26: Who is Major Grubert?   



On the sun-deck of the yacht, Jerry found a ukelele. He collapsed into a steel and canvas Bauhaus chair and began to strum the uke while Cathy swayed peacefully in a hammock under an awning and sipped her lemonade. The coast sank slowly behind them as the Teddy Bear steered a course for Normandy.


(Michael Moorcock, The English Assassin p.229)



You’ll have worked out by now that I’ve made an effort to avoid retelling, in any coherent way, the story of the Garage. If you don’t already know the story, you might as well know that what I can tell you won’t be the story. And if you do know the story, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if I led you to suspect you don’t, because that way you might want to go back and discover it all over again. I don’t suppose I’ll manage that, but I can encourage you, at least, to look at it with less certainty. In doing this, I’m simply sharing my own small adventure of discovery. What I thought was familiar turned out to be something quite different—both stranger and richer than I remembered.

     Of course, everything’s stranger than we’re willing to admit, and all I’ve done is look at something I looked at long ago, but with a sharper eye. For instance, look at the first portrait of Grubert in episode 3... 



He has a serious expression on a long, rather severe face. He somewhat resembles the English actor C. Aubrey Smith in a less than mellow mood.

     It’s difficult to associate this Grubert with the figure of the Major that now seems archetypal. I don’t recognize him. Indeed, in each of the first four installments of the Garage in which he appears (3-6), he’s dressed differently. In episode 5, he looks more like a young Louis Calhern...






... this despite the fact that Giraud modelled his face with reference to a photo of Gary Cooper. In episode 9, with full lips and jutting chin, only the helmet and mustache reassure me I’m looking at the same individual:



“Grubert” was originally little more than a name onto which Giraud projected an ambivalence about old-fashioned heroes with outmoded values. Until he joined the cast of the Garage, he’d featured in only a handful of minor strips, as the leader (Commandant Grubert) of a galactic expedition, as a hunter of French tourists, and as the hero of a pseudo-colonial adventure, abandoned by his resentful sidekick. The faces that fitted the name were suitably elastic...



Grubert was also credited as the author of two pages of textual nonsense (“Chronique avec Porte-Jarretelles”) in the first issue of Metal Hurlant. In the second, he was the skinny and bumptious butt of a slim joke in “Une aventure du Major Grubert”. A more substantial Grubert—again, a hunter—made it to the cover of Metal Hurlant #6, and he had a small, if pivotal role in the thirteen-page “Le Major Fatal” in the same issue. In the following issue, his brain (“LE CERVEAU DU MAJOR”) was stolen by an Arcturian spy in the first part of Dan O’Bannon’s story, “The Long Tomorrow”...



Grubert’s name isn’t mentioned, but it’s not hard to guess to which Major the artist was referring. It might have seemed, in 1975 and 1976, that Grubert was set to become the Alfred E. Neuman of Metal Hurlant. Instead, he became the hero of a serial story.

     But who is the Grubert who made his first appearance in the Garage, on page 62 of Metal Hurlant #8, in the summer of 1976? To say he’s the creator of the world on which the action of the story takes place puts the cart before the horse. That’s a detail made explicit afterward. Here I want to unhitch the cart in order to take a closer look at the horse as it starts to trot.




Not much is given away in episode 3. Grubert has a space ship. I won’t get a look at it until episode 12, but I immediately learn it’s called the “Ciguri”. It’s a word that appeared earlier in the same issue, in the image of Pete Club looking at the Major’s brain (see above). “Ciguri” was Antonin Artaud’s rendering of a word for peyote and the peyote ritual in his Voyage to the Land of the Tarahumaras. An article about Artaud is pinned to the wall in Club’s apartment:



Artaud’s name may also be seen (twice) in the corner of a print on the wall at the head of the bed:



This tells me nothing about Grubert, but reminds me how little I might have guessed at this stage, because when Grubert asked his companion if “all the levels” of their “secret base” had been invaded, how was I to know there weren’t as many levels (one hundred and ninety-nine, at least) as in “The Long Tomorrow”?

