Jacques Tardi & Jean-Patrick Manchette, West Coast Blues (Fantagraphics, 2009). $18.99, hardcover.
By Jared Gardner
It has been a good few years for French comics in the U.S. Finally, mono-lingual American readers have had a chance to experience the work of some of the most inflluential and exciting creators in the Western country that (along with Belgium, which is really just a suburb of France, no?) first took serious comics seriously: the work of Lewis Trondheim, David B., Marjane Satrapi, Joann Sfar, Dupuy and Berberian have all been brought to the U.S. in beautiful editions. But there is so much more to discover, and perhaps the biggest obstacle for American readers has been the lack of accessible editions of the work of Jacques Tardi, one of the most influential and exciting French creators for the past forty years. Fantagraphics is rectifying that particular omission this fall with two editions of Tardi's work, the first of which, West Coast Blues, is coming out next month.
West Coast Blues is an adaptation of a 70s crime novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette (Le Petit Bleu de la Côte Ouest), and it is a reminder of how good they did paranoid crime thrillers in the 70s. It is also a reminder of how good Tardi has done comics for forty years. This is a story with no likeable characters. Even though our protagonist—a bored, spoiled Parisian businessman—finds himself in the classic Hitchcockian "wrong man" nightmare, one is never certain that he doesn't in fact deserve a pair of hitmen on his trail. Heck, I wanted to take a shot at him more than once. The story itself is taut, highly-charged, and pretty unbelievable. Not that you care. Because what you are rooting for from the start, what will have you sitting on the edge of your seat pounding your fists in triumph, is not the protagonist's ability to survive the various attempts on his life or his exacting of a very messy revenge on the man (and his dog) who set the whole thing in motion. Instead, it is Tardi's remarkable energy and range as a visual storyteller that will have you gobbling this book up in one gigantic gulp and then going back to appreciate the details and the nuance.
And Tardi is all about the nuance, especially in his remarkable ability to somehow bring together the Franco-Belgian 'clear line" style with an expressionistic energy and texture. He is an economical visual storyteller who never makes you feel as if he is economizing. And he brings a tremendous range to his work, as we will see later this fall with the release from Fantagraphics of their second Tardi book, You Are There, a very different story with a very different style and feel. I can only hope that we will have many more of Tardi's works coming out in the coming years. In the meantime, get your orders in for these first two (both, by the way, beautifully translated, as always, by Kim Thompson). Tardi's West Coast Blues and Stark's Hunter in one season? This is truly a good time to be alive, for those who enjoy reading about other people becoming, well, not.