The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec Volume 1

Fantagraphics and Kim Thompson are back with another Jacques Tardi translated work: The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec Volume 1. Appearing in the early 1970s and published as single volumes in French around 1976, Adele Blanc-Sec has a cult following that we’re now privy to. Thompson is a translation whirlwind, working through a good amount of foreign material for our English-speaking audience. Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

adele blanc sec vol 1

Both a rip-roaring adventure series set in pre-World War I Paris and a parody of same, Adèle Blanc-Sec has been enchanting, thrilling, and puzzling readers worldwide through four decades. In this premiere installment, Adèle becomes involved in an interlocking series of mysteries that involve a revived pterodactyl, a frightful on-stage murder, a looming execution by guillotine, and a demon from the depths of hell — plus of course moronic gendarmes, loyal (or perhaps traitorous?) henchmen, and a climax atop the Eiffel Tower.

Two fourty-eight page stories are collected in this 8.5×11.5″ hardcover: Pterror Over Paris and The Eiffel Tower Demon.  I’m going to work this review from best to worst in my humble opinion.

The first thing that hit me: colour!  This is Fantagraphic’s first Tardi work in colour and I really enjoyed it: a muted palette that brings 1911 France to life.  Tardi’s art style is unique: lots of round, soft people with well-designed costumes and detailed backgrounds.  Most men have mustaches and no mouths: expression and emotion define his faces when Tardi wants it, otherwise just a few lines for features.

The lettering is expressive and dynamic: this is a text-heavy work at times and font size and style give a dramatic flair.  With comic word balloons, it’s nice to see bold and over-sized lettering giving us emotion and feeling; normally we’re forced to rely on the lonely exclamation mark.

Fit and finish are excellent and I’ve come to expect nothing less from Fantagraphics.  Thick paper stock, solid production and an overall well-crafted hardcover.

The panel and page layout are good.  The panels adjust size to give us the bit of story we need and to fit the sometimes mountain of dialogue.  The reader suffers there as backgrounds are stripped and characters shrunk.

The letdown for me was the story.  I read the first storyline twice but still had a hard time getting the characters and plotline organized enough to comprehend and enjoy the story.  We meet Adele Blanc-Sec but really don’t have any idea about her other than the appearances she makes.  Characters are thrown about but it doesn’t seem to gel; they don’t really develop, we just learn a little more about them.  And there is that odd French humour thrown in with a bumbling policeman and madcap antics from scientists and museum workers.  The second storyline clears up most of the loose ends and gives us some background into Adele, her colleagues and our cast of thousands.  With all that text you’d think everything would be crystal clear.

This appears to be a straightforward mystery but psychics, dinosaurs and the occult are thrown in; I’m not sure we needed any of it.  The root story of investigation, mystery and intrigue with sold dialogue gives us a solid base.  The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec Volume 1 feels like a first work; energetic and full of life with stumbles in story and development.  It has wet my appetite for more of Adele. 

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec Volume 1
Fantagraphics, 2010, ISBN 978-1-60699-382-8

Originally published at Comic Book Daily under my Bound Together column.