Originally published in France during the 1980s, The Obscure Cities is a series of graphic novels created by the creative team of artist Francois Schuiten and writer Benoit Peeters that depicts a world of imaginary and architecturally fantastic city-states. In January 2014, Alaxis Press, a new venture launched by publishing veteran Stephen Smith, will launch its publication of the Obscure Cities series with the release of The Leaning Girl for the first time in English with plans to publish all 11 books in the series.
Internationally acclaimed, The Obscure Cities series was published in English in the U.S. in part by New York City-based indie house NBM, which released five books in the series in English during the 1990s. Smith told PW he plans to “publish everything NBM did and then go back do all the rest.” He’s licensed the series from Casterman, the French publisher, and is launching his English language series with The Leaning Girl, the moody and eccentric tale of Mary Von Rathen, an odd and beautiful young girl who moves through life positioned at a dramatically unusual angle. The book is something of a cult classic and has never been published in English. Smith has licensed the 11 books in the series in addition to 10 “ancillary” titles that includes, Learning Mary, a 40-page children’s book version of The Leaning Girl that will be released in 2014, as well as a guide to all the cities in the series. More titles will come in 2014.
While the series is indeed obscure to many American readers, it is well known in Europe and around the world, and won the Grand Prize Manga this year at the Japan Arts Festival. Smith’s publishing plans have the blessing of Schuiten and Peeters.
He’s worked with the two artists to produce a new English translation of the book and organized a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $34,000 to fund the book’s production costs. “I translated and rewrote the text for an English speaking audience,” Smith said, “and worked with the authors to change some of the characterizations in The Leaning Girl.” Emphasizing that any changes in the text have been done with the approval of the authors, Smith said his new translation, “is not as ethereal as it is in the original French; it’s more accessible to a general English speaker.”
This is both a business venture and an effort of passion, Smith emphasized, noting that he has been “collecting the series since the late 1980s when they were serialized in Heavy Metal magazine. I’ve always been a fan.” Smith said the successful Kickstarter campaign brought fans of the series out in force, “50% of the Kickstarter supporters are women and other publishers are approaching me about licensing the series.” But Smith plans to do the publishing himself through Alaxis Press. He said the artists continue to produce new works in the series (there was a new book in 2010) and Smith said more new volumes in the series are planned.
“This is an important publishing project as well as a personal one,” Smith said, “I have a passion for the books and great respect for the writer and artist. I want to complete the work that NBM started and finish publishing the series in English.”