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West Coast Blues

Overview

Nominated for two 2010 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards: a savage noir thriller reuniting a master crime novelist and a superlative French cartoonist?the beginning of an ambitious publishing project introducing one of Europe?s most beloved cartoonists to American audiences.
George Gerfaut, aimless young executive and desultory family man, witnesses a murder and finds himself sucked into a spiral of violence involving an exiled war criminal and two hired assassins. Adapting to ...

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Overview

Nominated for two 2010 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards: a savage noir thriller reuniting a master crime novelist and a superlative French cartoonist—the beginning of an ambitious publishing project introducing one of Europe’s most beloved cartoonists to American audiences.
George Gerfaut, aimless young executive and desultory family man, witnesses a murder and finds himself sucked into a spiral of violence involving an exiled war criminal and two hired assassins. Adapting to the exigencies of his new life on the run with shocking ease, Gerfaut abandons his comfortable middle-class life for several months (including a sojourn in the countryside after an attempt to ride the rails turns spectacularly bad) until, joined with a new ally, he finally returns to settle all accounts... with brutal, bloody interest.
Released in 2005, West Coast Blues (Le Petit bleu de la côte ouest) is Tardi’s adaptation of a popular 1976 novel by the French crime writer Jean-Patrick Manchette. (The novel had been previously adapted to film under the more literal title Trois hommes à abattre, and was released in English by the San Francisco-based publisher City Lights under the English version of the same title, 3 to Kill.)
Tardi’s late-period, looser style infuses Manchette’s dark story with a seething, malevolent energy; he doesn’t shy away from the frequently grisly goings-on, while maintaining (particularly in the old-married-couple-style bickering of the two killers who are tracking Gerfaut) the mordant wit that characterizes his best work. This is the kind of graphic novel that Quentin Tarantino would love, and a double shot of Scotch for any fan of unrelenting, uncompromising crime fiction. Nominated for two 2010 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award (Best Adaptation from Another Work; Best U.S. Edition of International Material).

