[In in the return of our Editors Notes series, Kim Thompson interviews himself (in a format he's dubbed "AutoChat") about New York Mon Amour by Jacques Tardi , now available to order from us and at a comics shop near you. – Ed.]
This is going to be a particularly discursive and rambling one, so reader, be forewarned. I don’t want to see any complainin’ in the comments section about how self-indulgent this is; you’re being told that going in. That said…
Okay, so… New York Mon Amour. This is what, your eighth? Ninth Tardi book?
I’ve reached the point where I have to go back to our website and count them off myself to keep track. Eighth. A Fellini-esque 8½ if you count the Fatale giveaway.
You’re cranking them out — eight in two and a half years. Why the hurry?
Because I’m afraid someone will catch on and stop me? No, it’s just that these are some of my very favorite comics, and I think it’s disgraceful that it’s taken this long for them to be released in English — so I’m making up for lost time.
And, to be honest, they’ve been selling unexpectedly well. I went into this Tardi venture with a samurai assume-you’re-dead-when-going-into-battle mindset figuring we could publish a handful before dire sales drove us into the ground, but on the contrary, we’re into second printings of four of our first five — in some cases third — and they’ve gone over great. So why not?
Also, Tardi works in so many different genres that even with two or three books a year, you don’t really repeat the way you would if you published many other authors. I can switch from his crime mode to his serious WWI mode to his Adèle stuff…
This book, or at least most of it, has already been released in English in one form or another. Why pick this one?
Well, with the exception of one short story which is buried in a huge British-published crime anthology, all of it’s been out of print for a while. And I had some problems with the way "Tueur de cafards" had been presented in the NBM title, including the reproduction and the lettering…
Yes, the new edition is noticeably better.
I don’t want to rag on the NBM version because the digital revolution has helped us so much in the intervening years. Our printing is far cleaner because we had first-generation digital files rather than second- or third-generation negatives or Photostats, and being able to use fonts instead of hand lettering, especially with Tardi’s eccentric caption design, is so much easier. So I am being helped by that. But I’d like to think that we added our own skills to the mix in addition to just surfing on those advances.
You even changed the title, from “Roach Killer” to “Cockroach Killer”…
I always hated the Dark Horse/NBM title, “Roach Killer.” As Tony Montana reminded us, “Cockroach” is such a great word, with its hard “k” sounds, and the BAM-bam BAM-bam rhythm of the whole title; I never understood why they opted for what they did. It always, uh, bugged me. Apparently Art Spiegelman didn’t either, because when he wrote the introduction for the NBM book version he automatically used the title “Cockroach Killer” (and that’s how they printed it in the book).
Did you go back to the earlier English translations?
Yes and no, mostly no. For “(Cock)roach Killer,” I remember thinking the original translator just hadn’t quite nailed the gritty conversational urban tone of the work, and I take some pride in my way around unbridled profanity, so I did that from scratch. “Hung’s Murderer” was short enough that I figured it was just as easy for me to do it rather than to fiddle around getting the rights…
What about “Manhattan,” which was printed in RAW?
Well, it’s fucking RAW. Spiegelman and Mouly knew their shit. I went over the RAW translation and I didn’t think it could be improved upon, at all; I just asked Art if I could use it and he said “Sure.” (Just as with the Joost Swarte strips for his book.) I think I changed one word, literally. And even though the original lettering was excellent, I re-lettered it using our Tardi font just for the sake of consistency throughout the book.
One interesting thing: There was one caption in the RAW version that’s not in the new version. It wasn’t in the new French version’s files I was working on and I emailed Casterman wondering if they’d left it off by accident, and no, Tardi had decided upon reflection that it was superfluous and eliminated it. So there you go.
Whose idea was it to combine “Killer” with the three other New York based stories for this book?
Apparently everyone’s. I had figured out I wanted to add “Manhattan” and “Hung’s Killer” to the book and was going to propose it to his publisher, Casterman, and then they beat me to the punch and put out exactly the book I had envisioned, throwing in a fourth story I was not familiar with, the John Lennon one. They even got a new cover out of Tardi for it. So it was pretty much kismet.
The Casterman book had some text pieces which you didn’t use…
They were too much “a European explaining the U.S. to other Europeans,” and they had too much of that French… impressionistic approach to essays that doesn’t travel real well, at least to my mind. There was this book by Bernard-Henri Lévy a few years ago that purported to explain America, and I’m sure it read fine in French but by the time it made it over here… Well, I didn’t read it, but I remember Garrison Keillor stomping all over it with hob-nailed boots, hilariously. Tardi’s book just seemed better off without them.
The fact is, there are some oddities in fact and tone in the comics stories themselves that… I wouldn’t say betray it, but reveal it as very much a book about the U.S. by someone who’s not an American. Even the premise of the lead story…
You mean the assertion that there are no 13th floors in New York buildings?
