The Comic Book Club: “Adele Blanc-Sec” and “Amazing Spider-Man”

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up discussing what we picked up. This week, Douglas Wolk and Graeme McMillan talk about The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, vol. 1, and Amazing Spider-Man #648.

DOUGLAS: First off: a round of applause to Kim Thompson for his translation of The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec. The French title of the first volume translates literally as “Adele and the Beast,” and that was the title of the previous American version (20 years or so ago)–but “Pterror over Paris” is way funnier, and in line with the overheated, not entirely serious style of this book. And Adele’s Scrooge-ish “OH, SO?” on the last page made me crack up.

I haven’t seen the movie yet (have you?), and I hadn’t actually read any of the AB-S material before, but this is really charming stuff.

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GRAEME: I’m not sure I even knew there was a movie. I can’t really imagine one, this seems like such a comic book comic.

DOUGLAS: It is, and it’s super-fun. I love the basic premise: George Sand-ish badass adventure-seeking woman in 1911 Paris, surrounded by supernatural and/or nearly inconceivable events and evil or just incompetent secondary characters, achieving victory because of sheer sang-froid. Even the panel-dominating chunks of expository dialogue are funny, just because Tardi’s not taking them particularly seriously–the very Gallic style of fully capitalizing characters’ names makes them even funnier. (“Like JOSEPH and ALBERT, I was expecting RIPOL, once set free, and yourself to lead me to the loot and thus to PAZUZU secreted in one of the two bags. But I arrived too late at the Jardin des Plantes, albeit in time to save you from CAPONI’s tender mercies.”)

My only quibble, and it’s a pretty minor one, is that I’m not sure how well the elegant hardcover format suits this material. It feels very pulpy and light, as beautifully drawn as it is (Tardi’s Parisian landscapes are totally on the mark); somehow, I feel like the comedy might be a little more immediate if it were in a format that I as an American reader associate with stories that are sort of in this vein but take themselves much more seriously. The fact that Adele has exactly one facial expression 90% of the time, Dick Tracy-style, makes me wonder if there’s some similar tradition in Francophone comics–Kim Thompson mentions in an interview about translating Tardi that “Adele, with its playful Euro adventure tropes, is in some ways less accessible to American readers than, say, [It Was the War of the] Trenches.” Which is at least slightly true for me.

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(And that, in turn, makes me wonder if Kim Thompson manages to keep up with all the translations and editing he does because he secretly has an identical twin named Kim Thomson.) (I’m sure that joke has been made before. Repeatedly.)

GRAEME: I’m really torn on Adele. It’s one of those books that I both completely love, but also find surprisingly hard to enjoy, if that makes sense. I’m entirely won over by the concept and the art, but there’s a strange stiltedness to the writing that continually stopped me dead when I was reading the book – It’s not the translation, exactly (I think there’s a very fun, subtle humor at play in Thompson’s dialogue, and especially his captions, here), but the odd, expositionary-and-coincidence-heavy nature of the writing. It’s not an easy book to read – and made less easy by the scale of the pages and the coloring, I think; I agree with you on the format feeling off, Douglas – but it’s a rewarding one, and despite all my torn and turmoiled thoughts, I find myself looking forward to the next volume. I just hope that it’s something that’ll feel more coherent.

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