World War I, that awful, gaping wound in the history of Europe, has long been an obsession of Jacques Tardi’s. (His very first — rejected — comics story dealt with the subject, as does his most recent work, the two-volume Putain de Guerre.) But It Was the War of the trenches is Tardi’s defining, masterful statement on the subject, a graphic novel that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.
Tardi is not interested in the national politics, the strategies, or the battles. Like Remarque, he focuses on the day to day of the grunts in the trenches, and, with icy, controlled fury and disgust, with sardonic yet deeply sympathetic narration, he brings that existence alive as no one has before or since. Yet he also delves deeply into the underlying causes of the war, the madness, the cynical political exploitation of patriotism. And in a final, heartbreaking coda, Tardi grimly itemizes the ghastly human cost of the war, and lays out the future 20th century conflicts, all of which seem to spring from this global burst of insanity.
Trenches features some of Tardi’s most stunning artwork. Rendered in an inhabitually lush illustrative style, inspired both by abundant photographic documentation and classic American war comics, augmented by a sophisticated, gorgeous use of Craftint tones, Trenches is somehow simultaneously atypical and a perfect encapsulation of Tardi’s mature style. It is the indisputable centerpiece of Tardi’s oeuvre.
It Was the War of the Trenches has been an object of fascination for North American publishers: RAW published a chapter in the early 1980s, and Drawn and Quarterly magazine serialized a few more in the 1990s. But only a small fraction of Trenches has ever been made available to the English speaking public (in now out of print publications); the Fantagraphics edition, the third in an ongoing collection of the works of this great master, finally remedies this situation.
“‘The war to end all wars’ has become a magisterial comic book to end all comic books. I seldom give blurbs, but this book is an essential classic. Among all of Jacques Tardi's towering achievements as a comics artist, nothing looms larger than this devastating crater of a work. It’s a compulsively readable wail of Existential despair, a kaleidoscope of war’s dehumanizing brutality and of Everyman’s suffering, as well as a deadpan masterpiece of the darkest black humor. The richly composed and obsessively researched drawings — perfectly poised between cartoon and illustration — march to the relentless beats of Tardi’s three horizontal panels per page to dig a hole deep inside your brain. This is one Hell of a book.” —Art Spiegelman
"Tardi’s depiction of the First World War is so impassioned and visceral that it can be compared to the work of the artists who actually served in the trenches." – Joe Sacco
• List: Rob Clough's Top 100 Comics of the '00s Part Two (of Two) at The Comics Journal is chock full o' Fantagraphics
• Review: "Fantagraphics' panties-to-the-floor handsome English-language version [of Ici Même], You Are There , may blow its own share of minds some three decades after the work's initial publication. Most modern comics readers are not used to material that functions and frustrates this way. It's great work, though, well worth any effort extended in its direction. I think the key is to take the book for what it is: the kind of general satire where the beauty isn't in watching one specific thing dissected but rather several ideas and concepts collide into another in a way that makes for loud noises and then a satisfying pile of rubble. It's a lost episode of Ripping Yarns in comics form by two in-their-prime masters, the French turned up to dix." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
• Review: "...[A]t some point in the years between the release of Schizo #3 and #4, Brunetti matured into one of our best living cartoonists, an artist with an absolutely impeccable understanding of the craft and construction of comic strips. His timing is perfect; his lines are perfect; it doesn't feel stifling or over-thought or too precious. His strips breathe and choke and swoon in all the right places." – Tim O'Neil, "The Ten Best Comics of the Aughts," The Hurting
• Plug: Jill Pantozzi of SF Weekly's Heartless Doll blog recommends Castle Waiting Vol. 1 to Twilight fans: "Anyone who thinks damsels are meant to be in distress hasn't visited the right castle. Bella and Edward may live happily ever after, staring into each other's eyes for all eternity, but what happens to everyone else in the story once theirs ends? Castle Waiting is a look at all the minor players in the tale of Sleeping Beauty and some you've probably never heard of (the bearded nun, perhaps?) following her exit with Prince Charming. It's a smart, humorous story about strong women helping others and daily life at a castle that was meant for more than just love stories." (via Robot 6)
A bit late with the Online Commentary & Diversions today due to being a touch under the weather:
• Review: "OK, [Gahan Wilson: Fifty Years of Playboy Cartoons] is very expensive, but Wilson's a lot cheaper than Zoloft. Some people fly their inner freak flags as a sign of liberation. This strange dude isn't sure there's another type of flag out there. In his world, there's always something over the horizon ready to eat you, blow you up or turn you into a homicidal maniac. Sounds a lot like life." – Laurel Maury, San Francisco Chronicle
• Review: "...[An] exemplary republishing of Wilson’s Playboy cartoons... One of the many nice features of the new Fantagraphics book is that it is chronological and dated, so we can see Wilson responding to the changing social and political landscapes. ... As a physical object Gahan Wilson: Fifty Years of Playboy Cartoons cannot be praised highly enough. ...[L]ooking at Wilson’s work at length, eating it up with my eyes, I came to love his work. He is, in fact, a master. ...[F]or all their morbidity and ghoulishness, Wilson’s cartoons affirm the value of cherishing life. As inhuman as his characters often are, Wilson is a deeply humane cartoonist." – Jeet Heer, Comics Comics
• Review: "Published soon after the conflict that it documents, Safe Area Goradze is an intense reading experience and an active call for the condemnation of tribal and international leaders who put politics ahead of humanity." – Suzette Chan, Sequential Tart
• Review: "There’s a remarkably spare and lean quality to the plot and characterization cooked up by Jean-Patrick Manchette’s West Coast Blues. ... It’s a story that’s both grim and strangely detached (or at least restrained), eschewing the sort of cliches that an American might expect from a crime story. ... If the text felt a bit detached, then Jacques Tardi added muscle, bone and fat to it with his delightfully chunky line. ... 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." – Rob Clough, The Comics Journal (warning: spoilers)
• Feature:Comic Book Resources' Brian Cronin spotlights Michael Kupperman's Tales Designed to Thrizzle as part of "A Year of Cool Comics": "Tales Designed to Thrizzle is one of those books where you might really need to see it to believe it. Michael Kupperman delivers thirty-odd pages of the most delightfully absurd ideas that you can imagine, to the point where I don't know if simply describing the comic would do it justice... I, for one, think it's one of the very best comics currently made."