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Editorial Reviews

Chad Derdowski - Mania
“I opened this comic, got sucked in and blew through it in one sitting. Then I went back a few weeks later… and re-read it. I found that I liked it even better the second time around... Fans of great artwork and crime stories should give this book a shot.”
Paul Montgomery - iFanboy
“Plenty of crime stories revolve around the bizarre preoccupations of [their] characters and just as many are centered around the plight of the common man thrust into extraordinary circumstances. But Tardi really brings it home, offering a messed up story about messed up people who do some truly messed up things.”
Gordon Flagg - Booklist
“Recent months have seen an unusually high number of crime comics hitting the bookshelves, but this one’s among the best of the batch.”
Brian Lindenmuth - BSCreview
“West Coast Blues is a brilliant story, and Manchette was a phenomenal writer of the modern world, putting others to shame at times. Just that simple, really. This is a book that can’t be reduced to familiar genre markers.”
Jared Gardner - Guttergeek
“An adaptation of a 70s crime novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette (Le Petit Bleu de la Côte Ouest), and it is a reminder of how good they did paranoid crime thrillers in the 70s. It is also a reminder of how good Tardi has done comics for forty years. ...Tardi's remarkable energy and range as a visual storyteller... will have you gobbling this book up in one gigantic gulp and then going back to appreciate the details and the nuance.”
Sara Cole - PopMatters
“Perhaps what makes West Coast Blues so captivating is how well it highlights the similarities between film and comics, while simultaneously showcasing its own unique ability as a graphic novel to capture the noir aesthetic through word and image. ... Not unlike many noir films, West Coast Blues is replete with car chases, hit-men, drinking, guns, and the occasional salacious scene. All of this is set in Tardi’s straightforward drawing style which is a good fit for the almost matter-of-fact, unsentimental manner in which violence, sex, and life in general are met with during the course of the book.”
Patrick Bérubé - Comic Book Bin
“Everything you would expect from a suspense thriller... Visually the comic book is also great. It's everything you would expect from Tardi... I don't believe that anybody else than him would have been able to visually translate Manchette's novel so well. It's like they worked together and that the comic book is the original material. Bottom line, this is another great comic book by Tardi. If you have never read anything by him you should.”
James Reasoner
“Overall, I liked West Coast Blues quite a bit, enough so that it makes me want to search out Manchette's novels that have been translated into English. If you enjoy hardboiled crime graphic novels, you should certainly give this one a try.”
Molly Young - We Love You So
“The graphic novel, it turns out, is a form especially well-suited to the noir genre. Maybe this isn’t surprising—comics have always run the gamut of moods from goofy to autobiographical to just plain smutty. But it still gives a shiver of pleasure to stumble upon a graphic novel that captures the hardboiled tone of classic noir as perfectly as West Coast Blues, Jacques Tardi’s adaptation of a 1976 crime novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette. ... The plot includes bursts of brutality, dark realizations, alluring women and grizzled observations from its antihero—all the best conventions of noir, in other words, preserved and reborn in a fresh new medium. File it next to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.”
Patrick Markfort - Articulate Nerd
“A masterfully constructed crime story with an unlikeable protagonist caught in an unlikely circumstance, this very French graphic novel is superior to anything I've seen in the genre from an American cartoonist.”
Sean T. Collins
“As slim, smooth, and hard as its attractive, Adam Grano-designed album-style hardcover format, West Coast Blues is as strong a crime comic as you're likely to see this year... Tardi's art [is] a master class in spotted blacks and lines like garrote wire... This sucker's good.”
Christopher Allen - Comic Book Galaxy
“West Coast Blues is Fantagraphics' first offering in what one hopes will be am ambitious Tardi reprint project... It's an elegant, somewhat unorthodox set-up, at least with Tardi's narration, and indeed Tardi makes a number of creative, idiosyncratic choices in adapting the novel. ... The '70s milieu shouldn't put anyone off, and in fact that's one of the book's charms, with Tardi's clean line depicting classic old Mercedes and Citroens, and plenty of legwork and driving rather than digital assistance. Tardi has a really appealing style, clear and photorealistic in the details and yet messy with life. ... Tardi doesn't shy away from the violence of the story, but he doesn't revel in it, either, his pages all varying grids, many with tall, narrow panels that keep the pace brisk.”
Greg McElhatton - Read About Comics
“West Coast Blues is just the right mixture of action, suspense, and surprise to keep just about any reader’s attention. ... It’s hard to ignore the strength of Tardi’s art in making West Coast Blues such a strong graphic novel. ... West Coast Blues is a sharp, beautiful book. ... For people looking for a noir thriller, you’ve come to the right place.”
Sandy Bilus - I Love Rob Liefeld
“A well-crafted piece of genre entertainment. I dug it.”
Rob Clough - The Comics Journal
