Social Fiction, by Chantal Montellier

New York Review Comics, 200 pages (New York, 2023)
Finalist, 2024 Los Angeles Times Book Prize (Graphic Novel category)


Appearing together in English for the first time, three politically charged sci-fi graphic novellas by a pioneering comics artist, translated from the French by Geoffrey Brock.

An anonymous official chides a man under surveillance for stepping out of view of a security camera; visitors to an underground mall are forced to form a new society after an apparent nuclear strike; newlyweds living in an authoritarian city attempt to navigate the insidious hurdles of being permitted to have a child; and a Puerto Rican boxer discovers that segregation continues in America long after death.

These are the visions of Chantal Montellier, a contributor to the legendary Métal Hurlant and the creator of some of the most striking and stirring science fiction comics of the 1970s and 1980s.

In this collection of three novellas, Wonder City, Shelter, and 1996, published together in English for the first time, Montellier’s blend of dark humor, gripping storytelling, and consistent focus on the perils of totalitarianism, shows her to be a master of both comics and science fiction.

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“Montellier envisioned a society in which the government requires loyalty oaths, culture is drenched in vulgarity, and women have lost their reproductive rights… Yet … Montellier’s focus remains on her characters’ struggle for dignity and liberation… The dialogue is beautifully and idiomatically rendered in English by the poet Geoffrey Brock, who also contributes an introductory note and an interview with the author.” —Laila Lalami, The Nation

“Deeply, deeply resonant of the times in which we find ourselves. If this were published today by a new, young, up-and-coming graphic novelist, it would fly off the shelves.” Bookmunch (UK)

“This book collects together the ’70s and ’80s dystopian visions of the pioneering French feminist cartoonist Chantal Montellier… With its focus on the horrors of totalitarianism… it is gripping and sometimes darkly funny.” —“Rachel Cooke’s best graphic novels of 2023,” The Guardian

“Montellier emerges as a true visionary of the graphic-novel medium and the science-fiction genre in these captivating tales of human beings struggling to retain their dignity under repressive regimes.” —Tom Batten, Library Journal

“For any reader coming to this comic at this time, months into a rash of climate-induced forest fires that have taught us to check the air quality like the weather while new legal restrictions on gender expression and sexual bodily autonomy roll in and out haphazardly like storm clouds, one can be forgiven for feeling on some gut level that this collection of graphic novellas saw into our own future.” —Helen Chazan, The Comics Journal

“I loved this. Montellier’s shade of political disillusionment has a strikingly Ballardian sheen— dilapidation preoccupied with the appearance of function—with gorgeous cartooning. ‘Dear Collaborators’ might be the best one-page comic I’ve ever read.” —Hagai Palevsky

“Hauntingly farsighted satire… which still feels vibrant and at the same time prophetic.” —Emmet O’Cuana and Kumar Sivasubramanian, Deconstructing Comics #790 (podcast)

“A pioneering woman in French comics […] Montellier, who is now 76, is not as flashy and action- oriented as her male counterparts of the era. What comes through in these stories is her dark humor, feminism, and still-relevant political allegories about government control over our lives. We’re fortunate this work has finally been translated.” —Matt Bors

“Social Fiction is a frequently chilling read, in the way the best dystopias are. Well worth looking into—both for the ways in which it brings overlooked work back into the spotlight and for the ways in which Montellier’s stories still feel very relevant in 2023.” —Tobias Carroll

“I enjoyed all the comics in Social Fiction, but… [‘So Fast In Their Shiny Metal Cars’] in particular, about a used car dealership that’s unlike any used car dealership you’ve ever seen before, really stuck with me. A great critique of consumerism, racism, classism and who- knows-what-else-ism that retains the power to shock decades since its inception.” —C. Mautner, The Comics Journal

“Montellier’s firm line and punk ethos recall the early, science fiction–themed installments of Love and Rockets, but her vision is far bleaker, fueled by political rage, satirical wit, and a full-bore feminist drive. The anarchic sensibility feels both of its time and eerily prescient. It’s a thrilling introduction to an unmissable comics talent.” —Publishers Weekly

“For these three albums, all of them SF, the idea is to observe the broken pieces of the state of the future, and to discern, perhaps, some means of aggravating the cracks in it. Montellier’s ‘dirty future’ is not just dirty, it is barely functional. Authority figures constantly make mistakes. Automated systems are filled with blind spots. This is to say, the ‘dirty future’ aesthetic is employed by Montellier to a specific political end. The dystopia in Social Fiction droops from the loosening tape that holds it together, yet people still comply. Like most Métal hurlant contributors, Montellier lived through 1968, but unlike nearly all of them, she worked extensively in radical leftist venues prior to her narrative strip work; the sigh behind her pestilent societies is that of faded promise.” —Joe McCulloch, editor of The Comics Journal

“She brought with her her vision of the world, desperate but not despairing, singular, strong, personal… One of the rare genuine auteurs of the French bande dessinée.” —Jean-Pierre Dionnet, founder of Métal hurlant