Bonjour mesdames et messieurs! Une tasse de thé sans lait, veuillez. Beaucoup merde! Or for those who lack the class I has, and thus do not speak the language of The French: This week John read a graphic novel by Jacques Tardi, who is not Jacques Tati but who is French. Luckily someone had the foresight to translate the book into The Beautiful Tongue or else this would have been a bit of a nonstarter. You know, what with John being an enormous monolingual xenophobe and all. RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL (Tardi, Manchette)
RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL Adapted by Jacques Tardi Translated by Doug Headline Based on the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette Fantagraphics, $19.99,H/B, B&W (2015)
RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL is a comics adaptation by Jacques Tardi of the 1972 French crime novel "Ô Dingos! Ô Châteaux!" by Jean-Patrick Manchette. Manchette (1942-1995) himself was a bit of a fan of the, how you say, comics and translated Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore’s WATCHMEN for the French market. I haven’t read the original novel, so how this book works as an adaptation is a question for people who take writing about comics a lot more seriously than I do. As a graphic novel, however, I am able to tell you that RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL works excellently. But then it would, since it’s by Jacques Tardi. Tardi is an acknowledged master of the comics form with his deceptively loose style able to encompass various genres with equal aplomb. Yeah, I know, I know, a French artist and blah, blah, blah, aren’t I just special for reading foreign comics and, well, it’s all starting to feel a bit like homework, right? Relax. All you need to know is that this is a balls to the wall neo-noir chase caper with more violence and surprises than when your family gets drunk at Christmas. Or as Howard Victor Chaykin says on the back cover, “To put it simply, this shit kicks ass.” He may have a mouth like a sailor but the man does know his comics.
The premise is simple: Ex-architect Michael Hartog is a philanthropic moneybags whose benevolence is fuelled by guilt over the fact that his current wealth resulted from the tragic deaths of his brother and his wife, and Hartog’s consequent guardianship of their behaviourally troubled son. In line with his charitable tendency to employ the damaged and neglected, Hartog hires a woman, Julie, from an asylum to care for the child, Peter. Swiftly targeted by a bunch of reprobates led by the ailment plagued assassin, Thompson, the less than stable duo are kidnapped. Basically, like my Dad says, no violent kidnapping plan ever survives first contact with a mentally troubled woman and her emotionally wayward ward. Hijinks découlent.
The cast are all distinctively portrayed by Tardi as individuals, but they all share various levels of facial bloat and sag which lends the art a cartoony amiability which alternately enhances or ameliorates the morally wayward proceedings. (There’s an inadvertent extra level of comical dissonance for British readers as the kid, Peter, with his unruly hair, saucer face and air of detached entitlement resembles a pint-sized version of the malignantly calculating Tory blight, Boris Johnson.)
Things get pretty wayward indeed, and as if to prepare the reader RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL opens with the slaying of a pederast which is both matter-of-factly presented and narrated with an apparently eerie detachment, but one which is undercut by an unsavoury eye for detail. All the narrative text is similarly lean and constantly belies its apparent neutrality via applying its callously clipped tone regardless of the emotional content of the scene. I guess this is carried across from Manchette’s source novel , but the fact it works in English is due to Doug Headline's translation. It’s the kind of writing that looks easy but isn’t, and if it goes awry even a talent like, say, Sean Phillips' wonderfully ruckled shirts won’t stave off ennui for long. The dialogue is similarly unadorned with an absence of the showboating monologue which tarnishes so much crime fiction. Although we never do discover anyone's favourite Alan Ladd movie or which pizza topping they prefer, the funky verve of Tardi's art manages to soften the blow. Sometimes events reach such a hectic pitch that language fails completely and all that’s left is a wildly expressive exclamation, strikingly depicted by Tardi as a kind of wobbly “A”.
With its familiar crime premise it would be easy to mistake RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL for yet another hacky trek through Homage Town (twinned with Lazyville). Thankfully it’s nothing of the kind. Not only is the setting (France) a nice change of pace, but it’s surprising how much Tardi gets out of depicting everyday normality. Tardi’s use of pure scribbles to denote reflections, moustaches and shadows is just amazing; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any comic artist achieve so much with so little. The mundane made magical is a neat trick but Tardi goes one better by subtly upping the weirdness quotient as the book progresses. Sometimes it's isolated but repeated imagery, such as when our vicious Brit repeatedly folds at the waist to emit a viscous sheet of vomit. Or it’s the showpiece set-to in the supermarket which degenerates into absurd violence and potentially deadly slapstick as consumer durables are set aflame by our resourceful Scary Poppins, and then brought into play as weaponry. While the scene ends in fiery farce, with a scorched reprobate fleeing sans trousers, Tardi (& Manchette) quickly pop their brass knuckles back on and slap the smile off your face with a brutally one sided street slaughter. And even here Tardi manages to somehow soften into something lightly comical the catastrophic failure of the structural integrity of a human head in the blast of a shotgun. This is a book that keeps fiercely lunging into absurdity, but is restrained from topppling over the edge by Tardi's quirky realism.
Hollywood will probably adapt RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL with Sandra Bullock (in a late career-rescuing Troubled But Capable Lady role) being pursued by Tom Hanks (in an Against Type Older Male role) and with a CGI child (motion captured by Andy Serkis) but some things are just better on paper. Particularly if that paper has ink slapped on it by the mighty Jacques Tardi. VERY GOOD!
Apres moi, Les – COMICS!!!