‘Swimming in Darkness:’ Advance Graphic Novel Review

In the heart of the Swiss Alps, the Vals Thermal Baths (the inspiration behind this graphic novel) were designed by famous Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. Born in Basel in 1943, Peter Zumthor earned the Pritzker Prize in 2009.

“One evening, I was working on my thesis.  I was sure I’d written hundreds of pages.”
“I went into a kind of trance… I couldn’t help myself.  I had the deep conviction that I’d understood everything and discovered the building secret mystery.”
“It was all there!  I was writing feverishly… putting out my cigarettes on the floorboards… I was… I was possessed.
“And then…. I destroyed it all.”

Great art and great architecture go hand in hand, and the best of both are often flavored with obsession.  Think about the Winchester House in San Jose, CA.  122 rooms built 24 hours a day, designed by the hand of a woman with no architectural training, but instilled with a sense of awe and mystery in every corner.  

In Lucas Harari’s masterful work, Swimming in Darkness, Pierre is an architectural student recovering from a breakdown that may have been caused by his obsessions with Vals Thermes, a stunningly beautiful and mysterious structure built over the only thermal springs in the mountains of Switzerland.

Leaving everything behind, Pierre travels to Vals to visit the object of his passion, exploring the man-made caverns and catacombs, only to find his obsession deepening with each new enigmatic revelation and the dawning realization that the baths are bigger than anyone else realizes… And that he’s not the only one obsessed with them.

Harari has created a moodily evocative work here.  Think David Lynch meets The Fountainhead. Using his skills as an artist, Harari portrays the stifling claustrophobia Pierre feels as his idee fixe continually hovers out of his grasp by trapping him in the frame, caging him and others.  But once he enters Vals Thermes, he becomes dwarfed by the architectural marvel, reduced by a talent and mystery he is only beginning to comprehend.  Pierre’s world is opened up by his interactions with the springs, reflected in Harari’s deceptively simple, yet mesmerizing linework.  Everything unfolds with a calm, measured cadence, with a feeling of almost architectural precision into a most rewarding read. 

“Der Mund des Berges.”  That means “the mouth of the mountain.”  You never heard of it?
“No, never.”
“They say that at the spot where the Vals spin and get its water, a hole opens up and a passage leads into the heart of the mountain.  Every hundred years, the mountain chooses a foreigner, lures him into its mouth, and swallows him up!”

FOUR Stars out of FIVE

Creative Team: Lucas Harari (writer/artist)
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press
Click here to purchase.

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