• Interview:Graphic Novel Reporter's John Hogan has a Q&A about Sublife with John Pham: "I hope to have established a sort of model for the upcoming issues with Volumes 1 and 2. So basically, continuing serializations of either Sycamore St. or Deep Space, accompanied by various, shorter strips where I can experiment and joke around."
A quick Online Commentary & Diversions update to close out the week:
• List:Popmatters names Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box one of The Best of Books 2009: Non-Fiction: "This awesome picture book... [is] filled with a delightfully odd array of vintage video covers... VHS cassettes may be treated like toxic waste in the age of the Blu-ray, but Portable Grindhouse offers that micro minority who still remain faithful to their trusty VCR a long overdue reprieve." – Ronald Hart
• Review: "Half the fun of [The Troublemakers] is trying to figure out just who is getting conned the worst? I zipped through this fun read, filled with backstabbing, double-crosses, and the spectacular art of Gilbert Hernandez. There is enough sex, violence, and treachery for any fan of pulp fiction. ... This offshoot of the Love and Rockets series is too much fun to miss." – Joseph Jay Franco, Bookrastination
• Plug: The Geeks of Doom flip through January's issue of Previews: "The next item I’ll definitely be picking up is It Was the War in the Trenches [by Jacques Tardi] from Fantagraphics. You know how I said before that I’m a fan of military history; well this book will scratch that same itch. This book takes a look at World War I from the eyes of the soldiers in the trenches. I’m very excited to read this one."
• Review: "Imagine then what yesterday — or today's — right wingers would say about The Great Anti-War Cartoons... Sadly... what these cartoons have made us 'see' is how little things have changed 'round the planet, or within our species. ... And while being the spark for various brilliant cartoons over the decades doesn't justify the institutional addiction to war (or its always-looming threat), these cartoons can at least provide some solace. Or good fallout shelter reading." – Mark London Williams, The SF Site: Nexus Graphica
• Review: "Jaime Hernandez’s side of the Love and Rockets anthology may have started in a world of futuristic fantasy, but [The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S.] is the volume where he finds his feet and hits a groove. ... Jaime’s illustration is beautiful and effortless. His characters mix a near perfect clear-line style with cartoonish expression, used with particular aplomb when emotions are running high. It’s a masterclass in comic illustration." – Grovel
• Plug:Library Journal features May 2010's Artichoke Tales by Megan Kelso in their inaugural Graphic Novels Prepub Alert: "A coming-of-age story about a young girl from a family caught between sides in a civil war, set in a world similar to ours but where people have artichoke leaves instead of hair. ... Its delicate, rather impish black-and-white line work comes from the creator of the subtle and poignant Squirrel Mother."
The Luc Besson adaptation of Jacques Tardi's ADELE BLANC-SEC movie, due this Spring, now has a teaser trailer which can be seen here:
No shots of Adele herself yet, but the bearded fellow in the final scene is Armand Fallières, whose name Jeopardy! champions (paging Ken Jennings!) will shout out, preceded with "Who is...?" — if the clue is "President of France from 1906-1913." Encouragingly, the scene is taken straight from the book. Will this be a movie adaptation of a classic comic that remains totally faithful to the original, without COUGH*Watchmen*COUGH embalming it?
I'm sure everyone is now thinking, "Gee, with that ADELE movie coming out, wouldn't this be a great time to re-release those ADELE books that Dark Horse and NBM released the first few volumes of back in the last century, although preferably with spiffed-up lettering and a brilliant new translation, in time to enjoy some of that movie P.R.?"
