A while back I picked up Jacques Tardi’s graphic novel adaptation of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s 3 To Kill entitled West Coast Blues and thought it was one of the most phenomenal things I read that year. Then I read the New York Review Books Classic edition of Manchette’s Fatale and thought it was good if far from great. Now I’ve just read Tardi’s Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot based on Manchette’s The Prone Gunman and have been blown the fuck away once again. Granted, the situation is probably just that 3 To Kill and The Prone Gunman are simply far better books than Fatale, but it could also very well be that if Tardi were to take a swing at it, Fatale would also make a helluva comic.
The book follows Martin Terrier as he attempts to leave his life as a hired killer and go back to his hometown to woo the upper-class woman he promised to return to in ten years once he’d made his fortune. When he returns he not only finds that she is now married to a real douchebag, but killers are after him as well. Anyone whose read a crime novel before knows that you can’t escape the life without blowing a few holes in some motherfuckers.
But this is not your typical crime novel (or graphic novel, as it were) in the fucking slightest. Though we know nothing of Terrier’s thoughts, his mood and thoughts gauged through illustrated expressions or written descriptions of said expressions (as in “his lips pursed,” etc.), we are nonetheless allowed a run-down of his past through flashbacks. And though there is a lot of action and a traditional structure to the crime plot, the fall-out is anything but predictable, brutal irony and anti-climax rearing their refreshing heads for much of the last ten pages. The book also fucks with our ideas of the anti-hero as well, as we watch Terrier not only dispassionately kill and maim many characters throughout the book like in any crime story, but also watch him abuse women in ways that are very uncomfortable and challenging to the reader.
Then there’s Tardi’s insanely original artwork. Told entirely in strict black-and-white drawings, Tardi’s panels manage to look like both mid-20th century funny-books goofy and undeniably badass at the same time. His style is truly a marvel, at first off-puttingly cartoonish and soon after transfixingly cool and perfectly-suited to the material. I’ve never seen anything so strange and yet so appropriate for such a violent, hyper-sexualized and stark piece of writing.
I intend to someday read the actual books of Manchette’s that Tardi turned into masterful graphic novels, as he is known as one of the greats of crime fiction. That said, Tardi’s interpretations of 3 To Kill and now The Prone Gunman have set a ridiculously high-bar for those books-proper to clear reading experience-wise. Oh, and please, Jacques Tardi, I fucking implore you to work your magic on Fatale already!