Saturday, November 14, 2009

West Coast Blues

Jacques Tardi
Adapted from the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette
West Coast Blues is a graphic novel adapted by French cartoonist Jacques Tardi from the crime novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette. Fantagraphics is beginning to translate and publish these graphic novels by acclaimed artist Tardi, another of which was just recently released, You Are There. I'm really enjoying a lot of the European comics that are being translated as of late, like Archaia's The Killer (which is gritty crime fiction like this one) and the Soleil books through Marvel like Sky Doll, not to mention other talented European artists like Posy Simmonds and Joann Sfar. Jacques Tardi is one of the greats and I'm happy that Fantagraphics has undertaken the project of bringing his works to American audiences. West Coast Blues is a crime story, but it's quite different than what most people associate with the genre, especially when it comes to the gritty noir of comics. This is full of surprises both in terms of Manchette's plot, but also just the general pace of the story, pretty much subverting any ideas one may have in their head of where a story such as this is going to go. The novel starts out simple enough: George Gerfaut saves a man who's injured in his car on the side of the road, rushing him to the hospital just before his family takes a vacation at a beach house. Once at the beach house, Gerfaut is stalked by a pair of hitmen who wish to assassinate him for his actions. After this, readers are in for a wild ride in a plot that meanders quite a bit, but is utterly compelling through and through as Gerfaut, an ass of a protagonist, takes his life by the reigns and does whatever the hell he feels like. Meanwhile, action takes place not in alleyways of busy city streets by moonlight, but mid-day at the beach, at gas stations, and in isolated cabins in the countryside. Tardi's cartooning is fabulous. He brings the wide range of characters to life with ease, and depicts fast-pace action clearly while drawing out the suspense and the slow moments of life appropriately. I'm not a huge fan of the crime genre, but with books like this out there, I can definitely see why people are drawn to these types of stories, and as long as I read books executed as consistently as this one, I see no reason not to seek them out myself.

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