From the moment it was published in 1911, Fantômas — and the thirty-one sequels that followed it — was a phenomenon.
Its popularity cut across all social and cultural strata. Everyone who could read, and even those who could not, shivered at posters of a masked man in impeccable evening clothes, dagger in hand, looming over Paris, contemplating criminal deeds.
Despite some unpolished narrative and hackneyed writing, it impressed countesses and conçierges, poets and peasants. Writer Guillaume Apollinaire founded the Société des Amis de Fantômas in 1912; Jean Cocteau wrote of the ‘absurd and magnificent lyricism of Fantômas’; Max Jacob wrote poems about the anti-hero; and Robert Desnos’ Complaint of Fantômas was set to music by Kurt Weill. Fans of the novels included Louis Aragon, Colette, Picasso and Magritte.
Stretching his immense shadow
Across the world and across Paris,
What is this grey-eyed spectre?
Fantômas, might it be you,
Lurking on the rooftops?
— Robert Desnos, Complaint of Fantômas