The title pretty much says it all, but I’m still going to wax eloquent about Jacques Tardi for a while, since brevity fits me about as well as jeans with a 32″ waist (eg: LOL I’m fat). As I’ve written elsewhere, although I’m totally obsessed with comics now, they haven’t been a lifelong obsession (with the exception of Tintin). However, Tardi has been a part of my bookshelf for a long time, in the form of his incredible “collaborations” with Louis Ferdinand Celine. To recap – Gallimard (major French publisher – think Penguin or Random House) has a comics imprint named Futuropolis, and in the late 80′s/early 90′s, Gallimard pulled classic texts from its canon and put out Gallimard/Futuropolis combo editions pairing the text up with extensive internal illustrations by well-known cartoonists. They’re really unparalleled, essential editions for any comics fan, because the books are collaborations in the literal sense of the word, even though many of the original authors were dead at time the books were released. Forget the traditional idea of an illustrated book (page after page of text, with an occasional full page plate, and some 1/4 page spot drawings sprinkled throughout). Although the words in these editions are typeset rather than hand lettered (so no speech balloons), the text is fit around the illustrations – and not the other way around - in a way that enables the illustrations to push the text in directions the original books never anticipated. This isn’t “the classics – illustrated,” because the entire text is present, and the illustrations challenge and engage the text, instead of merely showing what happens on each page. I can’t think of anything similar in American publishing (maybe it’s out there and some well-read comics enthusiast would like to suggest it in the comments?)… here we think it’s a great step forward when Penguin solicits covers for classic books from well-known cartoonists. And hey, those books are cool, but they don’t offer anything for the comics fan beyond the cover. By contrast, the Gallimard/Futuropolis editions are designed to look like Gallimard’s classic NRF series, with their cream-colored covers and red/black lettering, instead of a typical European comics album. In other words, cartooning is folded into Gallimard’s literary canon instead of simply being window dressing for canonical texts.
Right, and so Tardi did three of these babies – all books by Celine. When I discovered them for the first time, I didn’t know who Tardi was, but I was obsessed with Journey to the End of the Night, and the Tardi-illustrated version was a great way for me to read portions of the French text without getting too lost, thanks to the illustrations situating me along the way. Of course, as I’ve written about earlier, it only took me flipping through the book a few times to realize Tardi’s masterful skill, and as I’ve become more familiar with his work over the years, it has become more and more clear that Tardi-Celine was a pairing that was too perfect to not happen. I can’t think of another creator with the ability to capture the grotesque and gritty aspect of Celine’s writing in a way that also plays off of how Celine – with his pacing and rhythm, his slang, and his theatricality – creates a cartoon of the modern society he detests. A strictly realist style wouldn’t fit Celine at all, but no one balances “cartoony” imagery with an earth-shattering realism like Tardi. (Sorry I don’t have a better word than “cartoony;” this is why I write my own blog and not for Comics Comics.)
So I came back from France in 2001 with the Gallimard/Futuropolis editions of Journey to the End of the Night and Death on Credit, and over time, they became two of my favorite books in my collection. What never occurred to me, however, was that Tardi might have another body of work – you know, normal comics – that I should seek out. And so I dove into the rabbit hole of graduate school and critical theory and all that, and then I dropped out and never felt like reading again, and then I started reading for fun, and then I discovered alternative comics, and since then I’ve been receiving a way more fun education that shows no sign of ending any time soon. Cue Fantagraphics announcing last year that they were going to start releasing classic Tardi works in English in handsome hardcover editions. I read the first two they released and saw the genius I saw in the Celine books in full bloom, with 100% of the page at its disposal. (I should note that much of Tardi’s best work involves collaborations with other authors, although these are rendered as true comics, with the text as part of each panel, rather than typeset separately.) While waiting for the third Fantagraphics release, it occurred to me that I could dig deeper into Tardi’s back-catalogue without the wait if I tried to read some of the books in French – even Le der des ders, a title whose translation completely escapes me (Google Translation helpfully provides “The Der of Ders”).
I went to my favorite site to buy French books – Chapitre.com – and spent some extra disposable income on 5 Tardi books, including Casse-Pipe, the much less common Gallimard/Futuropolis edition of Celine’s unfinished World War I novel. Now, this was a find for me, since I’ve been looking for it for years… it’s available on used book sites, but usually costs in the $100 range, and the condition is often suspect. But, and this is why I love Chapitre.com, it just happened to be available from a particular seller for 12 euros, even though the original edition has been out of print for years and is never found for so cheap (this isn’t uncommon with Chapitre – see my last post about the mysterious French website selling the Codex Seraphinianus for around $140). One delayed FedEx shipment later, my Tardi collection has grown exponentially. Now, I just need Fantagraphics to get him to appear at Comic-con so I can get these things signed, and I’ll be good to go.
So, like I said 950 words ago, the title says it all. But in case you needed a little extra convincing, there’s the rest too.