Goddamn this war!: Tardi with Pat Mills
Monday 10th November 2014 7.00pm – Foyles Bookshop
My anticipation of the meeting of minds between Pat Mills and Jacques Tardi is so combustible that they should really advertise this on a Boxing card. Not that I expect fists to be thrown, but it’s the meeting of two guys who I admire greatly and always have interesting and eye opening opinions.
There’s no coincidence that this occurs on the day after Remembrance Sunday and on the Centenary year of the outbreak of the Great War. Both men have been published to huge acclaim but it’s their work that stems from the terrors of World War One that this talk centres upon. “Charley’s War” has taught me more about that horrific conflict that any school history teacher and Tardi fits that same bill in France and further afield.
Tardi rarely gives interviews and this time he’s chatting to Mr Mills. I could hardly turn down the chance to listen now could I?
This takes place as part of Paul Gravett (and pals) Comica event (www.comicafestival.com). This year, some of the events are taking place at the new Foyles Bookshop Sixth Floor auditorium, in Charing Cross Road, London. It’s actually a pretty cool space just opposite their overtly hipsterish coffee shop.
Upon entering Pat and Jaques sat opposite each other with a large projection screen between them showing images of Tardi’s work as the conversation started. It’s evidence of the mesmerising conversation that I barely paused to take in the images until much later, focusing instead on the back and forth between the two. On the left sat Pat, iPad in hand and it was he who led the event, albeit after a short introduction from Paul Gravett. On the right sat Tardi, slouched into his seat, the epitome of the Frenchman, an interpreter to his side as he spoke with a mixture of Euro pragmatism and laid back humour.
The two men are clearly friends and have similar levels of enthusiasm for revealing the truth of the Great War. That it’s a story has become shaped by those with an agenda and that, more and more so recently it has become the football of a nation desperate for heroes. The truths of the inhuman conditions and huge loss of life have become lost in remembering the officer rank ‘heroes’.
Both men were in agreement on the realities of this horrific war. That it is the story of the every man. Not the Marshals and Generals but of the manipulation of the guy on the street in a war that was wrong on many levels. Their respective comics works are an investigation. A look for the truth, an education through comics, an eye opening conversation from beginning to end.
The questions lead off with Pat asking Tardi about his creative process and especially the involvement of Jean-Pierre Verney, a French specialist in World War One. Tardi spoke of an early published story he wrote some thirty years ago about the War and through the post he later received a letter from Jean-Pierre pointing out all the mistakes he had made. Thinking this could be the letter of an odd ball, he kept his distance for some time before the pair would eventually become close collaborators. Verney is clearly the sort of expert who impresses other experts. His collection of War artefacts have even become central for a museum in France. Tardi spoke with a smile on his face about their interactions, laughing at how one day Verney turned up with not only a canon but with the instruction manual on how to fire it.
Pat and Tardi also spoke about the lack of true representation of this conflict in mass media. Movies seem on the whole to take unusual points of view regarding the realities, one even reportedly finishing on an opera singer in full flow in a trench. They also spoke of the range of books available, books that on the whole seem to paint it as a war of glory and triumphs of great leaders. In his French language answer I heard the word ‘Commerce‘ come from Tardi and this summed up the reasons for war then and now. Pat spoke at how comics can tell stories that cannot be told elsewhere. It’s almost disregard by the intelligencia allows for the personal and historically accurate stories to be recounted.
It was this energetic flow of back and forth opinions that really made the event. Having attended a few talks with interpreters they can become stiff and boring but not so here. The room was transfixed at a talk full of ideas and history of both comics and the world. There was almost too much said to take in or report on here but pleasingly this was filmed and it’s hoped will be released soon through the Comica website.
It was around the halfway mark that I finally started noticing the images between the two men on the screen. Not because of any conversational lag but because of the grotesque beauty of the art. It was the image of one panel. A butcher stands in a yard. Knives in his hands, smoking, covered in the blood of the animals he has slaughtered that day. Cigarette in mouth he stares off into the distance just shy of looking at the reader. Tardi was asked about reference by an audience member. He spoke about how he uses a combination of source material to create a single image but that it’s often the face of a man standing apart from a group in a photo that leads him down the most interesting paths. It’s sometimes all he needs to be distracted into telling that person’s story. To be led along a road he didn’t expect.
It’s in that face of the butcher that I imagine Tardi at his board, seeing that face and it changing the course of his art. The personal nature of both men’s art is what draws me in to these stories of the war. It’s perhaps because of the work of poets like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon that we feel for the everyman aspects of life and death in this conflict more than possibly other more ‘heroic’ wars? This bleak conflict continues to fascinate us in this country especially at this time.
Perfectly timed and executed, this was a talk that seemed to be a one time event. Beautifully bleak and historically eye opening are the two emotions I carry away with me onto the tube and home.
Many thanks to Comica for running the event and I would urge you to have a look at their their website for upcoming events: www.comicafestival.com
• You can find the ever busy Mr Mills at his newly refurbished website address of www.millsverse.com on Twitter @PatMillsComics or on facebook. An omnibus collection of Charley’s War, featuring many all-new scans of surviving original art from the strip by Joe Colquhoun, is on sale now from Titan Books
• The Great War in Comics exhibition featuring art from the strip continues at the Abbot Hall Gallery, Kendal until 6th December. Another exhibition of special prints is running at Plymouth University until 14th November (see news story). There is also an exhibition of “Charley’s War” art running until 4th January 2015 at Musée de la Grande Guerre du Pays de Meaux, outside Paris (details here); and there is a permanent display of “Charley’s War” art at the Tank Museum, Bovington
• Pat Mills recounts his talk with Jacques Tardi here on his own blog, which also includes Paul Gravett’s translation of Tardi’s introduction to the seventh volume of Charley’s War published in French by Delirium
• You can also find many of Mr Tardi’s books at the Fantagraphics website www.fantagraphics.com. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War One Fantagraphics has released a deluxe edition of Jacques Tardi’s acknowledged masterpieces of the conflict. The first book, It Was The Year of the Trenches, focuses on the day-to-day horrors of the men in the trenches, creating an astonishingly evocative world unlike any other depiction of life on the front line, and featuring some of Tardi’s greatest artwork. His second masterwork, Goddamn This War! Is told with a sustained sense of outrage and pitch-black gallows humour
Many thanks for reading.
Antony Esmond is a comic reviewer and writer - his hips don't lie.