Altaplana, world of Francois Schuiten and Benoit Peeters

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Cities of the Fantastic / Obscure Cities (English translations)

The albums of Schuiten and Peeters have been translated in English. First as the Cities of the Fantastic by NBM Publishers. In 2013 Stephen Smith used Kickstarter to get an English translation of L'Enfant Penchée published. The album was published in 2014 by Alaxis Press. The series name changed to the more accurate The Obscure Cities. In January 2016 Steve Smith announced that IDW Publishing will take over the publication of the series under the Alaxis Press imprint. In 2022 IDW published two albums without the involvement of Steve Smith.

NBM Publishers

  • The Great Walls of Samaris 1987 AD
  • Fever in Urbicande - 1990 AD - 96 pages soft cover
  • The Tower 1993 AD
  • Brüsel 2001 AD - 120 pages hard cover
  • The Invisible Frontier 2002 AD
  • The invisible frontier volume 2 - 2004 AD - Hard cover. Translated by Joe Johnson.

Alaxis Press

In the first quarter of 2014 Alaxis Press restarted the publication of the Les Cités Obscures series in English. As a longtime fan of the series, publisher Stephen Smith personally translated the first release The Leaning Girl. Alaxis Press was committed to complete the series in English beginning with the titles not already published in English by NBM publishers.

The Obscure Cities

Alaxis Press was also committed to share many of the rare Obscure Cities volumes, from the very rare pamphlet Correspondences of Mary Von Rathen to the book/DVD title, The Desombres Affair.

But the publication of The Leaning Girl was harder than expected. Steve Smith used Kickstarter to fund the project.

The launch of the Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of the first English language book in Alaxis Press' new Obscure Cities series, The Leaning Girl, was end of May 2013. The campaign ran for 45 days. In addition to the obvious (softcover and limited edition hardcover editions of the book), there were some surprise premiums for the different investment levels, beginning at just $1.00 and going up to $15,000.

Leaning Girl Kickstarter

The Kickstarter campaign was launched to boost initial interest in the series from a larger audience not necessarily familiar with the content but very familiar with supporting art publishing.

See also: Leaning Girl Kickstarter.

The production of the album took considerable time and distribution via comic shops was not a huge success. But in March 2015 Smith announced that the second translation: The Theory of the grain of sand would also have its Kickstarter project. This project was postponed due to the translation efforts of Smith for 12 La Douce 1). Casterman published this English release for the opening of Train World in Brussels in September 2015. The English title of this album is “The Beautiful”.

In January 2016 Steve Smith announced that beginning with The Theory of the Grain of Sand, The Obscure Cities series will be published by IDW under the Alaxis Press imprint.

This move to IDW will enhance the impact this series can have on the English-speaking literary world because IDW has the marketing and sales skills that I lacked on The Leaning Girl. I will continue on as the editor and sometime translator of the series”, according to Smith.

IDW Publishers (Alaxis Press)

Starting with The Theory of the Grain of Sand, IDW Publishers took over the publication of the Obscure Cities series.

IDW Publishing is regularly recognized as one of the top four comic book publishers in the US. Many IDW titles have appeared on The New York Times Best Sellers list. IDW published over 500 unique comic book titles and over 250 graphic novels.

IDW kept using Alaxis Press as the imprint. Steve Smith will stay the editor of the series.

The Theory of the Grain of Sand was published in November 2016 as a paperback version. Newly translated bt Ivanka Hahnenberger and Steve Smith. Edited by Steve Smith and Karen Copeland.

François Schuiten has been nominated for the 2017 Eisner Awards in San Diego, as best inker for the Theory of the Grain of Sand album 2)

Steve Smith said in January 2016: “Look for The Theory of the Grain of Sand in late summer and more news about future releases coming soon. For those of you who love the signed limited edition hardcovers, we are still working out the details but we will have deluxe editions of the books.”. In the end only a paperback version was published.

Another disappointment for the publishing team is the error in the book on page 33. There is one word balloon where the words somehow dropped out very late in our approval process. Below the correct page.

The next publication was a special 30th anniversary edition of Samaris, collecting the original The Great Walls of Samaris book. Samaris is the first volume of the chronicles of The Obscure Cities, published as a graphic novel in 1983 in French and published for the first time in English in 1987 as The Great Walls of Samaris.

