Markley’s Fevered Brain: A French Master

Wayne Markley

Wayne Markley


by Wayne Markley

One of the reasons I love comics is there is so much rich material out there if you are willing to look for it. I have written numerous times over the years about books from France, Spain, Japan, Argentina, Mexico, Canada and everyplace in between. Part of the my love of international comics is outside of the United States, comics focus on so much more than the traditional superhero fare. One blog I was most proud of was devoted to graphic novels from France, and there I reviewed five different books that were about five vastly different topics and all five were fantastic reads. So this time I thought I would revisit my love of French graphics novels, but this time focus on one creator whose work I would highly recommend, and to me, rivals the greatest American comic storytellers. His name is Jacques Tardi.

I first became aware of Tardi’s work though a most unusual way. Many years ago a friend of mine was in France and brought me back a beautiful poster that was an ad for a restaurant. It was huge, five feet by two feet, and was broken down into nine panels of a driver stopping for food at this restaurant in the middle of nowhere. I had no idea what the restaurant is, or where it is or even what it is called, but I loved the art style on the poster. It was clean and smooth and the colors were breathtaking (and I still have and prize this poster). It reminds me of the grace of Lou Fine with the style of Darwyn Cooke. I was told that the artist behind this masterpiece was Jacques Tardi. Thus began my search and love of his work. I was fortunate in that NBM, and later Fantagraphics, would reprints a number of books from Tardi, sadly, only a small percentage of his work, but still enough that I can share them with you so you can also discover the joy (and at times, pain, as his work can be very dark as he has done a number of works on the first World War) of this masterful artist.

I, Rene Tardi, Prisoner of War in Stalag IIB

I, Rene Tardi, Prisoner of War in Stalag IIB


I am going to start off with his newest work to be reprinted in English, a lush hardcover book called I, Rene Tardi, Prisoner of War in Stalag IIB. This is part one of a two part series (volume 2 is coming next year) telling the tale of Jacques’ fathers’, Rene, experiences in World War One. While Tardi’s art style at times can border on “cartoony,” here it is pitch perfect to tell this painful tale of ones man’s struggle to survive. In this volume, the most personal of any of Tardi’s work, he takes painstaking efforts to make sure every detail is correct down to the smallest drawing. The story is based on extensive research as well as his father’s own notes from the war. At times this book can be very painful to read, but this is what makes it so powerful. Almost 200 pages in an oversized hardcover format. Black and white with spot colors which are used for stunning effect. This might be Tardi’s best work.

It Was the War of the Trenches

It Was the War of the Trenches


As you might be able to tell from the prior book, WWI is a favorite topic of Tardi’s. It Was the War of the Trenches is an older book (2010) in which Tradi once again tells tales about the horrors and pain that men put themselves through in the trenches of the war. Here, instead of telling the biographical tale of his father, he tells the tales of a number of different soldiers all enduring the nightmare of trench warfare. As with all of Tardi’s books about the war, his art style is in contrast to the subject matter, yet he takes great pains to make sure the stories are accurate. A must read for fans of war stories and history, but it can be challenging due to all of the carnage. A black and white hardcover from Fantagraphics.

Fog Over Tolbiac Bridge

Fog Over Tolbiac Bridge


Fog Over Tolbiac Bridge: A Nestor Burma Mystery is something different. Here Tardi is joined by writer Leo Malet to tell a story set in 1950s Paris. Nestor Burma, a former not so nice guy, has now cleaned up his act and has become a private eye. He meets a young lady named Belita who drags him back into his past where his former friend, who never got on the straight and narrow like Nestor, is found dead and Nestor takes on the case to find out what happened to his old friend. The story is a great mystery that delves into Nestor’s past and shows how it affects his present day. The art is just beautiful as you feel as if you are in 1950s Paris (and earlier) when reading it. One of the great European mysteries that are out there if you look (Blacksad and Sinner are two other very good series). A hardcover book from Fantagraphics.

Extraordinary Adventures of Adéle Blanc-Sec Vol. 1

Extraordinary Adventures of Adéle Blanc-Sec Vol. 1


Extraordinary Adventures of Adéle Blanc-Sec Vol. 1: Pterror over Paris / The Eiffel Tower Demon is a double feature collecting the first two volumes of the Adele Blanc-Sec series written and drawn by Jacques Tardi. This is an adventure series with a strong female lead set in pre-WW1 Paris. While this is an adventure story at heart, there is a lot of humor mixed in as well. This is a fun romp with lots of people in peril and danger and how can they not be with a pterodactyl on the loose? A very different take than the war stories and Tardi’s art style is perfect as the sillier aspects are just what this story calls for. These are the first two Adele Blanc-Sec stories, as there are ten in all. Hardcover by Fantagraphics. (And NBM prior to that).

Run Like Crazy, Run Like Hell

Run Like Crazy, Run Like Hell


Run Like Crazy, Run Like Hell is Tardi’s adaptation of crime novelist Jean-Patrick Manchette’s classic novel. The story revolves around a filthy rich man who hires a young girl, Julie, straight out of the asylum, to watch over his nephew Peter. His intention is faking Peter’s kidnapping and putting the blame on Julie. But Julie is having none of that. This is a traditional crime thriller that will have you waiting with baited breath till you read the last page. Once again Tardi’s style and attention to detail are perfect for this story. When you get to the conclusion, you will be stunned. A hardcover book from Fantagraphics.

These are just a few of the books that Tardi has done that have been translated into English over the last ten years or so. Tardi’s storytelling is so amazing as his style is not what you would expect given the genres of war, crime, and adventure, yet when you are reading the stories, it is impossible to imagine anyone ones else’s style doing that story. Almost all of these books have seen the light of day in America thanks to the late Kim Thompson of Fantagraphics Books who was as big a champion of European works as you will ever meet. To their credit, Fantagraphics has continued on with Kim’s vision by continuing to reprint the work of Tardi (as well as Carl Barks, Don Rosa, and others). If for no other reason, you should try one of these books in Kim’s memory.

This wraps up this blog. I do hope you take the time and effort to seek out one of these titles. They are all excellent, be they the crime stories, or the powerful tales of the First World War, or even the fanciful. Tardi is a talent that deserves to be read by far more than the cult status he currently has in America. Have any of you read his work? Do you like as much as I do? Or if you pick up a book based on this blog, I would love to know what you thought of it. I can be reached at MFBWAY@AOL.COM or on Facebook at Wayne Markley. It will come as no surprise that everything I have written here is my opinion and no way reflects the thoughts or opinions of Westfield Comics or their employees. Till next time…

Thank you.

 

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