“It’s the first quotidian crime story that I’ve ever read, and Tardi’s commitment to the depiction of the everyday and the way nightmares crashed into daily life are what made this book work so well.”
Avril Brown - Comics Waiting Room
“[G]ets under your skin and remains impossible to resist from start to finish... Darkly amusing and undeniably entertaining, West Coast Blues keeps the mystery and interest alive by carefully doling out pieces of the story and introducing intriguing characters with loads of personality... Tardi does an excellent job of adapting what must be a massively entertaining book into a graphic novel form for all who seek a slightly different but no less thrilling mystery/adventure story to enjoy.”
Tom Spurgeon - The Comics Reporter
“West Coast Blues is a tight, economical and forceful thriller shorn of the self-consciousness that frequently comes when American comics mosey into the same territory... It's a wicked little book.”
Timothy Callahan - Comic Book Resources
“It's nice to see some Tardi, and it's especially nice to see the kind of Tardi present in West Coast Blues: nasty but just, chaotically controlled, hopeful yet hopeless. This graphic novel is a turbo-charged pace car for the likes of Vertigo Noir (which I like, as you'll recall), telling the boys to keep up if they can.... [Is] West Coast Blues an existential crime graphic novel? Maybe, but it's a very good one.”
Steven Grant - Comic Book Resources
“For unadorned genre material, nothing this year beats West Coast Blues, French wunderkind Jacques Tardi's excellent, unflinching adaptation of a brutal hardboiled crime novel by Jean-Patrick Marchette.”
Greg Burgas - Comic Book Resources
“[A] cracking good crime comic, not really noir but definitely a tale of bad people doing bad things to each other. It's also, oddly enough, very wryly humorous, in a way we don't often see in crime comics here in the States.”
Graphic Novel Reporter
“A savage noir thriller reuniting a master crime novelist and a superlative French cartoonist—the beginning of an ambitious publishing project introducing one of Europe’s most beloved cartoonists to American audiences.”
Peter Rozovsky - Detectives Beyond Borders
“Slyly funny without being jokey; thrilling without ever seeming manipulative; cool, distant and ironic in its narrative voice; immediate in its depiction of violence. What do Tardi's illustrations add? Mostly a crowded sense of daily life, an ironic, sense-sharpening departure from the dark, shadowy atmospherics that sometimes nudge noir toward mere style.”
Rick Klaw - The SF Site: Nexus Graphica
“From the opening panel until the final words, Tardi's adaptation of Manchette's crime novel sizzles with a dazzling graphic intensity... Showcasing Tardi's singular artistic talents, the brilliant West Coast Blues emerges as one of the best crime graphic novels ever produced.”
Mark London Williams - The SF Site: Nexus Graphica
“Tardi's adaptation of Machette's 'Franco-noir' novel is one of the year's best crime fiction reads, at least in comics. … Tardi's B&W art is wonderfully rendered. Another great example of 'comics for grown-ups.'”
Howard Chaykin
“West Coast Blues shows a terrific sense of pace, place, and casual violence, all related with a firm grip on a beautifully spontaneous style that reeks of utterly justified self-confidence. To put it simply, this shit kicks ass.”
Publishers Weekly
Maybe it’s because blood and brain matter look somewhat more disturbing in the chunky, primitive black and white favored by famed French cartoonist Tardi, but there’s something particularly creepy about his adaptation of the late Manchette’s crime novel that wouldn’t have been well served by color. The protagonist, George Gerfaut, is a dead-souled Parisian businessman who’s just about as irritated by his work as he is by his family. There’s little he seems to like but for booze, cigarettes and West Coast–style jazz. His foul demeanor seems to serve him in good stead, though, when he becomes an accidental witness to a murder and has to fend off a determined assault by a pair of hit men who happen to be lovers. Not only does his mood leave him with fewer compunctions about resorting to violence but it also ensures that when a bloody shootout at a gas station leaves him wounded, he’s not too broken up about not seeing his wife and children for a while. Manchette’s plot is pure pulp, with a driving engine for a plot and a Lee Marvin–like inclination toward swift and unreflective action. Tardi’s art delivers the action with admirable punch and attitude to spare. (Oct.)
Library Journal
George isn't a particularly loveable guy, but it's a Samaritan gesture in helping an accident victim that puts two hit men on his trail. Unfortunately for them, George isn't particularly predictable either, even if he's a married salesman a bit bored with comfy middle-classdom. Fond of blues albums and scotch and lulled by a charmed existence—so far, that is—he survives several attempts on his life, pays the hit men back in spades if rather messily, and then goes after their boss. All this is told in skillful, slightly untidy black and white, as befits an everyman noir thriller told in flashbacks and glimpses. Tardi is a multiple-award-winning French cartoonist, and Manchette is the author of the original 1970s crime novel. VERDICT This will appeal to fans of classic French cinema such as Goddard and Truffaut films, where all the characters have grime on their souls and nobody among the victims, killers, crime-fighters, or bystanders is anyone you'd especially like to meet. With violence plus occasional nudity and sexual content; for adult collections.—M.C.
The Barnes & Noble Review

