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Urban Planning and Alienation in Samaris (1983) by Benoît Peeters and François Schuiten

Authors: Benjamin Fraser*, University of Arizona - Spanish and Portuguese - Tucson, AZ
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural Geography, Europe
Keywords: Urban Planning, Henri Lefebvre, Urbanism, Comics, Graphic Novels, Architecture
Session Type: Lightning Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This brief presentation contextualizes the graphic novel Samaris (1983) by co-creators Benoît Peeters and François Schuiten within an urban tradition of comics. Expressing and critiquing what Henri Lefebvre in Introduction to Modernity called the "triumphant and triumphalist" character of modern urban planning as a bourgeois science, urban design in this installment of the Cités obscures series is deceitful. As the protagonist’s narrative conveys to readers, “this mysterious city had been conceived uniquely to trick its visitors. Architecture designed for the sole purpose of confusing travelers.” Various strategies underscore the alienation of urbanite to city as Peeter and Schuiten meld iconic references to Art Nouveau style (e.g. Victor Horta’s Brussels) with the trope of two-dimensionality (recalling early twentieth-century examples from the work of comics artist Winsor McCay) in order to portray the city as a visual spectacle. This spectacular city literally feeds off of its denizens—fictionalizing Lefebvre’s metaphor regarding the monstrous nature of capital (“The brave people […] not only move alongside the monster but are inside of it; they live off it. So they do not know how it works”).

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