     The worlds of that story and the Garage may have no connection, beyond an offhand private joke. On the other hand, episode 3 does advertise an explicit connection with a strip that appeared two issues earlier, when Grubert speculates that the invasion of his secret base may be “A BAKALiTE TRiCK.” In “Le Major Fatal”, Grubert had used two inhabitants of Syldaïne-Dolchigne as decoys in a plot to assassinate a Bakalite and steal a junctor. No great surprise, then, if he suspects the Bakalites may be looking to make trouble for him. In episode 4, the Major’s spy confirms that the Major “FEARS BAKALiTE VENGEANCE”.

     In episode 5...



Well, at this point, the history I’m looking at diverges from that of the 1979 revision. Let me be clear that I’m not proposing the original version of the Garage, with its inconsistencies, is necessarily a better thing than the revised version; but the revised version, after all, has its own inconsistencies, and one set of inconsistencies is not simply the equivalent of the other. The original is more expressive of a creative thrust obscured occasionally in the revision by a natural (and arguably legitimate) concern that the plot might at least have the appearance of making sense. Some original inconsistencies were of the nature of birthmarks and, having vanished with time, are hardly to be missed. Some blemishes were sufficiently intrusive as to invite cosmetic repair. But surgery, too, leaves scars, and it does no harm to examine the Garage with an eye not only to what it was, but to what, at the moment of its creation, it might have become.

     So: in episode 5, the scene played out between Grubert and his consort, Malvina, remains what it was. Grubert identifies the individual in a photograph as Jerry Cornelius, but declines to tell Malvina why it worries him so much. Malvina thinks, “THE DOG!...  HE’S BEiNG EVASiVE!...” and determines to get to the bottom of the matter. But when Grubert slipped away in 1976, his thoughts were rather different from what they became in 1979:






     In the Garage—by which I mean both the original serial and the revision—I never really found out who Malvina was, nor what motivated her. When her name was first invoked, in “La Chasse au Français en Vacances” (France-Soir 1974), Grubert was a buffoon and his “passion” for the unseen Malvina, with her “long white arms”, was certainly comic. This—take your pick—was


     a) because he was a creature of ego, incapable of love;

     b) because he was a hunter, and viewed her as a trophy to be won and displayed;

     c) because, like all objects of passion, she was an illusion;

     d) because he imagined her good and pure, while she was silly and venal;

     e) because, though he considered her to be his, she despised him;

     f) because she would inevitably deceive and betray him; or, alternatively,

     g) because he was deceiving himself, and she would never be his.


     Placing her by his side eliminates the element of passion from their relationship. In the Garage, what is (briefly) on display is an alliance; and what I see most clearly in Grubert’s thoughts is that, in 1976, it was an alliance fraught with secrets. Undeveloped in the serial, these intrigues all but vanish from the revision. Even if Malvina does go on to play Catherine the Great in the guards’ quarters (episode 16), what’s left behind is something less prickly, less freighted with possibility. I never did discover why it was essential Malvina shouldn’t find out who sent Jerry to find Grubert.



Tidying away loose ends in 1979 afforded an opportunity to substitute for the mysterious “they” the deus ex machina of the Garage—the Nagual—who was given, in passing, a cursory and purely verbal introduction. And the explorer Lewis Cern, originally introduced in episode 17, was here identified with Jerry Cornelius and the Black Fly (as Jerry is called in the last three episodes). This also became the first mention of “the asteroid”, first pictured in episode 12, but only referred to in the original text as late as 16.

     Back in 1976, Grubert had things to hide, and was in hiding. Conscious of being pursued, he doesn’t sound a lot like a hero; and I would suggest that, at this early stage, while Grubert was yet available as a vehicle for satire and the object of Giraud’s derision, he was also—at least potentially—both a scoundrel and a villain.

     This is consistent with his behavior in “Le Major Fatal”, where Boaz refers to him as a “MEGALOMANiAC iMPOSTOR” and Houm Jakin’s faith in him is misplaced. There’s also a page in Metal Hurlant #14 (February 1977) that, though not officially acknowledged or adopted as part of the Garage, offers a glimpse of possibly two sets of Grubert’s pursuers. Or had they been his associates?



