thierry Gautier, Jean-François Pribile et Didier Poiret, Gardanne, Les Amis de San-Antonio, 2019