Panel Patter Quick Hits: Translation Time with Canales/Guarnido, Lindgren/Van Nyman, Manchette/Tardi, Hubert/Kerascoet, and Max

Happy Monday to everyone. It's hard to believe we're at the top of another week, but here to help you get through are some short reviews. This time, in our second themed edition, it's time to talk translated comics. We'll lead off with James Kaplan, discussing the latest installment of the ongoing Blacksad series of graphic novels...

Blacksad: Amarillo
Written by Juan Diaz Canales
Illustrated by Juanjo Guarnido
Translated by Katie LaBarbera and Neal Adams
Dark Horse Comics

I only recently read the Blacksad series for the first time, and I'm so very glad I did. It's among the best, most gorgeously illustrated books I've read in a while. It's a series of detective stories, in a 1950's America setting. What distinguishes the Blacksad stories is that they're told in an America full of anthropomorphic animals. People are cat-people, dog-people, etc., but there's no magical or supernatural element to the story (unlike something like Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw). It's simply that everyone walking around in the story is some species of anthropomorphized animal. Now, if you think that's something that's not going to appeal to you, you need to give the story a chance. 

First, the art is truly stunning. Artist Juanjo Guarnido is a truly gifted illustrator (he was formerly a Disney illustrator). His skill as a sequential storyteller is first-rate, and every panel of the story is full of wonderful details.  The animal-people are spectacularly rendered; the people feel very much like people who happen to be animals; their bodies and expressions feel overall very human, if a little exaggerated. The choice of kind of animal is very much based on the personality of the particular character - most policemen are dogs, henchmen are often rhinos or bears, and other similarly clever choices. 
Secondly, the Blacksad stories are funny, clever, heartbreaking and insightful. The different types of animals are often used to tell stories with a strong political and racial overtone to them, but with the little bit of remove that is afforded the story because it has a slightly fantastical element. The world of Blacksad is a rich, fully realized portrait of America. At its center is private detective John Blacksad, a black cat who does seems to be somewhat unlucky in the cases he takes. He's got a good heart, but he's not afraid to get his hands dirty. The most recent collection of stories, Blacksad: Amarillo, was published in 2014 and tells  story of Blacksad's attempt to get a car from New Orleans to Amarillo, Texas, and all of the strange detours he takes along the way. The story takes Blacksad out of the urban settings in which the first few stories took place, and provides a terrific story of the open road and beat culture, along with a compelling, dramatic and funny story. 

I'd recommend going back and reading the Blacksad stories from the beginning though; they're a real delight.  (Review by James Kaplan)

Pippi Won’t Grow Up
Written by Astrid Lindgren
Illustrated by Ingrid Van Nyman
Translated by Tiina Nunnally
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Pippi Longstocking, “the strongest girl in the world,” is an iconic figure in children’s literature. Created by Sweden’s Astrid Lindgren in the 1940’s, the four book series of Pippi’s adventures—Pippi Longstocking (1945), Pippi Goes On Board (1946), Do You Know Pippi Longstocking? (1947), and Pippi in the South Seas (1948)—have since been translated into more than sixty languages, and there have been films and at least one Swedish television series as well. What came as a surprise to me is the existence of these comics adaptations, which according to the copyright page were originally produced in the late 1950’s by illustrator Ingrid Van Nyman, who rendered them in bright, vibrant primary and secondary colors that children (and adults) still will find as irresistible as Pippi herself.

As a child, one of my favorite books was Pippi in the South Seas, from which much of Pippi Won’t Grow Up was adapted. Pippi, along with her pals Tommy and Annika, indeed travels to the South Seas to visit her father, but first has a memorable run-in with a stern teacher, thwarts a “rich and very stupid man” who tries to buy Pippi’s ramshackle house, and lunches with Tommy and Annika’s Aunt Laura. Pippi generally lives her life according to her own lights, adhering to her peculiar sense of logic. When she misspells a word, the dreaded schoolmarm Miss Rosenblom tells her, “That’s not how it’s spelled in the dictionary.” Pippi’s reply: “Then it’s a good thing you asked me how I spell it.” The wonderful thing about Pippi is that she always bests grown ups, whether it’s by use of her superior strength or simply by her miscomprehension and/or dismissal of adult rules and mores. She is a hero to Tommy, Annika and other children, protecting them from malevolent adults and killer sharks, as well as providing them with fun and adventure—on one occasion gifting one and all with ice cream and gold coins!  It must have been fun for girls back in the day to have such a strong (literally, as well as figuratively), fearless female protagonist to read about and root for. And it’s great that Drawn and Quarterly is making these comics available to a new generation of readers. Pippi Longstocking is the original Girl Power.  (Review by Rob Kirby)

Run Like Crazy Run Like Hell
Written by Jean Patrick Manchette
Adaption and Art by Jacques Tardi
Translation by Doug Headline
Published by Fantagraphics

The latest Jacques Tardi from Fantagraphics was delayed and delayed but it finally arrives and hits the ground running.  The maniacs in this comic don't even give you a chance to breathe, it just ramps up and starts rolling.