This edition, marking the 30th anniversary of the original English language publication, features an expanded main story, an all-new creator-approved translation, and new coloring. The book also contains the never before published-in-English “The Mysteries of Pȃhry,” a The Obscure Cities story, originally published in four parts, three in the French comics magazine, A Suivre, from 1987 through 1989, and in the December 1994 issue of Macadam-plus.

The Samaris story is completely retranslated by Ivanka Hahnenberger, Steve Smith and Benoît Peeters, ensuring the most accurate interpretation 3).

Steve Smith, the publisher of Alaxis Press mentioned on his Facebook page on July 13, 2019 that he met with Jerome Baron from Casterman and his IDW editor, Justin Eisinger, during the American Library Association convention in Washington D.C. Following the meeting, he created a three year schedule to complete the Obscure Cities series by François Schuiten and Benoit Peeters with IDW.

Here is what the agreed schedule looks like:

  • 2021 - The Shadow of a Man (first time in English)
  • April 2022 - The Tower (La Tour with all-new English translation)
  • September 2022 - The Fever in Urbicande (in color for the first time with all new English translation)
  • October 2022 - The Invisible Frontier (first time in a single complete volume in English, new cover, differs from the two NBM covers from 2002 and 2003)

After these two albums the timings and choice of albums are not final yet.

The Shadow of a Man and The Tower were indeed published in 2022.

the new translation of The Tower


Eisner award 2022

At July 22, 2022, during the San Diego Comic Con, The Shadow of a Man received the Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of International Material 4).

Steve Smith of Alaxis Press received the award.

During the gala meeting he spoke the following acceptance speech:

“Thank you so much…

I’ve wanted this for so long! (In a perfect world, I am certain I would have still choked up) I want to thank the Eisner Judges for selecting the book as a nominee and I’d like to thank all of the people in the industry who voted for this awesome book. I am so grateful.

“Merci pour les années de collaboration, Benoît et François. Ce fut un honneur.” (Meaning, “Thank you Benoît and François. It has been an honor to collaborate with you.”)

I’ve had the honor to translate these beautiful Obscure Cities books by Benoît Peeters and François Schuiten for the past ten years. If you have not discovered The Obscure Cities books yet, please do so. Not because of my translation work but because of the mastery of the writing and the art by these two incredible talents. Benoît Peeters can best be described as a cross between Franz Kafka and Rod Serling. François Schuiten comes from a long line of accomplished architects and urban planners. His pages are technically so precise and yet remain so fluid. How they create this magic is beyond my ability to comprehend.

It is particularly special to receive this award tonight. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of the first Obscure Cities story. It first premiered in a comics publication entitled A Suivre, and later that same year in the pages of Heavy Metal, which led to the series coming to America. And so, I’d like to thank some of the people who helped bring great international comics to America. To Terry Nantier of NBM, for first collecting the Obscure Cities stories into English language volumes back in 1986 (not the early 1990s as I misspoke). To the late Bernd Metz, who founded Catalan Books, for bringing great European comics into the English language market. To Gary Groth and Kim Thompson at Fantagraphics. I will always be grateful for the Adele Blanc-Sec books by Jacques Tardi. Thank you.

Thanks to the people at Casterman who I have worked with since first acquiring this license. To Willy Fadeur, now retired, who arranged the license. To Jerome Baron and Nolween Lebret, who continue to work with me.

To my friends at IDW, especially my friend, Greg Goldstein, who, after the Kickstarter campaign for The Leaning Girl, invited me to bring the series to them, allowing me to simply translate and edit, and to my awesome editor, Justin Eisinger, both of whom have moved on from the company.

Finally, I want to thank Michael W. Kaluta. I began a lifelong appreciation of exceptional comic art at the age of 12 because of his work in The Shadow and on the covers of Batman Family books. I want to thank all of the comic shops and booksellers that support Bande Dessinée.

And I want to thank my family for their love and support.“

IDW Publishers

Mid 2022 IDW Publishers announced it will publish two more albums of the Obscure Cities in 2022.

  • November 8, 2022 - The Fever in Urbicande (in color for the first time with all new English translation)
  • November 29, 2022 - The Invisible Frontier (first time in a single complete volume in English, new cover, differs from the two NBM covers from 2002 and 2003)

These are the first two books in The Obscure Cities series that will not be published under the Alaxis Press imprint, and without translation or editing by Steve Smith.

Because of a number of administration changes, and the departure of Smiths longtime editor, New York Times bestselling Justin Eisinger, it is uncertain that the series will continue beyond The Invisible Frontier.