Currently playing in theaters across Europe and Asia, Luc Besson's new movie The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec is based upon a series of graphic novels by French creator Jacques Tardi. Although the film does not as yet have U.S. distribution, the graphic novels will be coming out in the U.S. market in a new translation this September from Fantagraphics.
The series follows the exploits of Adele Blanc-Sec, a turn of the century reporter and adventurer, as she comes up against pterodactyls, ancient Egyptian curses mad scientists and other such nuisances. PW Comics Week spoke with Kim Thompson, v-p and copublisher of Fantagraphics Books, and the editor and translator for Fantagraphics' line of Jacques Tardi books.
PW Comics Week: How are the Adele Blanc-Sec books perceived in France? Are they a cult classic that managed to snag a movie, the way Scott Pilgrim did, or are they more than that?
Kim Thompson: I wouldn't call them a cult classic, they're more like a mainstream classic. Tardi is very popular and Adele is the work that's so popular that his publisher keeps trying to get him to go back to it again and again. I'd say that in France, Adele is a well known pop culture figure in the same way the Fantastic Four is here. So cult wouldn't exactly be the word.
PWCW: The Adele Blanc-Sec books have been around for a relatively long time, if nowhere near as long as the period-esque covers seem to imply. The first volume came out in France in 1976. What can you tell me about their history in the United States?
KT: Dark Horse published a magazine called Cheval Noir which brought out a bunch of European comics. And within Cheval Noir, they serialized the entirety of the first five Adele Blanc-Sec adventures. I think in the early 1990's. Then once the work had been translated for Cheval Noir, NBM published, I believe, the first several as color albums.
PWCW: Last year when you started your Jacques Tardi line, you said that Adele Blanc-Sec books weren't a priority because they had already come out in the USA before. Yet now, a little over a year later... here we are. Was your decision affected by the movie?
KT: The movie was definitely a major factor. I realized that if the movie came out and was a success, it would be stupid not to put it out. I was always going to do Adele Blanc-Sec at some point, I do like it and it is one of Tardi's major works, I just pulled it up a little in the lineup, basically.
PWCW: You're something of a Jacques Tardi expert. Where would you say the Blanc-Sec books stand in the context of his body of work? Fantagraphics brought out Tardi's graphic novels West Coast Blues and You are Here within the last year. Do they appeal to the same groups of readers?
KT: The work is definitely lighter and more playful in tone, so those who were attracted by the really dark work of the war book, War in the Trenches might find it a little too dark. If you're a Spielberg fan you watch Schindler's List and ET. Ideally, I'd love it if we had a lot of people in the US who wanted to buy everything Tardi ever did, but... [laugh] People who like things like Hellboy and Madman might be more likely to give Adele Blanc-Sec a chance, whereas there are readers of the more underground dark comics, who might not enjoy Adele as much. They're for different but overlapping audiences.
And actually, to go off on a tangent, Adele does go darker as the series goes on. By the fifth volume, the First World War has happened and there are people scarred by the war. But the earlier volumes are definitely more light and fancy free. With Tardi as an auteur, his work is very much of a pace, with Adele at one end of his range and War in the Trenches at the other end, but they all fit.
PWCW: Although Adele Blanc-Sec predates the steampunk phenomenon, she's frequently identified with that genre and style. Do you think that will affect the way people see the books now?
KT: We're certainly hoping that it will. Steampunk is a word that's crossed my mind in regard to Adele. There's not a lot of sci fi in the first few volumes, but the spirit and the whole approach is very similar. It's funny, because there's another Tardi work that we've been looking at doing that's set in the same period but has more of a Jules Verne science fiction aspect. Only it's set in the arctic, so I've been calling it Icepunk. It's called Le Demon des Glaces. I'd say it's a vintage early Steampunk type story.
PWCW: What are the challenges of relaunching a book with this kind of past history? Do you think the market has changed enough, or is there something different in the way you are releasing the book?
KT: The market's definitely changed. The graphic novel business has radically changed since NBM tried their luck with it. There have been some major successes with European comics. And the other aspect is I think that we're going to do a good enough job that people will be attracted to it. I've always wanted to publish Tardi in English, and I've always been afraid of the market. Many publishers have tried and failed, including, technically, us.
I'm absolutely encouraged. West Coast Blues has done very well, we think it will go into second printing. War of the Trenches went into a second printing right away. Sales have far exceeded our expectations.
PWCW: Why do you think that is?
KT: Generally with comics or graphic novels, the first thing is the art, obviously. And his art is just gorgeous. He's one of the grandmasters of wonderful crisp detail And behind it is a really dark and original sensibility and genuine skill as a writer that I think is really quite extraordinary.
I don't know if you know this, but we actually did publish Tardi back in the 1980's. I've always wanted to publish Tardi, pretty much since I was a professional. So it's a dream come true to actually be able to do it and for it to be a success.
I can tell you, based on this success, I want to publish at least one Tardi book a season until... at least one of us dies. There's enough work there to do that for at least fifteen years. And Tardi is still alive and cooking and bringing out work that puts men a third his age to shame. He's adapting another novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette, who is the guy who created West Coast Blues. That's his next project, the one that will be released next in France. We'll bring it out sometime in 2011, probably the spring or the summer. So he's still very much a vital and creative force in the world of French comics.
Jacques Tardi has been literally my favorite living cartoonist since February of 2000.
PWCW: Why, who died?
KT: Charles Schulz. Everyone else moved up a notch after that.