I've been curious about the work of Jacques Tardi for some years. I have a couple of his books in French which I frankly bought for the pictures. My reading French is poor, so I can follow a plot but that's about it. Any linguistic or cultural delicacy is too obscured for me to appreciate. So I was really happy when I started noticing the Fantagraphics editions with fresh new English translations. Now I could finally see what all the fuss was about ( apart from the pictures which I really like already .) Finally I could read Adele Blanc-Sec.
Wow, what a disappointment! What a wierdly convoluted and, frankly, boring story. Stuff happens, people run around, people get shot and some mystical shenanigans get done, all to no good effect. I could frankly care less about any of the characters, especially Ms. Blanc-Sec, who wears a permanent scowl and seems just as unpleasant as every other character in the story. Now it's possible that the translation is sub-par and I'm missing something important, but I doubt that could entirely explain why this story is so flat and un-engaging. Could it be that Tardi is just not a very good writer?
In the light of my failure to appreciate Tardi's most famous work I approached West Coast Blues with some trepidation. I needn't have worried, it's an excellent, gripping and beautifully told 'polar', thriller/noir. The presence of the writer Jean-Patrick Manchette is very apparent, he writes a lot of caption boxes. Which I would normally find irritating, but Manchette uses them intelligently as a cointerpoint to the visual narrative. Every car stereo plays some kind of Jazz , it's like a homage to the French gangster films of Melville which in turn were riffing on the American gangster films of the 30s & 40s. This story plays out very much like a good French thriller movie, it's characters are complex and conflicted and it's revenge plot is sufficiently knotty to keep a reader interested and engaged.
Tardi really excelles here as well. The art is sophisticated and tellingly underplayed. Details matter and you are never left confused or lost. This is masterful storytelling and really cements Tardi's reputation for me.
So in short, yayy Tardi.....but not Adele Blanc-Sec. Though your mileage may vary of course. Let me know if I'm being a bonehead in the comments below