Exactly. It’s one of those urban (literally) myths that Tardi took off and ran with, but any New Yorker will go “What the…?” And the conspiracy-thriller ideas and urban-hell vision are clearly formed more by American movies rather than anything else. It just doesn’t have the authoritative ring of authenticity that Tardi’s books set in Europe do.
I talked to Spiegelman about the book when we were preparing it; as a New Yorker he is much more sensitive to those oddities, and he felt it needed to be put in context as one of those interesting works about America by non-Americans whose “errors” have to be accepted — acknowledged, but accepted. The example Art used was Kafka’s Amerika, with its scene of a ship sailing into New York harbor, with the Statue of Liberty brandishing her trademark, uh, sword… I like to think of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, too, which is set in the most densely packed city in the Western world, and Leone’s own widescreen visual quirks led him to show all these enormous, broad avenues and Manhattan grocery stores that are the size of skating rinks. (Not that it isn’t a totally awesome movie.)
But Tardi’s visual research is so impeccable — as one can tell, he traveled to New York and did so much photo research that he was able to use the photos as backgrounds for the epilogue to the story without missing a beat — that I think he ultimately pulls it off. It’s not one of my very favorite of Tardi’s books, but as with all the books I translate I grew to appreciate it much more as I worked on it. (The Arctic Marauder went from one of my least favorites to one of my favorites.) And it was fun to take French dialogue in an American setting and translate it into its “real” language, it’s almost like this is the original version and the French one is a translation. I get that effect with some of the Jason stories set in the U.S., too.
The black-and-red “Schindler’s List little girl with the red dress” technique is pretty unique.
Don’t say that, Tardi hates Schindler’s List. He did a hilarious drawing about it for a movie column written by a friend of his I should show here that kind of says it all:
Don’t forget, Schindler’s List was released the same year as Jurassic Park. American critics found this admirable; European critics found it dismally revelatory.
Anyway, Tardi had some bad experiences with color early in his career, both in terms of reproduction and having to hand off coloring to another colorist because of time constraints, and for most of the 1980s and early 1990s he really avoided it (except for the contractually-mandated Adèle books). But he always liked going beyond pure linework and experimenting with tones, including Craftint…
Like in “Hung’s Murderer.”
Exactly. He’s never done a whole book with that, but he played around with it for an alternate version of the ill-fated Fatale, too. I remember reading about him asking friends who traveled to America to see if they could find Roy Crane strips to bring back to him to study. He’d also used Letratone sheets for It Was the War of the Trenches (in the upcoming interview I did with him for the Journal he told me he loved the sensual aspect of cutting up and scratching away at those sheets) and had been using photographically-shot overlays for his Nestor Burma books. Recently, including in his upcoming book, he’s used digital tones. Add in the wild scratchboard effects for The Arctic Marauder and Tardi has messed around with pretty much every way of producing tones except maybe gray washes — and so much of Goddamn This War!, even though technically in color, falls into the monochrome that that could qualify.
Who is Benjamin Legrand, who wrote "Cockroach Killer"?
He’s a writer buddy of Tardi’s, a crime writer and translator. (Tom Wolfe and Robert Ludlum, among others.) To be honest I know as much about him as anyone who can consult Wikipedia. From what I understand "Cockroach Killer" was Tardi’s concept and Legrand came in to execute it. Last year Legrand was hired to write the novelization of Besson’s Adèle Blanc-Sec movie, which I assume was Tardi going, “Well, if such a thing must be done, might as well give it to my pal, and he’ll do a good job.” As a footnote, Legrand wrote the new Druillet book Delirius II (after the writer of the original Delirius died). He also co-wrote the screenplay for Le Monde Truqué, the feature-length animated film Tardi designed that we mentioned a few weeks ago, and for a more tenuous Tardi connection, worked on the French Nestor Burma TV series. So he seems to be part of the comics orbit and Tardi’s specifically.
What’s next for Tardi at Fantagraphics? Still cranking?
Oh, yes. Well, of course there is the 28,000-word interview I did with him that’s going in the next Comics Journal. But yeah, we’re already in production on the ninth book, which will be Goddamn This War! (sort of a sequel to War of the Trenches) and we’ve announced the tenth, his third Manchette adaptation, for early 2013. Then we need to do Adieu Brindavoine, his first solo graphic album from 40 years, because it’s part of the Adèle continuity and we have to release it before the third Adèle. By then we’ll have published… maybe half of his comics oeuvre? And he’s still producing. His next graphic novel is over 300 pages long, slated for completion next year, and might very well turn out to be his masterpiece. See the Journal interview for details!
So I could easily plot out the next five years or ten Tardi books on a napkin right now. No rest for the weary!