Let me break it down - a rich guy hires a woman out of low security mental institute to be the nanny for his spoiled brat (Peter). At the same time the rich guy hires an assassin to kidnap the kid and murder both Peter and the nanny. The nanny evades the assassin and his crew and flees with Peter. Her mental illness causes her to act erratically and avoid the police. While the assassin has his own mental illness that literally causes him to be sick when he is not murdering. He eats live animals to stave off death. While these two clinically mentally ill people chase each other across a wet France innocent bystanders get caught up in the chaos and callously mowed down like extras from "Total Recall".

The mode I'm used to in crime novels is a sort of amoral calculus where people do terrible things and you find yourself somewhat horrified and titillated to recognize yourself in their decision making. But that's not whats going on here. The two main characters are actually insane and their decisions and actions are not recognizably human at all. The horror comes from being annoyed by this spoiled brat who is actually an innocent kid.

Peter is dragged through mayhem and violence that he has no way to process or handle. The last panel shows him going off to "play cowboys and indians" like none of it has even happened. There are no answers to how he handles this madness. There is narration that describes what happens to several of the characters, but left unspoken is the fact that Peter is presumably going back to live with the man who sent the assassin after him in the first place. (Review by A.J. McGuire)

Miss Don't Touch Me Complete Set
Written by Hubert
Art by Kerascoet
Published by NBM

Noirish, sexy, but clearly laid out, and not written as pornographic or for shock-value even though it takes place in a bordello full of half-naked ladies, which is quite a feat -- the Miss Don’t Touch Me
Complete Set includes two stories of Blanche, a virginal maid who infiltrates (but ends up joining) a bordello in hopes of solving her sister’s murder, gets in good with Josephine Baker, and shows off both how curious and cunning she can be when she needs to and also how silly and careless she can become in her naivete.

This edition collects Volume 1 (previously reviewed by Rob McMonigal here) with a new story about a handsome client who Blanche hopes will spring her from her servitude and accruing debt to the bordello. This second story reflects more clearly on how swiftly and dangerously embroiled in the affairs of the bordello she has become, and how her social status as a prostitute is more fixed than she had realized. Though a less cinematic affair than Volume 1, the second story is a more focused character study of Blanche, her newly-arrived manipulative mother, and the sexual expectations placed on men and women across social classes in early 20th century France.

When read alongside the Butcher of the Dances mystery, the two halves balance each other out for a complete and compelling picture of Parisian life of the period. The noir tone of it all is impressively clear-eyed -- it’s not a twisty-turny caper for only the great and sharp-witted mystery lover, rather, it’s easily followed and yet the conclusions feel satisfying and well-earned. A celebration and a cautionary tale about the joy and vigor of youth and the dangerous roads it can lead you down. Deeply engaging. (Review by Emilia Packard)

Written and Illustrated by Max
Translated by Carol Gnojewski
Published by Fantagraphics

Either a loving homage to early 20th Century newspaper strips or a twisted take on them (perhaps both), this story follows Nicodemos on a quest for enlightenment that doesn't go so well for him. As the deadly serious Nicodemos, who has to be taught not to talk with capital letters, tries to figure out the mysteries of the desert, a series of characters, including an Felix the Cat-like cynic and a helpful bird keep trying to ensure "Nick" stays in the real world instead of drifting off and potentially being taken by the mysterious vapor.

The story is really strange, mixing philosophy with low-brow jokes, running gags, and style changes that reflect the quality and versatility of the artist. Max has definitely studied the styles of George Herriman and his contemporaries, then mixed in some modern tricks. It's a very eclectic blend, with broad strokes on one page, then thin lines the next. The humor loses a bit in translation, I think, as it often does, so that's not the fault of Gnojewski, though a dick joke is a dick joke in any language, especially with a farcical visual.

Mixing the profound with the profane has its risks, and overall, I didn't quite find this as satisfying as I hoped in terms of its content, but I really appreciated Max's linework and his versatility. The strange parade at the climax, with everything from art deco robots to the guy from the In the Court of the Crimson King album cover to lavish, exotic food marched along the road is a particular highlight. Vapor is the kind of book you might want to seek out if you like to be baffled and challenged.  (Review by Rob McMonigal)