When you're a comics fan, being monolingual stinks-especially if your mother tongue is English. The wealth of superior graphic novels derived from rich foreign traditions and available only in other languages-from Japan, Europe, Korea and elsewhere-is tantalizingly huge. Should any such exotic volume fall into his hands, the English-centric viewer can study all the pretty pictures, of course, but never grasp the totality of these works.

Every now and again, the US market sees fit to produce a graphic novel in translation, and the eyes of readers are opened to vast new worlds. Barefoot Gen or Kampung Boy hint at scores of allied books of equal worth left silent at our shores. Still, each rare visitor here should be savored for introducing us to new voices, new visions.

Fantagraphics Press has always sought to play a part in remedying this deficit in the comics marketplace, and last summer they embarked on an ambitious program to introduce one particular writer-artist to American audiences, the French creator Jacques Tardi. Their first two releases are West Coast Blues and You Are There, with It Was the War of the Trenches slated to follow in April of this year.

Because Tardi's career stretches back forty years, and because he is still active, we are assured of a steady stream of books from his pen under the Fantagraphics imprint: a prospect much to be anticipated, based on the achievement displayed in these first offerings. But as part of the opening salvo, we also get a bonus. For Tardi did not script these two books. His collaborators were the noirnovelist Jean-Patrick Manchette on West Coast Blues and Jean-Claude Forest, creator of Barbarella, on You Are There. So, lucky American readers are also granted an introduction to two French literary figures who otherwise might escape their notice.

Let's look at West Coast Blues first.

Manchette (unfortunately deceased by age fifty-two in 1995) originally issued Le Petit Bleu de la Côte Ouest as a pure prose novel in 1976. He later worked hand-in-hand with Tardi to adapt the story to graphic form. Luckily for us, an English version of the original is readily available, under the title 3 to Kill. Reading it prior to tackling the Tardi rendition is illuminating.

Manchette's brand of punk noir bears an existential, leftist tinge, with traces of Ballardian anomie. Our hero's nearly Kafkaesque dilemma undermines the bedrock rationality and core virtues of society in a kind of anarchic assault, reducing human relations to a Darwinian struggle. But at the same time, Manchette never neglects the virtues of pulp storytelling, providing suspense and action aplenty. This is a novel in love with classic American noir, explicitly referencing such landmarks as Sam Fuller's Pickup on South Street as touchstones.

Georges Gerfaut, a bored, restless businessman with a seemingly ideal life, performs a simple act of Good Samaritanism by succoring the victim of a car crash. The next thing he knows, pitiless contract killers are inexplicably assigned to waste him. He avoids their first attempt during a family vacation by luck and resourcefulness. But instead of confiding in his wife or the police, he uses the threat as an excuse to abandon his family, plunging into a rootless, Camusinian existence of violence and moments of surprising grace. This intermittent cat-and-mouse game lasts for nearly a year, during which Gerfaut is deemed missing forever by all his loved ones and undergoes a kind of psychic and physical annealing. Finally achieving a harsh victory over his tormentors, he simply shows up on his family's Paris doorstep, claiming either faked or actual amnesia-Manchette never reveals which. Ultimately, "there is no way of saying exactly how things will turn out for Georges Gerfaut."

Manchette's sardonic, blackly humorous voice, heavy with mocking scientific precision like some Dr. Benway, contours the whole telling, and the reader immediately wonders how this appealing viewpoint will survive the transition to comics form.

Opening Tardi's adaptation, one is quickly reassured by the faithfulness to the original novel. Unafraid to rely heavily on omniscient captions-a mode rather in disrepute these days among American comics creators-the story instantly replicates the tone and heft of the original, with Manchette employing the novel's exact prose in measured doses. He will eschew the omniscient narration during crucial action scenes, where dialogue and art are sufficient to convey the story. But much of the strength of the tale resides in these floating boxes.

Tardi seems to have read Manchette's mind when it came to visualizing the characters, scenery and action of the novel. His renderings of faces, places and events conforms brilliantly to Manchette's descriptions. However, there are instances where even Tardi's superb skills cannot trump Manchette's prose. Consider the first appearance of Béa, Gerfaut's wife, in the comic: rather drab and lackluster. Now, from the novel: "Béa was . . . a superb and horrible mare of a woman: big-boned and elegant; with big green eyes; thick, healthy, long black hair; big, hard white breasts; wide, round white shoulders; a big hard creamy ass; a big, hard white belly; and long, muscular thighs." Hands down, the colorful winner!

At only eighty pages, the graphic novel encapsulates ninety percent of the 134-page novel, with a couple of omissions, such as the useful view of Gerfaut's office life. There are one or two tricks the story pulls that the novel does not and possibly cannot, such as when a superhero beloved by one of the killers manifests over the killer's shoulder at an emotional juncture. The graphic novel mysteriously falters in a couple of places, simplifying the deaths of the second killer and of Gerfaut's lover in a manner that diminishes their horror and impact. But overall, it provides a highly satisfying incarnation of the novel.

But what, you ask, of Tardi's art? He is a follower of the "clear line" school developed by Hergé, Tintin's creator. This style might almost be dubbed "journalistic," in that mimesis and naturalism is favored over expressionism, with uncluttered and effective page compositions as well. Not that Tardi's unique drawing style is not instantly recognizable or idiosyncratic. His depictions of facial expressions in particular are quirky and wry. But his superior drafting skills are always in service to a tight rendering of the real world, from trains to forests to city streets.

