Words an’ Pictures: Ce Qui est Arrivé Avant – A Review of “West Coast Blues”

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“And that which has happened before is happening again: George GERFAUT is cruising the outer lanes of the beltway that encircles Paris.”

So begins West Coast Blues, Jacques Tardi’s adaptation of the 1976 novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette. At its core, West Coast Blues is a tense thriller that features the gritty style that readers of Tardi would expect, but what gives this adaptation staying power is its ability to present heavy postmodern themes as casually and effectively as it presents its brutal violence.

West Coast Blues follows the story of George Gerfaut, a young Parisian sales executive who is dissatisfied with the world that he finds himself in. He has a wife and child, but spends his time driving around Paris at dangerously high speeds, drinking Four Roses bourbon with his barbiturates and listening to American West Coast-style jazz music on the tape deck of his Mercedes. While on an inane family vacation to the beach, he is attacked by two hit men, prompting a violent escape from his buttoned-down, comfortable life.

If West Coast Blues were just a taut, well-orchestrated thriller (which it certainly is), then it would still be worth your time to read. But what I found particularly interesting was Tardi’s ability to capture a sense of dread and entrapment that seems to haunt people in modern times.

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The few major characters in West Coast Blues are connected by a common desire to escape. Whether it is Gerfaut with his jazz and bourbon, Bastien the hit man with his comics and love of hiding out in stranger’s apartments (“People’s Apartments are like different countries…”), Liétard the washed-up revolutionary with his T.V. movies, Corporal Raguse with his mountain hideaway, or even the mysterious war-criminal Alonso Emerich y Emerich, all of the characters wish to escape the past or the world around them (if there is any difference). Over the course of the story we see that some are successful in this and some are not, but the process of watching each of them try to hold onto their humanity in a world of violence, overcrowding, degradation, and luxury cars is more gripping than any of Tardi’s wonderfully laid out action sequences.

Not that the action in West Coast Blues is anything to sniff at, Tardi does a fantastic job of moving the story along in a beautifully non-chronologically fragmented way that keeps the reader on their toes throughout the vast majority of the book. While the plot of West Coast Blues is relatively unoriginal, Tardi’s masterful execution and inclusion of heavy themes make it more than worth the short time that it takes to read, and the time that you will ultimately spend when you return to it. That which has has happened before is happening again.

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— Quinn Stratton, Comic Blogger

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