Review by Frank Plowright
When launching their list of translated albums in hardcover European format Tundra chose this collaboration between American crime novelist Jerome Charyn and Italian artist Massimiliano Frezzato as their first selection. It was an odd choice in 1993, and time has only increased the wonder of the decision. Margot in Badtown isn’t good, presenting a story that has a dream like quality, yet is barely credible in any respect.
We open in Prairie Dog where Margot works in the local laundry. She’s attractive and courted by the boss’ son, but has ambitions to be an actress in New York, where she arrives after eight pages. Frezzato is excellent at contrasting the appeal of a small Texas town with the squalor of 1980s New York, and supplies some fine busy pages, but there’s no artistic consistency. At times Frezzato’s pulling his poses from glamour magazines, and at times there’s a naturalism, then, toward the end of the book, for no good reason Margot’s look changes entirely. Furthermore, for all his talent, his storytelling abilities are minimal. There are numerous occasions when what’s happening from panel to panel just isn’t clear, but taken on an individual basis there are some stunning illustrations.
Charyn’s characterisation of Margot is of the innocent who just falls into situations from which her allure and charm permit extraction, a character type with plenty of precedent, but his cementing of her personality is unconvincing. This is in part down to some woeful dialogue, which appears to have been translated into French originally, then back into English with no input from Charyn. The plot swerves all over the place, but eventually settles on Margot being employed to supervise three young men engaged in construction work on their Uncle’s building, and the complications that ensue as rivals become involved. Even then it’s as if every few pages there are a couple that were lost somewhere as the narrative leaps from one topic to another at a rapid clip.
The whole project has the feel of Frezzato submitting a list of items he wanted to draw and Charyn being left to work a launderette, a propeller plane, a New York construction site, a container lorry car chase, plenty of shots of the well-endowed Margot in her vest and a few without, an army general and assorted other items into a cohesive plot. He doesn’t manage it.
The most surprising aspect of all is that this was successful enough to spawn a sequel, Margot, Queen of the Night. Didn’t anyone read it?