Review by Frank Plowright
As the title suggests, New York Mon Amour gathers four stories by French artist Jacques Tardi set in New York, the longer crime drama ‘Cockroach Killer’, and three short back-ups. Four if you count the new epilogue to ‘Cockroach Killer’.
One of those shorter pieces, ‘Manhattan’ was the first of Tardi’s work translated into English, presented in the inaugural issue of the seminal Raw anthology in 1980. It’s a superbly evocative strip, but in Raw was at odds with much of the material that surrounded it, being a noir narrative that made the most of its setting rather than any kind of experimentation with form. It drips with atmosphere as Tardi funnels in everything he loves about New York. It’s an incredibly detailed visualisation, the panels packed with street signs, advertising, graffiti, phone booths, mailboxes, classic Checker taxi cabs and architectural landmarks, as the narrative follows a Frenchman obsessed with New York and a purpose in mind. A similar attention to detail characterises the art for the remaining stories, which again present New York warts and all, yet so lovingly the sleaze, the chaos and the grime has an attraction.
‘It’s So Hard’ was commissioned for an issue of A Suivre shortly after the murder of John Lennon, coincidentally also referenced in ‘Cockroach Killer’. Dominique Grange’s script has a hunchbacked Lennon lookalike sick and tired of the comparison and the insults that follow. It’s a slight piece with Tardi’s depiction of the lead character not greatly resembling Lennon, but the environment is again meticulously conveyed. Grange also writes ‘Hùng’s Murder’, also set in the early 1980s and concerning Vietnamese immigrant Loan’s search for an American, aided by an older Polish gentleman given justifiable reasons for helping her out. It’s more satisfying than her previous story, but this mood piece strays to a predictable conclusion, so the wonder is again the art.
‘Cockroach Killer’ was previously among the earliest Tardi creations to be released as an English graphic novel and is separately reviewed in greater detail as Roach Killer, but Kim Thompson’s new translation has a greater subtlety about it. The most obviously striking element is Tardi’s brave use of a single colour, red, on otherwise black and white art. The red identifies Walter, pest control agent by trade, who’s dressed throughout in his distinctive company overalls and cap. The colour also identifies his van and a few other pertinent elements. Walter is a haunted man, and curiosity leads him to hear something he’d have been better not hearing. From that point his life escalates from one of relative calm living with his adoptive mother to an adrenaline rush of death and danger.
For most of the pages Benjamin Legrand’s plot appears to be an inventive noir crime story with neat twists under a clever title analogy, but this is reinterpreted by the ending, which deals with manipulation, throwing much of the remainder in doubt. According to your mindset you’ll either accept this as another neat twist, or a hook to unpick much of the remainder. If the latter, it’s a shame as the mood is as important as the plot, and that’s superbly provided. This collection also supplies a new epilogue as Tardi lays drawings of Walter over the reference photographs of New York. It’s an interesting novelty, but strangely reveals at that stage of his career Tardi’s full figures are a little stumpy and odd looking.
Superbly atmospheric with busy, detailed art, this is the hardback love letter promised by the title.