San-Antonio

Crime Fiction, Comics and the Daily Press

Berceuse

 

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

 

Petitmarcel

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The”unknown author” who sold 200 Million Books

Souris défunte

 

An encouraging article by Dalya Alberge in The Observer marks the first publication in English of one of the “Novels of the night” (romans de la nuit) by Frédéric Dard. The much anticipated Bird in a Cage, (Le Monte Charge), translated by David Bellos, is out this month, published by Pushkin Vertigo. Continue reading

An Anticapitalist in China

Mausolée pour une garce chinois

北方妇女儿童出版社, 1988 (Frédéric Dard, Mausolée pour une garce, originally published as Les Derniers mystères de Paris, Fleuve Noir, 1958)

With thanks to Didier Poiret, Thierry Gautier & Yue Ma,

As its original title suggested (Les Derniers mystères de Paris) the book  whose Chinese cover is shown above was conceived by its author, Frédéric Dard, as a great popular novel in the tradition of Eugène Sue’s Mysteries of Paris. Sue’s was one of the first novels serialised in the French press (it was published in the Journal des Débats between June 1842 and October 1843). Its latent ideologies were vigorously criticised by Karl Marx, who debunked ( in The Holy Family, 1845),  its  paternalist views and  bourgeois moralism.
It is therefore surprising and more than a little ironic that Dard’s homage to Sue,  published in Chinese in 1988 by Northern China Women & Children Publishing House in Chang Chun (in the north-eastern Province of Jilin) should be presented as a criticism of bourgeois society. The novel is prefaced in this edition by a short introduction which frames it ideologically, blaming capitalist worldviews for the corruption and ultimate demise of Agnes, the  “garce” (i.e.  the bitch) of the original title.

Continue reading

Abstract Landscapes, Train Stations and Crime Fiction: Buffet, Carzou, San-Antonio

 

Carzou rails

Jean Carzou (1907-2000), Les Caténaires, 1967

In a short passage which appears at first glance to encapsulate his populist views on art, bestselling French crime author San-Antonio likens the British Museum, which he professed to hate (“that most abhorrent place on earth, the most sinister ! A quintessential cemetery!”) to the Paris train station Saint-Lazare “with its smell of coal, pee and sweat”. While, according to him, in the Museum’s  “cold light, the work of men becomes inhuman”,  Saint-Lazare station, “full of cries and kisses” reminds him, “with its black beams that crisscross in the smoke” of “a drawing by Carzou”  (San-Antonio, Y’a de l’action,  Paris, Fleuve Noir, 1967; see the original French below). Continue reading

Visions of Paris Suburbs in San-Antonio

Buffet

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999), Buildings en banlieue, 1970

San-Antonio, France’s most popular author of crime fiction of the past 50 years, was fascinated with the bleakness of the Parisian suburbs, where he moved to in 1949. His prolific oeuvre documents this morbid fascination, somewhere between horror and nostalgia. His novels are full of notations and recurring observations about the suburban tragic  as the author experienced it. Suspending the investigation he his conducting, the first person narrator, Commissaire San-Antonio turns his attention momentarily to the representation of the surrounding space, the banlieues which were then rapidly sprawling around Paris. Continue reading

Kaput in Argentina

Kaput1 Arg Kaput 1 p4e

(Images courtesy of François Kersulec) 

(Click to enlarge)

In 1955-6 Frédéric Dard, the author of the famous, best selling San-Antonio adventures, also published in the same series (Spécial Police, Fleuve Noir) four novels of pure violence, which he signed “Kaput”. This is also the name of the protagonist. Frantically brutal and death-driven, the stories race through their plots straight to the inescapable culmination in the last novel, titled Mise à mort (1956). When republished in France in the 1990s, they  were presented as ” the dark side of an immense writer”. Prior to that, two had been translated into Spanish and published in Argentina in 1964. There, they were advertised as “Mas violento que Rififi!”, presumably capitalizing on the international success of Jules Dassin’s film, rather than on Auguste Le Breton’s original novel (Du Rififi chez les hommes).

Continue reading

Y a-t-il un Français…

Français

Frédéric Dard dit San-Antonio, Y a-t-il un Français dans la boîte à gants ?, Paris, Omnibus, May 2015, ISBN : 9782258116726 .

The two books which have just been published together in the prestigious Omnibus edition are a landmark in the career of France’s most successful crime fiction author. This is where San-Antonio officially meets Frédéric Dard, and where the two faces of the prolific double-author merge. Signed (on their original publication) ‘San-Antonio’, even though the eponymous character of the San-Antonio series does not feature, the books are closer to the dark and despairing atmosphere of the books previously signed ‘Dard’ (the “Romans de la nuit”). Published respectively in 1979 and 1981, one before and one after the election of François Mitterrand, the first socialist President of the 5th Republic, their subject matter is politics. Conspicuously however, they don’t contain any of the huge sense of anticipation which Mitterrand’s election triggered in the social discourse at the time. Rather, they reflect the social unrest and atmosphere of scandals and corruption in the final years of the presidency of Mitterrand’s predecessor, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. They tell the story of an ambitious career politician, who hides a terrible secret, the legacy of an unsavoury past, buried in his home. Continue reading