Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #192: Fog Over Tolbiac Bridge by Tardi & Leo Malet

Someday I'll seriously investigate the tendency for Euro-cartoonists to only use one name. Jason, Mawil, Kerascoet (two people in one name!), Mazan, Obion, Stanislas, Keramidas -- the list seems to be endless.

And even the renowned cartoonist (or whatever the adjectival form of bandee dessinee is) Jacques Tardi seems to have succumbed to the lure of the single moniker. The Fantagraphics edition of Fog Over Tolbiac Bridge, which I think is his most recent publication in English, refers to him as just "Tardi" throughout.

It's not necessarily a fame thing, since many of those names above started their careers with a single name -- though it may be so for Tardi. If I were feeling more energetic, I'd concoct a bizarre theory based on how Eurocomics are mostly sold as thin albums, hence they have thin spines, and so the market selects for authors with short names, since those are more readable to consumers. But, for now, I should probably get to the book at hand.

Fog Over Tolbiac Bridge is a mystery set in postwar Paris: Tardi adapted Leo Malet's 1956 novel Brouillard au pont de Tolbiac in the 1980s.

He later adapted four more novels by the same author, all featuring series detective Nestor Burma. And Tardi adapted other mystery novels before and afterward -- I've seen myself one of the books he adapted from Jean-Patrick Manchette, West Coast Blues. Tardi has had a long, varied career, but one major strain of it has been "adapting other people's mystery novels into comics," which seems unusual from my side of the Atlantic. (It may be less so in France, which has a large, robust comics ecosystem.)

Malet's series eventually comprised thirty-three novels, eighteen of which were set in a specific arrondissement of Paris. Tolbiac Bridge is one of the smaller set, a story of the XIIIth, the famous bohemian "Left Bank."

I've never read any of those novels: I can't say how Tolbiac Bridge fits into the Nestor Burma series. He shows up here as a "detective," and it takes a while before the narrative even makes it clear that he's a PI. He's not hired by anyone, and isn't working as a PI -- he's just a guy nosing around the edges of a police investigation, in that old Agatha Christie style. He gets dropped into this murder mystery with a letter from an old comrade -- Burma was an anarchist in his youth, between the wars -- referring to him as a "cop" and using a name Burma doesn't recognize. He's supposed to meet this supposed old friend, but the friend is already dead, as Burma learns from the mysterious gypsy woman Belita Morales.

(Every mystery must have a mysterious woman. And she does fill all of the important plot functions of one -- she tells Burma things he wouldn't know otherwise, she sleeps with him, she....)

The dead man was known to Burma, and his death is inextricably linked to the crew Burma knew in those old anarchist days. So he goes to talk to his other old friends, and inevitably finds his way into plots and schemes -- and, eventually, to that cold bridge of the title, in the driving rain, for a final confrontation.

The plot is quite Tardi-esque, full of colorful characters who nevertheless often seem really similar to each other, who run around his large pages very quickly to get through the whole story in a short page-count. As always, I'm not as skilled in talking about art, but Tardi gives his Paris an architectural weight and solidity here, so that a reader almost feels like he can step into the panels and walk around the Left Bank of 1956.

This isn't my favorite Tardi book -- his Great War books are more solid and weighty, the Manchette adaptations I've seen are more exciting and vivid, and the Adele Blanc-Sec books are more fun and frivolous. But even not-favorite Tardi is impressive -- and other readers might well react more strongly to this Ross Macdonaldesque story of regret and lost chances and how choices you made thirty years ago will always come back to haunt you.

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