1: An asteroid, lost somewhere in the Belt... 





(episode 33)



“Reducing Airtight Garage to its plot can only trivialize a work that defies such simplification,” writes Thierry Groensteen, in The Expanding Art of Comics (University Press of Mississippi, 2017). He nevertheless “endeavor[s] to summarize its twists and turns”—an exercise that “serve[s] to demonstrate that the plot is not unintelligible”.

     Here I adopt a contrary strategy, not because I intend to argue the plot is unintelligible—though it’s a proposition that might be defended—but because a description of the plot that summarizes the story doesn’t simply trivialize it; it misrepresents it. When Groensteen begins his summary by alluding to Grubert, to his immortality, and to the shape and structure of the world Grubert has created, he inevitably reconstitutes an account of the story that has been repeated ad nauseam. Of course, what he writes is justified by the story, but nevertheless it’s an account that is false from beginning to end.

     It should not be supposed, however, that I’m picking a quarrel with Groensteen, who goes on to write that


It is... advisable to be wary of ready-made keys and of interpretive grids superimposed onto a work that was never premeditated... The product of improvisation over a three-year period, Garage is a labyrinthine narrative that has, quite obviously, absorbed so many outside influences, personal experiences, and contradictory drives that its manifest content is full of clues that can be interpreted in manifold ways.


All I’m doing is emphasizing that a description of the story, including any accurate description, also constitutes a ready-made key or interpretive grid of which a reader ought to be wary. The Garage was originally a serial. Assembled as a book, it may be read continuously, in its entirety—but where does that leave us?

     The Garage is a succession of installments—events, developments and revelations—each with its own character, each to an extent distinct from the others; and the reader is confronted, at least initially, by a variety of puzzling, often contradictory potentialities. So, at the outset, was Giraud, who in 1976 and 1977 was inventing freely, introducing at every turn obstructions and complications while determined, at all costs, to keep the story going. The challenge for the reader was to find the story amid mystery and fragmentation. The incentive to do so lay in images and scenes often as fascinating as they were impenetrable; they demanded explanation as much as they promised more story. And it remains true that the potential confusions standing in the way of intelligibility are as valid a part of one’s encounter with the Garage as the corresponding effort to make sense of it.

     But the reader of a serial is in the happy position of being able to believe there’s more to come, that anything is possible. Once a story has been brought to an end, a different possibility exists: you might sneak a peak at the end, to see how it all comes out. What’s worse, even if you resist that invidious temptation, you know the story has an end. Indeed, while you may yet live in a precarious state of blessed ignorance, the story can follow only one course. One challenge for a reader of the Garage these days, whether returning to it or coming to it for the first time, is to read as though it were still true that anything is possible.

     It may seem the reader of any well-known story faces a similar challenge; but I only am escaped alone to tell thee that, whatever you know, or think you know, or have been told, and no matter what others suppose they know, or say they know, the story exists to be discovered by you. Alert readers will often discover the extent to which both received wisdom and common knowledge are poor substitutes for the experience of reading a story (and what I write here about the Garage is partly excused, I hope, by this circumstance—that no matter what I tell, I cannot tell all). Readers who find the Garage congenial may find themselves reading a story they had no predisposition to expect.

     But, after all, what might one expect? One need not go far afield on the internet to find the Garage summarized. It may be classed as science-fiction, as fantasy, or as an adventure; but so far from being a typical example of any of these genres, it is rather a singular work that grows amiably out of an ironic familiarity with genre conventions, and grows beyond them until it becomes... well, whatever it is.



What it’s become for me is a late reminder that reading is a lifelong enterprise. I first read the Garage—most of it—when it began to be published in English, forty and more years ago. And it began to vanish from the horizon of my thoughts, curiously enough, when it was published for the first time in English as a book, ten years later. (In all the time I owned a copy, I never quite became reconciled to the largely unhappy coloring in Marvel’s presentation of the story.)

     Since rediscovering Giraud’s work, it’s become clear that my initial interest was not so much exhausted as it was frustrated. To look at it in the perspective offered by its denouement is, at least partly, to misunderstand it. My own misunderstanding was exacerbated by the fact that when, at last, I had all the installments in front of me—something I never managed while it was being published in Heavy Metal—it still seemed something was missing.

     Possibly I also felt, after the passage of a decade, that the Garage belonged to a particular moment in time—a moment certainly receding, and taking along with it this curious work that once looked so fresh, so exciting.

     Yet a further three decades, for good and for ill, have supplied what was then lacking: an opportunity to discover that Le Garage Hermétique de Jerry Cornelius wasn’t finished. So far from being confined to the late nineteen-seventies, it became part of a lifelong effort that gave rise to other works exploring its fictional world and, more importantly, to works that further explored the practice of self-liberation and spontaneous invention by which it was brought to birth.

     It may be objected that to view the original serial in the light cast by the final pages of Le Major, published three decades later, is as much of a blunder as supposing the Garage hermetically sealed in the form it was given in 1979; but I’ve found it liberating. I’ve discovered that anything can still happen in the hermetic garage.