Saturday, January 26, 2013

Blogathon 08: West Coast Blues by Jacques Tardi (Part 1)

I didn't really like West Coast Blues by Jacques Tardi and that made me dread this part of the Blogathon. Ales Kot gave me a few topics and I picked this one because I remembered hearing good things about Tardi and this book in particular. Seemed like a good excuse to buy and read it. I read it the other night and... yeah... I didn't really like it.

I didn't hate it either. Let's be clear on that. It just sort of left me cold. I liked the art. The way that Tardi begins and ends the book with the same sequence of panels reversed was wonderful. A masterful demonstration of what the sequential part of sequential storytelling means. How arranging panels in a specific order can produce a different meaning. How a familiarity with images transforms how you interpret them when you see them again. How much the narration can impact you view of the images. That alone was worthwhile for me.

Between those two sequences, the biggest change was from anticipation to disappointment. That potential of a new work, one highly recommended, to having experienced it and it not touching you the way it has touched them. As I wrote half an hour ago, I had to wonder if it was me somehow. What was I not getting? (Hopefully, Ales explains that in 30 minutes...)

I found the storytelling very abrupt and fragmented. Very start and stop with narration that was lacking something. Maybe it reads better in French. Maybe that's the fault of Jean-Patrick Manchette who wrote that novel that Tardi is adapting. That this is an adaptation of a prose work into comics certainly has some impact on the pacing. The rushed nature comes from compression, of trying to fit a novel into 75 pages of comics. I don't know if you can do that and not have it feel rushed somehow.

That pacing felt at odds with the story and the mood it was going for -- at least in those opening and closing pages. It began and ended in a relaxed manner. But, the rest of the work takes little time to relax or linger and that was offputting. It didn't feel right somehow. So much happens so quickly that there's a sense that it isn't right. The way that Gerfaut reacts after the attempt on his life is shown too quickly.

Or is it? Maybe that was the point. Noir often switches between relaxed and breakneck... and Tardi never slows up. It's all immediate in pacing, contrasted with hyper-detailed narration. The narration is all about telling us things that don't seem to matter (small details) as the story pushes forward as quickly as possible. It's unsettling and not entirely pleasing, I don't think. It shouldn't be -- the entire story is an unsettling one. Gerfault helps a man and is put on a path where he may die, has to abandon his family, and becomes someone else for a period... it's unsettling! It's a giant break from the norm and it should read as uncomfortable.

I understand all of that. Yet, I don't particularly like this work. And I feel like I have let Ales down (even though I shouldn't). But, I also haven't read what he has to say about the work. That's coming in 30 minutes.

As well, Ales has an offer up on his Tumblr for anyone who's donating to the Hero Initiative. Go check it out as he makes it that much easier for you to have a reason to give to this worthy cause.

We're now up to $665.95 raised!

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Hero Initiative (Details in this post)! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]