Thursday, March 1, 2007
Cartoonists I'd Like to See Translated 3: Jacques Tardi
Unlike my previous two entries, Jacques Tardi has had some work printed in English. I first came across him in Raw (where I discovered so many artists that are now favorites). NBM printed a few books from his Adèle Blanc-Sec series, Dark Horse printed another as a stand alone comic book (The Secret of the Salamander), Fantagraphics has published him in Pictopia,and a few years ago, a publisher I had never heard of, Ibooks, printed The Bloody Streets of Paris (an adaptation of a Leo Malet WWII era mystery). These books never seem to get much attention and I seldom ever see them in any stores. I have to assume that they don’t sell particularly well and I can’t understand why. Tardi is considered a master in Europe and you’d be hard pressed to find a better cartoonist on any continent. Tardi has the perfect combination of solid storytelling, wonderful detail in backgrounds and clothes (which is important, since most of his stories take place in a Paris of the past), as well as an expressive line and way of drawing people.
It should also be noted that even with a half dozen or so books in the Adèle Blanc-Sec series, the character that Tardi seems to love more than all others and returns to in book after book, is the city of Paris. He draws it better that anyone I’ve seen, capturing the architecture, the wet cobblestones, the drizzling rain, and the bare branched winter trees. His drawings go beyond the journalistic documenting of details and move to the intangible state of capturing a feeling of a place. I have no idea how he does it. I suppose this is the magic of art that people try to learn and teach, but you either have it or don’t.
Although there has been work by Tardi available from time to time, there are two books that I think have been strangely ignored by North American publishers - well, almost ignored. C'était la Guerre des Tranchées (It was the War of the Trenches) is a series of short stories about World War I, some of which were printed in Raw, and some in the Drawn and Quarterly anthology, but never all of them in one volume. This is a book that serves Tardi’s strengths very well. His attention to detail captures the disgusting conditions of the trenches, with the rats, mud, puddles of stagnant water and barbed wire, the disemboweled horses blown up into trees, and military equipment. All of this brings the reader into the Hell that his characters have to live with. However, Tardi always maintains a balance between these details and keeping his drawings expressive. The men of the trenches can look fearful, anxious, or emotionally dead and reserved to their fate. How he can do this with just a few facial lines, I don’t know. He is up there with Jose Munoz and Jaime Hernandez in his ability to communicate so much emotional depth within a seemingly simple drawing of a character’s face. This book is a tour de force by one of the greatest living cartoonists in the world and hopefully, some publisher will translate it, and properly promote it, so it will get the recognition it deserves.
The other book that I think would be an excellent candidate for translation is Le Cri du Peuple (The Cry of the People). This book is more recent, with the first volume printed in 2001 by Casterman. This is a comic adaptation from the novel of the same name by Jean Vautrin about a tragic part of French history that, until I lived in Paris for a year, I knew nothing about, the Paris Commune of 1871. After France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, many people of Paris rebelled against both the Prussians and the French Government, taking over the city by force and creating a new socialist, democratic government. Within their brief existence, the Commune passed decrees of a separation of church and state (America should consider this), voting rights for women, and a pension for the unmarried partners of deceased National Guardsmen (the commune’s army). In less than 60 days the commune was defeated, slaughtered and executed by the French Government. I have only the first volume of 5 books, so the complete graphic novel must be over 400 pages. It appears to be an interesting mix of history, politics and culture (Gustave Courbet makes an appearance and was a large figure in the Commune). Needless to say, I’d love to see this series of books put out as one volume in English. I would think it would do well in schools, too, having the educational combination noted above, but the book does have some nudity and a reproduction of Courbet’s risqué L’Origine du Monde and we all know what happens when American teens see nudity. They have pre-marital sex and ruin their lives. I guess this would never fly in schools. It’s too bad, it looks like a great book. (Sorry about the sample page getting cut off, this is not an easy book to scan.)