West Coast Blues is Jacques Tardi’s adaptation of renowned crime author Jean-Patrick Manchette’s 1976 novel which had previously been adapted to film under the title 3 to Kill. This 80-page hardcover delivers the same type of hard-boiled crime noir that fans of Manchette’s 10 novels have come to love. At least I assume it does; the guy is French. I’ve never read any of his books. But he worked in collaboration with Tardi to create this comic, so I gotta assume it’s more of the same stuff he’s known for.
Anyway, the book is something of an existentialist crime graphic novel. George Gerfaut is a young executive, husband and father of two with no real purpose or direction in life. He’s just sort of wandering along aimlessly, drinking, smoking cigarettes and planning a vacation with his family. One day, he picks up an injured driver and drops him off at the hospital, not thinking of any consequence or repercussions. What follows is an abundance of brutality involving hired assassins, daring escapes and violent shootouts. Gerfaut leaves his old life behind but eventually old debts must be settled and it all comes to a vicious head.
While the name of Jacques Tardi has long been familiar to me, much of his work has not. This was my first foray into his world as well as the work of Jean-Patrick Manchette. Both of them impressed me quite a bit and I’ll definitely look for more from both of them. The artwork has a smooth, casual style but doesn’t hesitate to demonstrate some pretty nasty stuff when it has to. There are some brutal beat-downs and bloody brawls in this comic! The story made me feel like I was watching a foreign cop movie from the 1970’s. You know, those gritty Italian ones – the ones with the fake blood that looks like melted crayon and the awesome soundtracks with music from guys like Ennio Morricone or Luciano Michelini. It felt like that. It sort of meanders around without following any recognizable pattern; it’s not an easily predictable tale, but it feels very natural and realistic. In addition to the violence and beautiful art, there’s a lot of great dialogue and quite a sense of humor to this story too. The assassins out to get Gerfaut bicker like an old married couple and bring an element of comedy to this otherwise dark tale.
I opened this comic, got sucked in and blew through it in one sitting. Then I went back a few weeks later, in preparation for this review, and re-read it. I found that I liked it even better the second time around, as I was able to spend a little more time with it and take in the subtleties of the work. I suspect I will read it again soon and I would definitely recommend it. Fans of great artwork and crime stories should give this book a shot.