Artist and writer Keith Page shines a light on the work of the award-winning French artist Jacques Tardi…
Jacques Tardi spent his early years in post-war Germany, his father a career soldier. The atrocities of the 1914-18 war, retold him by his Corsican grandfather, haunted his childhood dreams before becoming one of the major themes that would inspire his work.
He was a student at the School of Fine Arts in Lyon, then the Decorative Arts of Paris, making his comics debut in the weekly Pilote in 1969. His first full-length graphic novel, Rumors on the Rouergue” (scenario Christin, published at Futuropolis in 1976).
Essentially, Jaques Tardi appears to have two main interests; World War One and Paris. His drawing style may be described as a sort of evolution of Hergé’s “clear line” (ligne claire) technique, used in the Tintin stories. A similar close attention to detail is evident and Tardi’s faces are often somewhat cartoon-like.
He does, however, have a great sense of light and shade, something not seen with Hergé. This is sometimes enhanced· to great effect with the use of mechanical tints. Interestingly, some of his effects can be very like those in Giles cartoons.
Tardi’s main World War One work, C’était la guerre des tranchées (It was the War of Trenches), published in 1993, shows great accuracy in the military hardware and also for its extreme violence not seen or probably permitted in the likes of British strips such as Battle‘s “Charley’s War” (that strip, on occasion itself suffering some censorship, especially during its reprint during its run in Eagle. The story is slow paced and appears to be lettered by Tardi himself. It is certainly very grim.
Going back a few years to the early 20th century is the Adele Blanc-Sec series, which is fantastical in the extreme with a touch of comedy. The series features a bewildering variety of themes and adversaries, including a pterodactyl, an Egyptian mummy, a giant octopus and a sort of bionic gorilla, all set in scrupulously accurate scenes of 1900’s Paris. The drawing style is lighter and looser than the World War One book and the characters are very cartoonish.
After this, Tardi moved on to probably his most well-known creation, private detective Nestor Burma, adapted from the novels of Leo Malet. Burma first appeared in Brouillard au pont de Tolbiac in 1982, followed in 1988 by the 190-page 120, rue de la Gare which was set largely in wartime Paris. There is one particularly outstanding sequence in this, following a police Citroen Traction Avant driving through a wintry Paris night whilst an RAF air raid is in progress.
A sequence from 120, rue de la Gare, art by Jacques Tardi
The remainder of the Nestor Burma series is set in the 1950s. Each story is set in a different area of Paris and the street scenes are scrupulously accurate in every way. Even the endpapers show a map of the relevant district and where each incident takes place. Every possible detail like the period ads stuck on Bistro doors is there, and the time spent on research must have been considerable.
The detective theme also features in other books. Le Der des Ders (The Last of the Last) is set in Paris (again) in 1920 and features a soldier returned from World War One. Another 1950s story The Secret of the Strangler is a really odd piece which has two “alternative” endings. Tardi’s later style is even looser and gives the impression of being drawn by a felt -tipped pen.
A somewhat brutal thriller is Le Petit Bleu de la Cote Ouest (which is not really translatable. This is set in the 1970s and is a rare excursion to another part of France.
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Explorer (previously known as Star Trek Magazine) and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of "Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies" for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.