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Nexus Graphica
by Rick Klaw

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Jacques Tardi
West Coast Blues
You Are There
It Was The War of the Trenches
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec Volume 1: Pterror Over Paris/The Eiffel Tower Demon
Les aventures extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec (movie)
CR Newsmaker: Kim Thompson On Fantagraphics Publishing Jacques Tardi
The Sixth Gun Book 1: Cold Dead Fingers
Vampire Boy
Dick Briefer's Frankenstein
Recent Books of Interest
The Sixth Gun Book 1: Cold Dead Fingers Written by Cullen Bunn, Illustrated by Brian Hurtt (Oni)
The Sixth Gun Book 1: Cold Dead Fingers The second series collaboration from the creators of the excellent supernatural noir thriller The Damned offers a creepy, magic-infused Western complete with terrifying beasts -- living and undead -- gunfights, and the occult. Confederate General Oleander Hume seeks out the Sixth Gun, the key to unlocking an unstoppable power. Mysterious gunslinger Drake Sinclair protects the young Becky Moncrief, current owner of the powerful Sixth Gun, against Hume and his magically-enhanced henchman. Bunn's pitch perfect script, combined with the unique artistic talents of Hurtt, deliver the finest horrific western since the best of the Lansdale-Truman stories of the 90s.

Vampire Boy Written by Carlos Trillo, Illustrated by Eduardo Risso (Dark Horse)
Vampire Boy Best known in the United States for co-creating (with Brian Azzarello) the popular crime series 100 Bullets, the Argentinian Risso previously established a reputation during the 80s and 90s in his native country and throughout Europe. Vampire Boy (Boy Vampiro) first appeared in 1992 and features the culmination of the many millennia confrontation between the unnamed son of Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops) and the Pharaoh's favorite concubine Ahmasi. Not traditional vampires, the immortals only occasionally require blood and the sun actually replenishes them. The Prince, physically trapped at the age of ten since the time of his transformation, reawakens after 50 years buried under the streets of New York to challenge his eternal nemesis. Risso's moody, graphic work and Trillo's nuanced characters elevate this unusual horror tale beyond the typical vampire story, collected here for the first time in English.

Dick Briefer's Frankenstein by Dick Briefer Edited with an introduction by Craig Yoe (IDW)
Dick Briefer's Frankenstein Continuing the early 21st century trend of repackaging largely forgotten comic book classics in affordable handsome editions, historian Craig Yoe re-introduces Dick Briefer's horror-cum-comedy-cum-horror-again Frankenstein. Briefer's tale of a monster's revenge against his maker initially appeared in Prize #7 (1940), spawning the first ongoing series of horror comics. This incarnation of Shelley's creation proved to be very popular, largely thanks to Briefer's intelligent scripts and ghastly illustrations. In Prize #45 (1945), Briefer re-imagined the series as a humor strip. Proving he was as adapt at comedy as terror, Briefer hilariously lampooned popular culture, horror, and social conventions. Following an editorial edict, the stories returned to their spooky roots three years later in Frankenstein #18. With the advent of the Comics Code Authority in 1954, the long running series ended. In Dick Briefer's Frankenstein, Yoe collects the finest Frankenstein tales from all three epochs. Yoe's introduction recounts the creator and series history alongside rare art including an example of Briefer's Daily Worker strip Pinky Rankin (someone needs to collect those Communist action hero's stories) and Alex Toth fan doodles.

The Martin Scorsese of European Comics

Before my discovery of the French artist Jacques Tardi, how did I enjoy comics? The three reprints from Fantagraphics all appeared on my previous two best of the year lists: You Are There and West Coast Blues in 2009 and It Was the War of the Trenches last year. If I had read their most recent Tardi publication (The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec Volume 1: Pterror Over Paris/The Eiffel Tower Demon) in time, it would have joined its brethren.

Initially set in pre-WWI Paris, Les Aventures extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec relates the unusual escapades of the novelist title character as she uncovers plots involving a recently hatched pterodactyl, demonic cults, seedy underworld characters, and murder. First appearing in the 1971 issues of the anthology Pilote, the quick-witted, inquisitive Adèle Blanc-Sec quickly emerged as Tardi most popular creation. She has starred in nine albums, five of which have English-language editions, and the 2010 Luc Besson film, Les aventures extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec. Originally translated by Randy and Jean-Marc Lofficier for Dark Horse's Cheval Noir, NBM eventually collected the quintet of stories into four graphic novels. I vaguely remember looking at the NBM editions, but nothing clicked. Apparently, I wasn't alone as the books didn't sell well and went out of print. The same holds true for nearly every previous attempt to offer English editions of Tardi work.

Fantagraphics editor Kim Thompson in a March 10, 2009 Comics Reporter interview with Tom Spurgeon ventured a theory on the lack of sales: "[T]here's something so inherently European about Tardi that American audiences might find him hard to digest. I've found some American fans seem to like his work better in principle and theory than actually having to read it." Of course this didn't stop Fantagraphics from producing their own line of Tardi publications.

I reviewed their first two books in these very pixels. This time, Tardi managed to worm his way into my consciousness. Rather than re-write, I'm reprinting my impressions, which haven't changed.

