Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Trade Waiting - New York Mon Amour by Jacques Tardi

The comic book industry has been through many peaks and troughs in the last five years. From the highs of mass media coverage and Marvel rising to the top of the movie industry food chain to the lows of worrying dwindling sales, particularly within the top end of the market, there is definitely a steep learning curve that publishers are going to have to get to grips with to stay buoyant and hopefully thrive. It's not all doom and gloom though; one of the more positive things to come out of the last half decade is the sharp rise in deluxe hardcover archival projects being released by publishers across the board. IDW are pushing forward with their stunning, wallet punishing Artist's Editions and collections of classic strips such as Bloom County, Dark Horse are publishing fantastic archival editions of classic titles ranging from Creepy to Conan and the beautiful Hellboy Library Editions, and even the playground jocks are getting in on the act with both Marvel and DC massively increasing their omnibus editions in the last twelve months. When it comes to obtaining the rights to classic foreign material and releasing it to a English speaking audience, Fantagraphics sit atop the mountain. This year alone we have seen the release of Joost Swarte's Is That All There Is? Lorenzo Mattotti's The Crackle of the Frost, and the Nordic comic anthology Kolor Klimax, not to mention the upcoming The Adventures of Jodelle. The brightest feather in the cap of Fantagraphics foreign output is their continuing reprinting of the works of French living legend Jacques Tardi, and earlier this year published a collection of Tardi drawn stories about New York into one hardcover. How does the New York of the seventies and eighties hold up under the lens of a modern master? Find out after the jump.

New York Mon Amour 
Written by Benjamin Legrand, Dominique Grange and Jancques Tardi 
Art by Jacque Tardi
Published by Fantagraphics

Jacques Tardi is a man that needs little introduction. Someone who has been releasing consistent, quality work in the comic book industry for over forty years, Tardi is a man who traverses styles and genres like no other. Equally at home drawing action adventure romps such as Adele Blanc-Sec as he as doing gritty war tales like It Was The War Of The Trenches, Tardi's resume is one that must be the envy of the majority of the comics industry. In the continuation of the republication of Tardi's works into English, Fantagraphics have now released New York Mon Amour, a collection of four stories that carve up the seedy underbelly of the Big Apple

The majority of this hardcover is taken up by a reprinting of the classic Heavy Metal story, The Cockroach Killer, a tale about an exterminator and survivor of World War Two who discovers a fabled thirteenth floor within a building that has a certain pest problem. Accidentally hearing a shady bunch of individuals plan the murders of a group of people, Walter, the exterminator of the tale, finds himself in caught in a spiders web of deception and intrigue not too unlike everyone's favourite Alfred Hitchcock films. Coupled with this is Walters fragile mental state that leads him to distrust everyone, including himself, and hallucinate a lot of Nazi cockroaches. The Cockroach Killer is the sort of yarn that David Lynch would go on to tell throughout the tail end of the eighties and culminating in the 'as frustrating as it is exciting' Mulholland Drive. There is a chance that the story may put off the reader who seeks definite answers from their tales yet that is just as much a compliment as it is a caution. There are three shorter stories contained within that range from OK to excellent are all structured in the classic cautionary tale structure. The first is the sad tale of a man with a humpback that bears such a resemblance to John Lennon it drives him over the edge into the realms of pure rage which is entertaining and has a satisfying payoff. The second is Manhattan, a story about a man who is at the end of his tether with the world around him and decides to take matters into his own hands. The last and best of the three stories is Hung's Murderer, a tale that echoes Tardi's war stories, partly in subject and partly in the sobering nature of the subject matter. A classic story of revenge and the lengths that a seemingly normal person will go to for a loved ones spirit to be put to rest. This is the most affecting of the short stories and barring The Cockroach Killer, the best story to be found in this entire hardcover.

Anyone familiar with the art of Jacques Tardi will, on the whole, not be surprised with the line he applies for the majority of New York Mon Amour. Pudgy fingered, highly stylized, and strangely endearing figures sit atop some the most beautiful lifelike recreations of inanimate objects this reviewer has ever seen. Everything from the faithful recreations of New York architecture and the city taxis and cars down to the interiors of buildings, Tardi's backgrounds are jam packed with detail that really gives the reader a sense of being there in the middle of the action. Tardi really encapsulates what you imagine the New York in the seventies and eighties to be like, dark, seedy and heartless, better than anyone short of Martin Scorsese himself. In fact the closest comparison to Tardi's artwork in New York Mon Amour is not another comic but the classic Scorsese films Taxi Driver and Mean Streets. Having said all that, Tardi does allow dashes of absurdity and the employment of different techniques to shine through, particularly in The Cockroach Killer, with its liberal use of red on top of stark black and white and the main 'hero', Walter, battling Nazi Cockroach Exterminators in a bizarre fever dream like sequence. Tardi even experiments with pasting his characters on top of photos of real New York streets which, when in context, gives the scene a hallucinogenic quality. To pick a favourite drawn Tardi book is somewhat akin to picking a favourite child but this reviewer will stick his neck out and say this is the best Tardi art out there in English language format, more so than even the heart wrenching and harrowing It Was The War Of The Trenches or the technically brilliant The Arctic Marauder. As is tradition, Fantagraphics have crafted a package deserving of such amazing content with a lovely hardcover, done in the same uniform style and dimensions as their previous Tardi releases and, as should be the case with all comic book hardcovers, no pesky dust jackets.

Verdict - Must Buy

Thanklessly bleak and ruthless in it's darkly satirical depiction of New York in possibly one of its lowest eras, Jacques Tardi has a style that perfectly encapsulates the era with a confidence that few would dare to muster. New York Mon Amour is a must for fans of Tardi's work and sits well alongside the artists other crime based work such as West Coast Blues and Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot. For those who have yet to experience Tardi this is as good a place as any to start, but to be honest any of the books that Fantagraphics have published by the modern master are a good place to start, as there is a strong chance that you will be back for the rest once you have read one.

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