Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Better Late (or Tardi) Than Never

After stumbling upon The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec early this past winter, i found myself invariably getting lost down a Jacques Tardi rabbit-hole.  I can honestly say that I didn't expect where I found it leading, but I couldn't be more pleased with where it took me.

As I understand it, Jacques Tardi apparently got his start in comics after attending schools in both Lyon and Paris for fine and decorative arts, respectively, when he joined the likes of Albert Uderzo, Philippe Druillet, and Morris (the working name of Belgian comics artist Maurice De Bevere), on the renowned French periodical Pilote, where he even illustrated short stories for comics legend Moebius, alsoamong the publication's ranks.  He later went on to do work on several other publications, such as Métal Hurlant and À Suivre, where he would continue to collaborate with other well known authors such as Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jean-Claude Forest.

Moving on from his impressive history, Jacques Tardi's work more than speaks for itself, and despite his clean, cartoon-like line work, his stories are still very mature and at times among the bleakest I have ever read.  Don't mistake bleak for dreary though, as much of his work still manages to include a lot of humor and action, especially his adaptations of Jean-Patrick Manchette, who i would list as my favorite among his illustrious collaborators.

West Coast Blues was the first of the Manchette stories I read, and I instantly understood what was so popular about this book.  The frank, derisive attitude of the protagonist immediately brought to mind the most hard-boiled of pulp heroes I was already familiar with; but instead of aimless rage, I found more melancholy in the character of George Gerfaut.  From the very beginning we are introduced to a man fed up with his current situation in life, and are immediately told of his past deeds which we are about to read.  In contrast to Tardi and Manchette's eponymous sniper, Martin Terrier, who lines up his shot with mute efficiency, Gerfaut is simply a man caught up in a situation in which he is bluffing his way through, though he comes to find a kind of tranquility in his escape from his more mundane surroundings.
Again, in contrast with his West Coast Blues counterpart, Martin Terrier is a much less dynamic character, betraying any impression the reader might get of a character in chrysalis.  He instead is often contemplative of the past, acknowledging the moments that shaped his life while still being either unable or uninterested in changing his character to redefine his future.  Both stories however, share similar sensibilities, and the observant reader will catch clever artistic cues that will keep the pages feeling ever thoughtful while never slowing down the pace of the storytelling.

In the books of his that i've made my way though so far, It Was War Of The Trenches stands out as his heaviest collection.  The stories are bleak, vulgar, and riddled with the kind of violence that sits in the pit of your stomach and refuses to digest, no matter how hard you try.  In an introduction to the book (the edition released by Fantagraphics books, who are responsible for most of the English language Tardi I have come accross, and whose editions I am reviewing in this post), Tardi hismelf admits that most of these stories are fictional.  The gravety of each vignette is nonetheless felt throughout, and the reality of each individual's plight is engrained in the reader despite knowing that most of these characters are fabrications, though all are still representative of the average French soldier in the trenches during The First World War.

All in all, I will say that I am a tremendous fan of Jacques Tardi thus far.  He (like much of the European comics scene I have seen) has the wonderful ability to bounce between genres and subject matters effortlessly; from his delusional and at times madness-inducing Arthur There (You Are There/Ici Même), his singular female lead Adèle Blanc-Sec, and everyone else in between, the reader never feels as if he is out of his depth, and instead is brought ever deeper into the understanding of a man who is able to illustrate so much with so few lines.  Fantagraphics has a few more books of his lined up (Goddamn This War!, The Astonishing Exploits Of Lucien Brindavoine, Run Like Crazy Run Like Hell), and I am anxious to spend much of my summer getting through them; and with the promise of more extraordinary adventures from Mlle. Blanc-Sec, I'd say English language readers have a lot more Jacques Tardi to look forward to.

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