Set in an alternate historical version of 1864, under an imaginary Second Empire, Napoléon III uses his army and his secret service to study certain phenomena relating to the occult and to popular legends. His goal is quite simple: achieving world supremacy. This Delcourt-Soleil series mixes steampunk with espionage. Given that this week saw the release of Hauteville House Vol. 1 , writer Fred Duval obliged me with an interview.
Tim O’Shea: How exactly did the creative team conceive of this imaginary second empire involving Napoleon III using occult in order to achieve world supremacy?
Fred Duval: We were very interested in the idea of Steampunk as it’s one of those English genres based around Queen Victoria’s reign. We wanted to stay in this era but also wanted to reimagine this period with a second empire challenged by Republican forces more than it actually was at the time. Beyond this time period, the principle setting in this story was greatly influenced by civilizations described by Lovecraft.
Can you discuss what you believe is the core appeal of the main cast?
I believe the core appeal is the love story and rivalry between Gavroche, Zelda and Eglantine as well as the comedy and tragedy that surrounds those characters. Eglantine for me is the main character, even if we don’t see her in every issue. The relationship between Gavroche and Zelda lets me have a little fun with US/France relations, while giving me the chance to explore a true and enduring love story that’s somewhat complicated.
What do you most enjoy about working in the steampunk genre?
I loved the world of the Wild Wild West TV series as a child and brining that world closer to French historical events is a dream for me. The steampunk elements of Hauteville House let me play with inventions and technology that Jules Verne predicted in his stories. Hauteville House is a universe where Jules Verne’s inventions would be a reality I think.
How satisfying is it to be able to introduce stories like Hauteville House to an English speaking audience?
I’m very happy that Hauteville House is being published in English. I know that English readers appreciate Jules Verne, who I consider as the founder of French Science fiction and as I mentioned a key influence of Hauteville House. I actually had a chance to share this series in French to students of San Marcos, College station in Texas. They were studying French and they appreciated. So if English speakers studying French liked it, I think that English speakers reading this story in English will also appreciate it (laughs).
Is there an aspect of Hauteville House you would like to discuss that I overlooked?
Yes! There are several allusions to American literature throughout Hauteville House. I mentioned Lovecraft as an influence, but beyond that Ambrose Bierce who wrote An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and The Devil’s Dictionary can also be seen in Hauteville House. Our cartoonist, Thierry Gioux, will tell you that he’s definitely a fan of Bierce.
Otherwise I can say that I’m excited to be in Texas for Thanksgiving this year. I’ll be working with students doing research for an issue that takes place around Fort Alamo!