Curiously enough, this style has never been much in vogue in the USA. A few affinities exist in the work of Will Eisner, Milt Caniff, Alex Raymond or other adventure-strip artists. Perhaps EC comics auteur Bernie Krigstein or DC comics standout Alex Toth are the closest American exemplars of Tardi's mode. Curiously enough, the recent Darwyn Cooke adaptation of Donald Westlake's Parker: The Hunter provides an intriguing point of comparison: a more cartoony version of clear line, American-style.

Turning to Tardi 's earlier work, You Are There, scripted by Forest (like Manchette, lamentably dead too young, aged 58 in 1998), we encounter a looser, sketchier style, admirably suited to the baggy-pants, fabulistic story and exhibiting similarities to the work of such artists as Moebius, Rick Geary, Aubrey Beardsley and Edward Gorey. Outburst of calculated surrealism complement his unswerving attention to the quotidian. The beautiful and sensitive architectural renderings, as well as shots of nature-fields, a lake, birds, trees-contrast with the goofiness of our protagonist to good effect. The same serene page compositions, no single panel bigger than half a page, continue to contribute to a transparent storytelling methodology.

Forest's 1979 tale exudes a fin de Sixties, fey whimsicality. Think The Mouse That Roared crossed with Gormenghast and The Prisoner. Beckett-like soliloquies and Pinteresque dialogue round out the ambiance.

A small patch of France known as Mornemont, or "The Land Within," is structured as a series of estates bounded and subdivided by a labyrinth of walls. Atop these walls, and only atop these walls, forbidden to set foot on earth, lives Arthur There, as both warden and inmate. His family once owned all of Mornemont, and he has a legal suit underway to reassert his rights. Meanwhile, the courts have given him the walls as his exclusive domain. He utilizes a system of locked gates to hinder the residents and earn his living, granting passage for a fee. That this annoying role requires the utmost excruciations from him pales beside the pleasure he gets in frustrating the usurpers. He lives in a walltop shed, utilizing a walltop outhouse and adjacent lake for ablutions. A passing aquatic grocer supplies his other needs.

Arthur's life undergoes a major seachange when he begins a relationship with a nymphomaniacal woman named Julie Maillard. But the most consequential development is occuring at a distance: in the capital, the government has plans for Mornemont, and the troopships are loading . . .

Forest's script provides clever segues between Mornemont and the capital. But the governmental subplot is a tad heavyhanded, and much less interesting than Arthur's daily life. Luckily, Forest realized that, and the majority of the tale focuses satisfyingly on the sad Mr. There. His life is the paradigm of senseless, spiteful self-immolation, an indictment of modern deracination. His lugubriousness infests the whole novel. I do not believe there is a single smile portrayed in the entire story. In fact, Julie's deadpan face, even in moments of exuberance, becomes something of a running joke, and we are reminded of Barbarella's unfazeability amidst the most alarming circumstances.

But there is no such stolidity in Jacques Tardi's larger art, gifted as it is with a facile line that can replicate both reality and the outre products of a writer's imagination. More vitally, these two volumes testify to his born storyteller's flair for pacing and plotting, a trait that most graphic novel artists would give their entire walled kingdoms to possess.

--Essay by Paul Di Filippo

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781606992951
  • Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
  • Publication date: 10/20/2009
  • Pages: 80
  • Sales rank: 746,180
  • Product dimensions: 7.60 (w) x 10.60 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

The Marseilles-born Jean-Patrick Manchette (1942-1995) authored ten short, tough-minded, highly acclaimed crime novels, as well as a multitude of other books, screen- and teleplays, magazine columns, and translations of American crime and science fiction novels. A lifelong comics fan, he also wrote the hardboiled graphic novel Griffu for Jacques Tardi in 1978, and in the late 1980s, was selected to translate the French edition of Watchmen.

With over 30 graphic novels under his belt (a half-dozen of which have been translated into English), Jacques Tardi is considered the leading European cartoonist of the generation that came of age in the 1970s. His books published in America by Fantagraphics include West Coast Blues, You are There, It Was the War of the Trenches, and The Arctic Marauder. He lives in Paris with his wife, the singer Dominique Grange, and their cats.

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