Sunday, August 03, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #215: The Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, Vol. 1 by Jacques Tardi

The most interesting artists are the ones who refuse to be confined by form and genre -- they create the stories or images (or both) that come to them, as they can, and keep moving forward along their own lines no matter what anyone else thinks.

It can be difficult to see the real shape of a creator's career from across the gulf of foreign language, but Jacques Tardi looks to be very much that kind of artist: he has ranged from noir, like West Coast Blues, to carefully-researched historical fiction like It Was the War of the Trenches. And, as the stories about the indefatigable adventuress Adele Blanc-Sec show, Tardi was also able to take a somewhat lighter tone, and spin out unlikely adventure stories in early 20th century Paris.

I saw The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, Vol. 1 -- the first in a series of books that aim to collect the ten French albums into larger hardcovers, two by two -- back in 2010, when it was published in this English translation, and I reviewed it for my column in Realms of Fantasy then. But it turns out that this blog is more durable than a physical magazine that paid professional rates -- I'm as shocked as anyone else -- so I might as well mention it again here, since I read it again.

Adele is a tough, grumpy, independent woman in 1910 France, a time and place that was a bit better for such women than a generation or two before, but still not particularly welcoming. She was perhaps slightly more at home in 1976, when Tardi wrote and drew the two albums collected here -- Pterror Over Paris ("Adèle et la bête" in French, "Adele and the Beast" the first time it was translated) and The Eiffel Tower Demon (originally "Le Démon de la tour Eiffel" and first translated under a slightly variant title) -- but still clearly a rough edge that would never be sanded smooth.

Adele is almost a secondary character in Pterror Over Paris, though she takes over the book in stages once she appears -- and the reader has to wonder if she took over in Tardi's mind the same way -- and she is clearly the heroine on the last page even though she didn't appear until midway through the book. (This could also be due to the style: Tardi crams a lot of incident and characters into these 48-page albums, which leads him to a lot of wordy captions and dialogue to explain everything and run through the convolutions of his plot. I have to wonder if a format without such a rigid page count would have been better for Tardi and the story.)

Both of these stories see supernatural menaces threatening Paris -- first, a Pteranodon, hatched from a 130-million-year-old egg by psychic power, and secondly, a monster haunting one particular bridge. In best supernatural-mystery fashion, neither case is quite that simple, but Tardi never descends to Scooby-Doo-ism; there are fakes and frauds and secrets and lies, but there are also real fantasy elements underneath them.

These are complicated, convoluted stories with a great heroine who takes no guff from anyone: great adventure stories that require close attention to keep up with them. And there are eight more to come at this point, which is even better.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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