Allain, Marcel (pulp fiction writer)


(1885-1969) and Pierre Souvestre (1874-1914)

“Fantomas.” “What did you say?” “I said: Fantomas.” “And what does that mean?” “Nothing. . . . Everything!” “But what is it?”

“Nobody. . . . And yet, yes, it is somebody!” “And what does the somebody do?” “Spreads terror!”

The famous poster introduced a new literary creation, super-criminal Fantomas, to the Paris of 1911: a malevolently bored masked man in evening clothes posing astride the entire helpless city like an elegant Colossus. No ordinary miscreant, Fantomas was an unpredictable, even incomprehensible wrongdoer, devoted to cruelty and outrage without purpose. His presence would hover through much of this first topic like a windswept virus, invisible yet terrible in effect, leaving frightened or savaged victims on every chapter. A mixture of brilliant detective work and absurd intuition on the part of the obsessed police inspector Juve at last brings a suspect to ground, and the convicted killer is dispatched beneath the gleaming blade of the guillotine. The reader long anticipates the topic climactic surprise, but the last paragraph is savory nonetheless—a horrified Juve bounding up to the execution site too late, grasping the dripping, freshly decapitated head in his hand and screaming brokenly, “Oh, curse him! Fantomas has escaped. . . . He has had some innocent man executed in his stead! I tell you, Fan-tomas is alive!”

And so he was—to wreak havoc in 31 more original volumes in as many months. The series was the creation of a pair of hack writers, the older Pierre Souvestre and his secretary-turned-partner Marcel Allain. The pair had been writing articles for the new automobile magazines that were all the rage at the time, and when an editor had needed a few pages filled in a hurry they had supplied some action-packed automobile fiction. A Monsieur Fa-yard, developer of the cheapest pulp fiction line in Paris, liked what he saw and put the two men under contract. The succeeding stories increased in outlandishness, Fantomas’s mastery of disguise ever more incredible, his sociopathy reaching ever-grander heights of cruel absurdity (unleashing plague rats on a luxury liner, watching the hundreds of passengers die, and so on). Beloved by the working stiffs who purchased Fayard’s cheap publications, the Fantomas series was also embraced by the intelligentsia and by artists and poets of the nascent dada/surrealism movements who found the series’ anarchic spirit exhilarating. “Full of life and imagination,” said Guillaume Apollinaire. “From the imaginative standpoint Fantomas is one of the richest works that exist.” “Magnificent lyricism!” said Jean Cocteau. “The modern Aeneid!” averred Blaise Cendrars. The legend of Fantomas grew even mightier with the almost immediate adaptation of the series to silent film by master director Louis Feuillade.

Pierre Souvestre died in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1914. Allain married his widow. He kept on writing but resisted offers to continue the Fan-tomas series until 1925, at which time he created a number of magazine stories that subsequently formed the contents of five new novels. From then on he left the character more or less alone, although he created similar pulp thrillers for most of his long life. He died in 1969, by then much honored as a living legend of French culture.


  • (English titles are of known translated editions) Fantomas (1911; U.S. edition, 1915);
  • Fantomas attaque Fandor (1926);
  • Fantomas en danger (Fantomas Captured) (1926);
  • Fantomas est-il ressuscite? (The Lord of Terror) (1926);
  • Fantomas prend sa revanche (The Revenge of Fantomas) (1927);
  • Fantomas, roi des receleurs (Juve in the Dock) (1926);
  • Juve contre Fantomas (The Exploits of Juve) (1911; U.S. edition, 1915), also published as The Silent Executioner;
  • La cravate de chanvre (1913);
  • La disparition de Fandor (1912);
  • La fille de Fantomas (1911);
  • L’agent secret (A Nest of Spies) (1911; U.S. edition, 1917);
  • La guepe rouge (1912);
  • Le livre du crime (1912);
  • La main coupee (1911);
  • La mort de Juve (1912);
  • L’arrestation de Fantomas (1911);
  • La serie rouge (1913);
  • L’assassin de Lady Beltham (1912);
  • Le bouquet tragique (1912);
  • Le cadavre geant (1913);
  • Le cercueil vide (1913);
  • Le faiseur de Reines (1913);
  • Le fiacre de nuit (1911);
  • Le jockey masque (1913);
  • Le magistrat combrioleux (1912);
  • Le mariage de Fantomas (1912);
  • Le mort qui tue (Messengers of Evil) (1911; U.S. edition, 1917);
  • Le pendu de Londres (Slippery as Sin) (1911; U.K. edition, 1920);
  • Le policier apache (The Long Arm of Fantomas) (1911; U.S. edition, 1924);
  • Les amours d’un prince (1912);
  • Les souliers du mort (1912);
  • Le train perdu (1912);
  • Levade de Saint-Lazare (1912);
  • Le voleur d’or (1913);
  • L’hotel du crime (1913);
  • Un roi prisonnier de Fantomas (A Royal Prisoner) (1911; U.S. edition, 1918);
  • Yellow Document or Fantomas of Berlin, The (1919)

Next post:

Previous post: