3: An unlikely beginning



Oddly, I cannot now look at this whimsical four-panel sketch without seeing it as something magical. Yet, once I did so.

     For Giraud it was an entirely offhand step into the unknown. The ninety-five pages that followed are nowhere implicit in these two pages. The shadow cast backward by the ensuing serial throws this modest gag into relief as a unique moment, teetering on the brink of history.

     What if, when he was drawing it, he’d been too tired to continue, and set it aside? Or if he’d been interrupted while drawing? Or if he’d followed some other whim? On what might the further thirty-five installments have depended without this opening in Jerry Cornelius’s hermetic garage? The moment of invention and a delight in surprise are evident throughout the Garage, but nowhere is its contingent, accidental nature so evident as here, where nothing is in place but an unnamed individual’s semi-comical mishap with a cableur.

     Later, Giraud recalled the first two pages as a bit of fun, a joke that could and should have led to nothing. When they were finished, he put them away and forgot about them. And there they might have remained if Jean-Pierre Dionnet—in the habit of rummaging through Giraud’s drawers when he came to visit—hadn’t found them.

     Published in Metal Hurlant #6, the four panels feature an unidentified character (who will subsequently become engineer Barnier) dressed in a rather preposterous set of clothes (a harlequin, of sorts) and tinkering with a preposterous vehicle (a psychedelic bubble-car?). The vehicle has three small wheels, as if its fanciful shell is resting on a tricycle. That it might be launched toward the stars seems a whim or a piece of childhood make-believe; but, as he aims a “DOUBLY-POLARIZED CHROMATIC PARTICLE PROJECTOR” at the vehicle, the engineer is proclaiming the technological ingenuity of his race. He forgets, however, to unplug the peeper valve, and in the fourth panel the top of the vehicle has been entirely destroyed:




(Heavy Metal #7, October 1977).


     That’s the punchline. Technological hubris finds its nemesis by way of a trivial oversight. At this stage there’s no reason to believe Jerry Cornelius exists as anything other than a device to lend urgency to this bumptious technophile’s satirical predicament.


It’s J. P. Dionnet, Editor-in-Chief of Metal [Hurlant], who’s responsible for what followed, because if he hadn’t had the perverse idea to have these two unhappy pages in Metal N° 6, engineer Barnier’s damaged cableur would have forever remained what it was in reality, a machine with no past, with no future, with neither tail nor head!...


(Introduction to MAJOR FATAL, June 1979)