• Review: "I opened [West Coast Blues], got sucked in and blew through it in one sitting. Then I went back a few weeks later, in preparation for this review, and re-read it. I found that I liked it even better the second time around, as I was able to spend a little more time with it and take in the subtleties of the work. I suspect I will read it again soon and I would definitely recommend it. Fans of great artwork and crime stories should give this book a shot." – Chad Derdowski, Mania
• Review: "Now, as a teacher and father, I see that Schulz' reflections on childhood were more accurate than I could have understood from a younger perspective. Some characters I either didn't like or didn't understand when I was a kid are much more sympathetic now, and I still love Schulz' clean cartooning style. ... The most recent [Complete Peanuts] release covers the years 1973 and 1974, which are good years for Peanuts." – Quinn Rollins, Epinions.com
• List: Sandy Bilus of I Love Rob Liefeld names Ganges #3 by Kevin Huizenga #7 on his top 10 Best Comics of 2009: "Huizenga's comics are just really enjoyable to read. The full page image of Glenn inside his own head is really something else."
• List: Our own Eric Reynolds (and some other small press folks) tells The Morning News's Robert Birnbaum 4 books he wishes we'd published last year
• List: On Random House's Suvudu blog, Dallas Middaugh selects 2008's Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw as #3 on the Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2009: "This book came from out of nowhere to great critical acclaim, and it pushed young Mr. Shaw in the spotlight as one of the most exciting new cartoonists in the field. ... This haunting story of a dysfunctional family twists and turns and stuck with me long after I read it."
• List: At Comic Book Galaxy, Marc Sobel counts down "The 15 Best Back Issues I Read Last Year," including Birdland by Gilbert Hernandez ("vastly underappreciated") and the entire run of Hate by Peter Bagge ("This series gets better with age")
• Review: "Dreams are probably the second most popular subject for autobiographical comics, however distantly they lag behind the events of waking life. But no one, to my knowledge, has attempted to create comics arising from the hypnagogic netherworld that lies between the sleeping and the wakeful states. Until now. Or maybe not. It’s hard to say precisely, which is what gives Kevin Huizenga’s Ganges #3 so much of its unique charm." – Rich Kreiner, The Comics Journal
• Review: "What the hell is going on here? What is this book, anyway? ...[Pim and Francie] is like the inexplicable artifact of a deranged mind... Columbia has a flair for the grotesque, which, when mixed with such cute cartooniness reminiscent of old-school Disney, makes for an especially creepy juxtaposition. ... It's a cascade of horror, page after page of mostly-unfinished nastiness, enough to stick in the mind and cause nightmares for weeks." – Matthew J. Brady
• Review: "At long last, a handsome, two-volume, slipcased set [of Humbug] brings back into print a pivotal, neglected portion of the oeuvre of Harvey Kurtzman and that of a cadre of gifted pranksters bent on smart satire." – Rich Kreiner, The Comics Journal
• Review: "With a new exhibition currently on view at Tony Shafrazi Gallery in Chelsea and his remarkable inclusion in the 2010 Whitney Biennial, Robert Williams seems more than ever the most likely candidate to represent the ways that late decadent American culture will be remembered by history. ... This is a late career artist at the top of his game, a shamefully overdue entry into still meaningful discourse of what art can be when it refuses to play by the rules, a monster of the imagination whose time has finally come." – Carlo McCormick, artnet
• Review: "Portable Grindhouse celebrates the sleazy kick of killing time in a slightly crappy video rental store, minus the inevitable arguments about what to rent or the possibility of your VCR eating the tape." – Dave Howlett, Living Between Wednesdays
• Plug:Robot 6's Chris Mautner is reading his stack of Comics Journal back issues "starting with #291, which features interviews with Tim Sale and Josh Simmons, as well as a great critical thinkpiece by Gary Groth on Ralph Steadman and Hunter S. Thompson. That alone was worth the cover price."
• Plugs: Some fun and appreciated name-drops from Tom Neely and Charles Bernstein in the 5th part of The Beat's year-end survey of comics pros
• Plug/Coming Attractions:Comic Book Resources' Greg Burgas comments on the January issue of Previews (our listings from which can be seen here): "Jacques Tardi's It Was the War of the Trenches, from Fantagraphics on page 256, sounds keen. It's a World War I book, so I'm sure it will be utterly depressing, but it still sounds worthwhile!"
• Interview: The final part of Brian Heater's interview with C. Tyler at The Daily Cross Hatch: "To me, it’s underground, and there’s other people who think, 'no way, it’s Mad Magazine.' Everyone has their place where it starts. There’s people now who say, 'Kramer’s Ergot is when it started for me.' Everyone has their place when they jumped off the diving board, into the pool of comics. The fact is, it’s continual."
• Profile: Gurldoggie takes a quick look at Joe Sacco in advance of his appearance in Seattle this week
• Events: The Covered blog celebrates its 1st anniversary and announces an art show at Secret Headquarters in L.A. in March