Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot, the English translation of which was published by Fantagraphics and is cover dated May 2011. Enjoy!
Jacques Tardi, artist extraordinaire, adapted this from Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel, and then Kim Thompson translated it into English so we unwashed heathens could read it!
I’m not sure how much of the text was in the original French, but we’re not looking at the original French, are we? Tardi’s English translations tend to be verbose, so I don’t think it’s just Thompson putting in more words than we need. Unfortunately, even when Tardi is both the writer and artist (as he is here), he doesn’t seem to trust his artwork. I mean, do we really need to be told that it’s “winter” and “nighttime”? I think we can figure that out. Even if such prose was in the original novel, the great thing about comics is that we don’t need to read everything that was in the book to understand the mood. The second caption box, describing the icy wind, is a nice description, and of course it implies that it’s winter. Plus, we can obviously see that it’s night.
Tardi’s art is often like this – somewhat utilitarian, but richly detailed and subtly fluid. We begin high above the houses, much like the “icy wind,” and zoom down to street level in the second panel. The beautiful perspective shot of the first two panels not only gives us a sense of the town in which the action occurs (it’s Worcester, although we don’t know that from the page) – the row homes stretch to infinity, each exactly the same as its neighbors, creating a corridor of conformity that is broken up by the violence on the bottom of the page. Tardi draws the papers into the scene and shows the trees bending wildly in the wind, a nice touch that helps create the wintry milieu. The sidewalks and streets are wet, too, another nod to the weather. Martin, the assassin, sits in his van and kills the man walking along the street, and we can see in panel 3 how calm Martin is – his face is set, his legs crossed, his cigarette held loosely in his hand. He’s a man who’s done this before, and has no problem with it whatsoever. Tardi’s slightly cartoonish style makes the violence in panel 4 interesting, because as horrible as it is, there’s also something slightly comical about it, with the hat flying up and the popcorn brain escaping the shattered skull. In a lot of Tardi’s work, there’s this odd tension between the violence and the style, which somehow distances us from the worst of it. You’ll also notice that Tardi’s darkens Martin’s face in the final panel, casting a shroud over the man who’s killing a defenseless person and will soon kill another, as on the next page he shoots the woman. It’s a subtle way to show that Martin, for all his intentions (this is, he believes, his last job), has lost his soul, and won’t be able to escape his life that easily.
Much like many graphic novels, the first page is less concerned with drawing readers in than getting the story going, and Tardi does that well here. His art remains the main draw of his books, even though the stories are usually quite good. He knows how to lay out a page and get readers to turn the page, and that’s not a bad skill at all.
Tomorrow is the last day that you can suggest which writers you want to see in April. That means you can still do it today!
Next: Stoners in the bathroom? What kind of first page is that?!?!?!? And although it’s Pi Day, that doesn’t mean you should be irrational about checking out the archives!