Two individuals stand on an unidentified plain. One acknowledges they’re lost, while the other says, “THiS DAMN GRUBERT HAS SET US ON A FALSE TRAiL!..” In the next panel they’re making their way toward a space ship, where, in the third panel, another group of six space-opera characters appear similarly baffled by whatever turn of events led them here. “SO GRUBERT LiED!..” says one.

     Grubert is a deceiver, a trickster leaving in his wake a series of victims. Were the “they” who set Jerry Cornelius on Grubert’s trail such as these?



If this gives me a clue to what Grubert is, it still doesn’t tell me who he is—nor what stake Jerry Cornelius has in all this. I think there was a moment in 1977 when the answer to the second question might have provided a key to unlocking the first. Is it possible that Cervic’s information in episode 16 is incomplete or garbled?



The photograph of Jerry Cornelius first seen in 5 is here shown in a more complete form. Cornelius is pictured in company with Grubert and an individual whose face is bandaged. Cervic’s information tells me:


a) that Jerry Cornelius’s brother is in the picture, and

b) that the individual with the bandaged face is called Eric.


Let me allow that, as far as it goes, this information may be accurate.

     There is reason to believe, however (based on information from sources extraneous to the Garage) that the name of Jerry’s brother is not Eric, but Frank. Might it be that the individual with the bandaged face, identified as Eric, is not Jerry Cornelius’s brother; whereas Jerry’s brother, who is known to be in the picture, is actually the individual identified by both Cervic and Malvina as the Major? To put it simply, the megalomaniac impostor masquerading as Major Grubert is in fact the not entirely trustworthy Frank Cornelius.

     This provides an explanation of why the story is identified by the name of Jerry Cornelius. Cornelius is actually the hero of a story that nevertheless concerns itself largely with the actions of the villain. In much the same way, the untrustworthy Prosit Luckner dragged the hero and everyone else in his wake through the narrative of The Lost Dutchman’s Mine and The Ghost with the Golden Bullets, the eleventh and twelfth Blueberry volumes.

     Giraud provides a clue to this solution when Cervic tells Malvina that Cornelius’s brother has been located “AT THE END OF SUMMER, NEAR THE SEA, iN A COUNTRY CALLED NORMANDY, ABOARD A SMALL SAiLBOAT ...” It’s Jerry, not Frank, who’s heading toward Normandy at the end of The English Assassin, the third Jerry Cornelius novel.

     You may count the substitution of “Eric” for “Frank” as another clue, because if you realise Jerry’s brother is “Frank” rather than “Eric”, you may also recognize that “Eric” is but a sliver of type away from “Elric”—another Moorcock character whose story provided a template for Jerry.



If you care to dispute the point, you might argue that Frank has just as much reason to be loitering in Normandy. That, after all, is where their late father’s fake Le Corbusier chateau was located in the first Cornelius book, The Final Programme. And the sailboat in the third book—described as a “ship”, a “schooner” and a “yacht”—is perhaps not so small.

     I might counter this by noticing that when Frank reappeared in the second Jerry Cornelius book, A Cure for Cancer, he held the rank of Major—but have it your way. The speculation that Major Grubert is Frank Cornelius can hardly be sustained in the face of the confrontation that takes place in the last three episodes of the Garage. If it were so, surely Cornelius would say something that confirmed their relationship. Instead, “Grubert” is what he calls the man he has come to find—and who has come to find him.

     On the other hand, when they meet, they might be almost indistinguishable if one were not dressed in black, and the other in white. If not brothers, they might almost be aspects of the same character.

     The Cornelius books are—were—transgressive and playful; the characters mutate against a shifting background of alternate histories of the twentieth century. The same episode that introduced the mysterious and missing “Eric Cornelius” into the Garage also imported the principle articulated in science-fiction by David R. Daniels’ “the Branches of Time”, Jack Williamson’s “the Legion of Time” and C. L. Moore’s “Greater Glories”—that momentary choices and alternate possibilities produce a multitude of parallel worlds. When the information regarding “Eric” was introduced, was it a real potentiality that Cornelius and Grubert might be related? We have one version of the Garage, but this is not the only place where vestigial traces of other alternatives waiting to be formed may be glimpsed.