Paris was destined to be a city enjoyed from great heights; the Arc de Triomphe a mere pedestal for a mini city in the sky and the gothic bell towers of Notre Dame a convenient launching pad for fish-like dirigibles to whizz around town in. That is, according to fantastical world of Albert Robida, a lesser-known Jules Verne if you will, whose overlooked graphic novels we recently found buried in the digital archives of the internet…
In the late 1800s, the French illustrator and novelist wrote an acclaimed trilogy of futuristic novels, most notably, The Twentieth Century, an important work of early science fiction often overshadowed by the work of Jules Verne, who is generally viewed as one of the creators of the genre of Science Fiction.
Falling somewhere between The Jetsons and Charles Dickens, some of his fanciful predictions recall the overzealous futurism of the 1950s and 60s in response to the Space Age. Robida was of course living through his own “Space Age” of sorts at the end of the 19th century when the first aeronautical expeditions were just taking flight in France.
Offering a guided tour to the future, beginning in the Spring of 1952, unlike Verne, Albert Robida takes more liberties, focusing less on the science to explain the inner workings of his fantastical futuristic machines and more on their influence in society.
While envisioning a technology-driven world of tomorrow, he also imagines a future with gender and racial equality, where women argue politics with their husbands via videophone and Black members of parliament might debate ultra-liberal prison reform.
It’s a promising but also sometimes cynical world; his predictions for example on mass tourism and pollution, are eerily accurate…
Although largely forgotten now and mistakenly overlooked for his contributions, Robida was unquestionably a pioneer of science fiction and possibly the first dedicated science fiction illustrator. Upon discovering his graphic novel, one university professor called Robida’s The Twentieth Century the “literary equivalent of discovering King Tut’s tomb and marveling that such wonderful things were there for all these years but concealed.”
Another one to keep an eye out for next time you wander into a rare bookstore. In the meantime, you can browse every page of the digitally archives novel online here.