Daily Breakdowns 031 - Never Too Late for Tardi
I suppose I shouldn't start off by admitting that for some time, when people mentioned Jacques Tardi, I confused him with the French filmmaker Jacques Tati, of M. Hulot's Holiday and Mon Oncle. Well, at least he's in good company.
West Coast Blues
Adapted by Jacques Tardi, from the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette
Published by Fantagraphics Books. $18.99 USD
West Coast Blues is Fantagraphics first offering in what one hopes will be am ambitious Tardi reprint project, though only You Are Here has been announced as a follow-up. Tardi has enjoyed a long career as a cartoonist, with his own popular original creation, Adele Blanc-Sec, appearing in several albums over the past 30 years, as many adaptations such as this one, from 1976.
We meet George Gerfaut, a salesman, drunk and high and driving too fast, with a scar on his forehead, and we meet one Alonso Emerich y Emerich, an ugly, brutal killer, and then Tardi backtracks to let us know how Gerfaut got this way and what will bring him in conflict with Emerich. It's an elegant, somewhat unorthodox set-up, at least with Tardi's narration, and indeed Tardi makes a number of creative, idiosyncratic choices in adapting the novel. For instance, we're told Gerfaut and his wife screwed, but it's not shown, and how many artists fail to throw a little sex into a story when they have the freedom to do so? At another point, a grieving killer is comforted by a favorite comic character. Like many men, Gerfaut wants to finish off a tough day with some booze and music--in is case American jazz--rather than open up to his wife, but she seems pretty used to his act by now.
Rather than getting into the specifics of the plot, let's just say one decent act on Gerfaut's part brings some paid killers on his trail. The killers are as quirky as Tarantino characters, though one won't mourn their loss, and Gerfaut, despite not being the fittest or smartest man, nonetheless finds a strong survival instinct even as his plight plunges him into an existential fugue for which the cure may or may not be payback.
The '70s milieu shouldn't put anyone off, and in fact that's one of the book's charms, with Tardi's clean line depicting classic old Mercedes and Citroens, and plenty of legwork and driving rather than digital assistance. Tardi has a really appealing style, clear and photorealistic in the details and yet messy with life. It's fun to see a car chase on tree-lined streets. Tardi doesn't shy away from the violence of the story, but he doesn't revel in it, either, his pages all varying grids, many with tall, narrow panels that keep the pace brisk. He makes interesting choices with what he illustrates vs. what he narrates--twice he lets us know that Gerfaut has burst into tears, but we never see it; one could therefore focus on the visuals and retain the impression of a more resolute, typical action hero rather than a guy doing his best to hold on.
The "mountain" portion of the book is perhaps the most interesting, as Gerfaut has dropped out of society and made a new life for himself, seemingly a fairly carefree one that could have continued if Emerich had given up searching for him. The ending, which brings us back to the beginning, ripples with meaning. Gerfaut has accomplished every goal but in doing so he's missed his chance to escape.