French creator Lucas Harari’s first graphic novel, Swimming in Darkness, has arrived via Arsenal Pulp Press (translated by David Homel into English) and praise for this book cannot be overstated. The narrative features a PhD in Architecture burnout named Pierre and focuses on Pierre’s obsession with the real world architecture of the Vals Thermal Baths in the Swiss Alps. Formerly the subject of his doctoral thesis, the Baths have subsumed Pierre’s consciousness, leading him to investigate the Baths in person.
What follows is a hybrid narrative of horror, thriller, noir and mystery as Pierre’s journey of discovery intersects with notions of cross-cultural meaning, folklore, architecture and reality. From the opening pages, Swimming in Darkness grabs the reader and refuses to let go, creeping slowly through an uncanny realm where fiction and reality dance together in a haunting and unforgettable waltz.
We had the chance to ask Harari a few questions about the text and his budding career in comics– take a look! And don’t miss out on a preview of Swimming in Darkness just beyond the interview.
Comic Watch: Swimming in Darkness, published by Arsenal Pulp Press, is your first original graphic novel but I understand you’ve worked as an illustrator for other publishers and fanzines. Where did your journey towards comics begin?
Lucas Harari:I’ve always drawn. At school, I was the draftsman; at home, my two older brothers also drew. It was a natural activity for us. And of course, we read a lot of comics: Tintin, Spirou, Lucky Luck, Hugo Pratt, Tardi and some superhero comics. It came naturally to tell stories in drawing. So it started very early. Then in high school, it became clearer. I was making little comic book stories. I wanted to participate, to be part of these books on my shelves. Then I went to an art school in Paris and learned printmaking. It was not a comic book school, but I did object books, engraving, silkscreen printing. And then for my degree I started Swimming In Darkness. I came out of school with the first 60 pages, self-published. Then I looked for a publisher, finally found one and did the follow-up professionally.
CW: I noticed the interesting narrative framing device you used to start and end Swimming in Darkness, framing the text as a story within a story, relayed later by the narrator, who by the end is working on Swimming in Darkness. Where does the fiction with this particularly story begin and end?
LH: I tried to mix them both. Starting a story with daily life, characters that exist and speak like real people, allows you to establish a contract with the readers: “This story is true.” And then the shift towards genres allows me to disrupt reality in a small way. Up to the fantastic. The building exists, so this story had to be anchored in reality. The character has no control over the things he experiences. In this way, readers are locked with the character in a story that is beyond them.
CW: Swimming in Darkness seems to teeter on the edge of being a cautionary tale about obsession and a tale about seizing your passions. Pierre is both consumed but also a consumer of the local myths and lore. Do you see a balance in message here? What is the takeaway for you as both author and reader?
LH: It’s always complicated to talk about messages. Like everyone else, I am crossed by different cultural references: literary, cinematographic, musical, architectural… And I see my practice as a kind of friction between all this and real life. I use the comic strip to create a link with other works. The result is me, as an author and as a person. And if the reader wants to go a bit of the way with me, that’s great.
CW: There is a noticeable difference in style, reception, and content between typical American comics and bandes dessinées. With this English publication, do you have interest in breaking into the American comics market and do you think such a move would impact the ways you tell your stories?
LH: I must confess I am not aware of the American market. I know the difference between superhero comics and independent comics, and I read these ones mostly: Chris Ware, Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, Seth, Alison Bechdel, the Hernandez brothers … These are so important to me that I believe that American comics have already shaped the way I tell and draw. But of course, an evolution towards a new market with new readers is always interesting.
CW: With Swimming in Darkness hitting shelves very soon, do you have any future projects in mind or already lined up? What is next for Lucas Harari?
LH: Yes, I am working on a new graphic novel that will be released in France in September 2020. It will be titled The Last Rose of the Summer, and, once again, there will be several genre dimensions: crime thrillers, love stories, pulp fiction… It will take place in the summer at the seaside, full of beautiful architects’ villas, beautiful cars, pop music, and teenagers who disappear…. I hope that the book will also be translated into English.
Swimming in Darkness: Review and Interview with Lucas Harari
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