  West Coast Blues, Adapted by Jacques Tardi from the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette (Fantagraphics)
From the opening panel until the final words, Tardi's adaptation of Manchette's crime novel Le Petit bleu de la côte ouest sizzles with a dazzling graphic intensity. Salesman George Gerfaut unknowingly becomes embroiled in conspiracy and murder when he stops to aid the victim of a car accident. Much like the 50s American crime novels they emulate, Tardi and Manchette offer a impressive display of destructive violence, wanton love, and disregard for life. Showcasing Tardi's singular artistic talents, the brilliant West Coast Blues emerges as one of the best crime graphic novels ever produced.

West Coast Blues West Coast Blues page
West Coast Blues, Adapted by Jacques Tardi from the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette

  You Are There by Jacques Tardi and Jean Claude-Forest (Fantagraphics)
Originally serialized beginning in 1978 for the French magazine À SUIVRE, the groundbreaking You Are There (Ici même) showcased the singular talents of Barbarella creator Claude-Forest and legendary artist Tardi. Presented for the first time in English, this nonsensical farce recounts the struggles of Arthur There and his attempts to reclaim his ancestral lands of Mornemont of which he only owns the walls that subdivide the area. Tardi's intricate, cartoony, and beautiful art perfectly expresses Forest's ideas and words. The humorous You Are There masterfully satirizes French society and politics unlike any comic before or since.

You Are There You Are There page
You Are There by Jacques Tardi and Jean Claude-Forest

What changed between the Tardi exposures? His masterful handling of the difficult crime genre revealed a new depth of his artistic talents, which were further re-enforced by the radically different You Are There. Another factor may have been the Fantagraphics approach to the material. "Ninety-eight percent of the lettering will be done using a Tardi font we're creating -- actually, two Tardi fonts, one for his earlier work and one for his later, looser work," says Thompson. "The other two percent, 'effects' lettering, people yelling, longhand correspondence (a chunk of You Are Here's narration is done that way) which can't be done convincingly using fonts, will be hand lettered by Rich Tommaso." Unlike previous translation attempts, the lettering compliments the art and appears organic, making for a far more pleasurable reading experience.

It Was The War of The Trenches that cemented Tardi's place in my pantheon of French masters alongside Moebius and Philippe Druillet. Again, my original review.

  It Was The War of the Trenches by Jacques Tardi (Fantagraphics)
This extraordinary collection of World War I tales offers perhaps the finest work from the lauded Tardi. Each story, based on actual accounts from French soldiers, relates the often-horrific realities of trench-warfare. Disturbing yet compelling images abound: a dead, mangled horse hanging from a tree serves as a warning; rats feasting on corpses; amputations; executions; countless dead. Far more memorable are the impassioned stories themselves. Betrayal, deceit, mistrust, murder, hope, and even humor run throughout these tales. Painstakingly researched, the amazing Tardi perfectly captures the everyday despair of the World War I trench soldier. Visceral, powerful, and effective, the flawless It Was The War of the Trenches blazes a new standard for the war comic.

It Was The War of the Trenches It Was The War of the Trenches page
It Was The War of the Trenches by Jacques Tardi (Fantagraphics)

Employing yet a third artistic style, Tardi's haunting visions of war agonize while granting an insightful tour of the world of the average World War I grunt. He doesn't glorify or trivialize warfare, but expertly tells it like it was.

Considering the European success of Adèle Blanc-Sec, it seems odd that Fantagraphics chose her adventures as their fourth Tardi book. Thompson explained, "I wanted to start out with something fresh and previously unseen in the U.S. and the first couple of Adèle books have been published here. You can still find them on Amazon." Additionally, Thompson, who provided new translations for the Fantagraphics editions, suggests a more esoteric reason. "[T]here is what I call the popularity paradox, which is that sometimes the most popular French work is the hardest to sell as compared to the 'art' comics because the more mainstream work loses some of its 'alternative' audience without replacing it with a 'mainstream' audience. So Adèle, with its playful Euro-adventure tropes, is in some ways less accessible to American readers than, say, Trenches."

Primed by the first three offerings, I eagerly devoured The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec Volume 1. Tardi thrilled and excited me with his skillful melding of the cartoony style that dominated You Are There and the darker, more menacing representations from West Coast Blues into a wholly original creation. Volume 1 collects the first two adventures. I eagerly await the next volume and all future Tardi products.

  Tardi is considered one of the grandmasters of his generation, someone of such commanding skill and breadth of achievement that he's sui generis. I'd almost have to go outside the world of comics and say he's maybe like the Martin Scorsese of European comics. He not only draws beautifully but draws with tremendous effectiveness as a cartoonist, which is a rare combination -- his work is beautiful but not necessarily pretty. Many cartoonists who draw what I'll call "realistically" as opposed to "cartoony" lose the punch and efficacy of the best "funny" cartooning, but he manages to combine the best of both.
--Kim Thompson

Copyright © 2011 Rick Klaw

Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including The Austin Chronicle, The San Antonio Current, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures RevolutionSF, King Kong Is Back!, Conversations With Texas Writers, Farscape Forever, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe, and Steampunk. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews, and other things Klaw, Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century. He can often be found pontificating on Twitter and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.

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