Wednesday, January 06, 2010

WEST COAST BLUES by Tardi & Manchette

Jacques Tardi draws Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, Daredevil and others

There have been a number of translations of French artist Jacques Tardi's large body of work into English over the years. From Dark Horse back around 20 years ago there were some translations of the early 20th century fantasy adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec stories that he wrote and drew. From Ibook a few years ago THE BLOODY STREETS OF PARIS, one of his adaptations of Leo Malet's Nestor Burma novels.  Some other stuff from NBM and Fantagraphics. Personally, I haven't cared much for what I read of them.  The art was mostly okay, but either because of the writing or translation I found I could never get into the stories enough to really appreciate the books.

Recently it seems Fantagraphics has decided to make a major effort to bring Tardi's work into English, with two books released in the last few months, and a third already on the schedule, a mix of his original solo work, his work as an artist for other writers and his adaptations of prose works by others.  WEST COAST BLUES is in the last category, a 74-page adaptations of the 1976 novel LE PETIT BLEU DE LA CÔTE OUEST by Jean-Patrick Manchette, first published in French in 2005, one of several adaptations of Manchette that Tardi has done, although the first published in English.

While I can't say if it's because of the source material, translation or differences in Tardi's art (the Tardi I've read before was at least 15 years older than this), but I liked this one much more than the earlier stuff.  It didn't start off that way, the first few pages I found a bit confusing, and I'm not entirely sure that was intentional, so I wound up starting and stopping it a few times.  After that part is over, it becomes an entertaining crime/adventure story.

The plot is your basic "man who saw too much" set-up, a young man from  Paris who finds himself pursued by a pair of not quite effective assassins for reasons he's not quite sure of, seeing his life spiral out of control in moments of intense violence.  I can't say I find our lead, Gerfaut, very likable, or some of his actions very logical, but he serves the story.

Much more enjoyable are the two assassins out to get Gerfaut, but obviously not doing a very good job of it.  They bring a fair bit of the comedy to the story, being a sort of PULP FICTION Jules & Vincent combination, years before Tarantino and Avary wrote anything.  I don't know how much of the dynamic was in the original, but since the novel was apparently translated into English (as 3 TO KILL) and made into a movie (3 MEN TO DESTROY) I suppose there could be some influence there.  Anyway, it's through the pop culture immersion of those two killers that we get that neat panel of the Marvel super-heroes up top, and my favourite scene in the book:

It took me a few minutes to figure out why that character looked so familiar, but then I realized that he's the Spider who appears every now and then in Paul Grist's JACK STAFF series.  I knew Grist's characters in the series were often "influenced" by some obscure old British comics, but didn't realize that in this case he lifted one wholesale.

On the other hand, the frequent musical pop culture references don't really work for me, but that could just be because I'm unfamiliar with the music in question, so I'm not sure if they add a layer of meaning that I'm missing (the fact that they're the source of the title of the work suggests that's possible).

Anyway, it's an enjoyable little book, so I'll definitely try some of the other Tardi material coming out.  I have to say, I don't care that much for the cover design, which blows up and crops an interior page, then slaps a colour label on for the title and credits.  I see they're using something similar for the later books, so maybe it'll look better as part of a series, and it certainly does give them a distinctive look.

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