Henry Joseph Darger, Jr. (1892-1973) was born in Chicago. He is an "outsider" artist, an American writer and painter whose main work, composed throughout his life of solitude, is an epic, illustrated tale of 15,143 pages, called ''The Story of the Vivian Girls, in a work called "The Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion."
Darger tells of the violent war between the Angelics and the Hormones. More than 300 compositions (watercolor, drawings, collages) accompany and complete it, giving birth to a unique and original graphic work.
Darger's mother died when he was four years old. He is well treated by his father with whom he lives until 1900. When his father dies, Henry is taken in charge by a Catholic establishment.
Darger's behavior disturbs his comrades who soon label him mad. He speaks alone, irrepressibly and unexpectedly. He is probably affected by Gilles de la Tourette syndrome. Persuaded to have a gift to know when adults lie to him, he is very resistant to any form of authority. His recurrent masturbation eventually caused him to be interned in 1905.
Henry spent more than seven years at the Lincoln Institute (Illinois), known for the severity of the treatment to internees. He tries to escape several times. At the age of 16, on his third attempt, he reaches Chicago, where he finds the help and comfort of his godmother. She finds him a job as a porter in a Catholic hospital where he will work until his retirement in 1963.
Darger begins to regulate his life according to an immutable time schedule. A devout Catholic, he attends mass five times a day. He collects rubbish of all kinds (toys, religious figurines, images of saints, shoes, balls of strings, magazines and comic strips).
From 1930 to 1973, Darger occupied the same room in Chicago, at 851 W Webster Avenue, near Lincoln Center Park in the North Side. There he secretly devoted himself to writing and painting. No one knows how long took the composition of his work. Besides ''The Kingdoms of the Unreal'', Henry wrote his autobiography ''The Story of My Life'', in five thousand pages.
It was only after his death that his life work was discovered. In 1973, Nathan and Kiyoko Lerner, owners of the apartment rented by Darger, uncover the achievements of the artist. Lerner immediately perceives the interest of the work of his tenant and decides to create a foundation to highlight this fund. He will help a lot in the production of the documentary of Jessica Yu on the life and the work of Darger.
Darger's work tells the adventures of the girls of Robert Viviam, the seven princesses of the Abbieannia kingdom, preyed upon by the diabolical John Manley. At the head of the estate of Glandelia, the latter threatens to enslave all the children of Abbienne. The seven sisters are at the head of a relentless rebellion, helped by a legion of girls ready to fight.
Among these valiant little girls, the reader finds giant creatures with wings of butterflies, the "blengins". Their bodies covered with scales, end in pointed tails. The remainder of the battalion consists of pre-pubescent girls, often naked and with male genitalia. Many of them are sacrificed to the barbarism of Manley's men.
Darger's writing is direct. The most crude descriptions can go so far as to suggest to the reader the forced laughter of the little girls turn into cries of suffering. His style also includes many flowery borrowings from Victorian literature.
His draftsmanship being limited, Darger draws inspiration from American comics and copies them. He traces them, have them enlarged and multiplied in the photography section of the local bazaar. Once endowed with an infinity of formats, he decals them to form compositions often very complex, provided with many plans. He then shows the extent of his talent as a colorist. He easily manages the contrasts, knowing how to enhance palettes of bland tones, in certain places, with brilliant colors, blood reds or bright yellows.
At first, considered as a raw Outsider art, Darger's work gradually left its marginal status. "Its thematic complexity, its technical sophistication and its narrative amplitude are gradually better understood. The work now occupies a singular place among the most innovative and deeply personal visionary works of the twentieth century.