Friday, February 25, 2022

Farewell, Brindavoine by Tardi

Anyone with a long enough career will have weird early works. Maybe they weren't "weird" at the time, maybe they were - but enough years later, some of them will line up oddly with all the other stuff that person did later.

In related news, the first book by the French cartoonist born Jacques Tardi and who later jettisoned that first name for added speed and sleekness was Farewell, Brindavoine, serialized in Pilote in 1972-73 and collected soon afterward. The edition I read was the 2021 American edition, translated into English by Jenna Allen, published by Fantagraphics, and including an extended sequence after the big END panel. I have no idea if that additional piece was part of the initial serialization or came later. But the art style is basically identical to the earlier pages and it's in roughly the same tone and with the same concerns, so my guess is that it was very soon afterward, if not actually part of the original from the beginning.

And Brindavoine is pretty weird. Oh, it prefigures a lot of Tardi's later work: its vaguely steampunky 1914 can link to both the Adele Blanc-Sec books and his Great War stories. And the one-damn-thing-after-another plotting is not out of character for an early story by anyone, for serialized adventure, or for Eurocomics in particular. But Tardi's specific "damn things" here get pretty goofy.

Brindavoine is a guy: Lucien Brindavoine, probably in his late twenties, who is happily wasting an inheritance in Paris on fine living and amateur photography. An old man visits him late one evening, with vague demands that Lucien come along on some kind of life-changing adventure, before the old man is shot dead by a mysterious figure on the roof.

So of course Lucien does what the old man asked: it got him killed, so it must be a good idea, right? (To be fair, if he didn't, this would have been a really short story.)

The old man sent him to Istanbul, where he meets one contact, and is sent off in a motorcar with a melancholy, substance-abusing Englishman named Oswald Carpleasure (yes, the names are a large piece of the goofiness) to continue the adventure. The mysterious figure attacks them multiple times as they trek across the desert wastes of Central Asia, and is eventually revealed. All arrive in a fantastic place at about the mid-point of the story, where things get more complicated and Tardi indulges in a lot of let-me-tell-you-what's-really-going-on.

There is more mayhem and danger, which swirls around Lucien without him ever being part of it: this is one of those stories about a character who doesn't understand what's going on and doesn't really affect the outcome; he's a catalyst and a viewpoint, but that's about it. Eventually, we get to that END panel...and then a dozen pages in which an ancient storyteller sketches the rest of Lucien's life and then drops us into an entirely separate series of events during the Great War.

Of the Tardi books I've seen, this is most like 1974's The Arctic Marauder, though that book had a more typical adventure plot and main characters whose actions more strongly affected the story. Brindavoine, by comparison, feels like the story of a very young creator, full of ideas and thoughts that all have to get down on the page, one after another, even if they don't make conventional sense or link well to each other.

So this is early Tardi: as early as you can get. It's not much like his mature career, but I think it does lead pretty directly to the slightly less goofy things he moved on to later in the '70s. Every career is a journey; this is where Tardi's started. It does not make a whole lot of sense, but readers who can forgive it that will find a lot of elements to enjoy and appreciate.

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