13: Out of the Garage, two by two 



It seemed good, wrote Giraud in 1979, to have a minimum of two pages in each issue of Metal Hurlant. Twenty-seven of the thirty-six installments of the Garage were two-pagers.

     Another five consisted of four pages.

     The twenty-third installment (Metal Hurlant #28, April 1978) was exceptional. The President had given some orders regarding the Major. Meanwhile, in a hotel in Armjourth, the Major was being conducted to Room 6. With one wordless panel devoted to a mysterious airplane that had reappeared in the previous installment (after a long absence from the story) and another wordless panel showing a cloud of dust on the horizon of a fairly featureless desert, the second page appeared to be treading water.

     But there was a third page.

     It was the first three-page episode. Indeed, it was the only three-page installment in the entire serial. The next ten reverted to a strict two-page regime.

     Why or how the twenty-third episode ended up as a three-pager is a question I’m not in a position to answer. Anyone determined to unravel the puzzle might begin by wondering why the word “CEPENDANT...” (“MEANWHiLE...”) occurs in the first panel of the third page, rather than in the last panel of the second, with which it is continuous.

     One might also look at episode 20, which has a résumé on both the first and second pages, and wonder whether Giraud had initially been tempted to pass off the first as an episode all on its own. That might have made pages 2, 3 and 4 the first three-page installment—but all four pages appeared together in Metal Hurlant #25.

     I’ve always been willing to follow my curiosity into unpromising byways, but I’m not equipped to follow this rabbit. I’m not even sure it was a rabbit, and I’m content to leave some mysteries, large and small, to others. All I intend here is to notice the extent to which the two-page unit was respected by the Garage’s original presentation.



The installments were prepared as discrete units, discontinously, over a period of three years, and are of sufficient variety of style and tone that the majority are distinct from their immediate predecessors and successors. In 1979, collected for the first time in a book, all the two-page installments were presented on facing pages. (This had also been the case in Metal Hurlant, with the exception of episodes 3 and 27.) As a result, throughout the first edition of Major Fatal, each episode was visually available to the reader as a unit.

     When first alerted to this consideration, by Martin Dupuis – in a review dated January 29, 2015, posted on rightearleft.com – I wasn’t sure how important it was. I’ve always tended to accept that (with the obvious exception of the double-page spread) the basic presentational unit of a comic book is the individual page. But in this case, my eyes persuade me otherwise. Not only is each two-page episode shown to its best advantage when presented on facing pages, but it also keeps the episodic nature of the narrative (rather than its continuity) before the reader.

     If we accept that this presentational scheme was deliberate, it will be understood that the twenty-third installment, consisting of three pages, constituted an obstacle. Subsequent episodes in the book would have begun on the right-hand rather than left-hand page.

     Does this explain why a page was added for book publication?



The extra page was actually added to the twenty-fourth installment—the “ÉPISODE CHEZ LES COW-BOYS”—but this was then shifted to a position ahead of what was originally the twenty-third installment. The added material contributes nothing to the story beyond a brief stepping stone to Malvina and Cervic, otherwise absent between episodes 16 and 33; but the visual integrity of later episodes is maintained.

     Regrettably, when a second edition of Major Fatal was published in 1981, this admirable scheme was overthrown. It’s hard to see why. The addition of the single-page “Une Planche” as a frontispiece (it had not previously been reprinted) doesn’t explain it, because in 1979 that page had been blank. The subsequent nineteen pages remained in the same order as in the first edition. Nor did the new end matter—an appreciation by Jacques Goimard and comments by Alexandro Jodorowsky, four pages each—necessitate a change of layout, because these two pieces were separated by a blank page, and one page was the sum total of space saved by beginning “The Forbidden City Rides Again”—and, thereafter, all but two installments of the Garage—on a right-hand rather than left-hand page.



Happily, the Garage may still be seen as it ought to be seen—if you’re able, or willing, to read French. I can vouch for Arzach - Le Garage Hermetique, as published in 2018. Although it contains none of the other Grubert stories, and there are several very minor blemishes, it’s about as handsome a presentation of the main story as I might expect to see, and compares favorably with the first edition.