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Apr
21

“Trenches” vs. “Tranchees” – A look at the Fantagraphics and Casterman Editions of Tardi

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I had a big Jacques Tardi “phase” a while back–and in particular, I was really enamored of the bits and pieces of C’était la Guerre des Tranchées that had appeared in various anthologies up to that point. In fact, the “duotone” style of drawing that I’ve been using in most of my longer work (Farewell, Georgia, Midnight Sun, and Amelia Earhart – This Broad Ocean) is derived directly from my interest at the time in Tardi and the American strip cartoonist Roy Crane, who used duoshade board to get a gray tone effect much like Tardi’s.  So I was of course really excited to hear that Fantagraphics was doing a series of translated Tardi books, including C’était la Guerre des Tranchées–now titled It was the War of the Trenches.  I’ve had the French Casterman edition for a while, but I got my new Fantagraphics copy last week and just for fun I thought I’d take a look at the two side by side.

The first thing I noticed was the covers, of course.  I think on a purely aesthetic level, I prefer the Casterman cover, but after my grousing a week or two back about publishers not keeping their series designs consistent, I’m sure not going to complain about the cover; it looks fantastic next to the other books in the series to-date, West Coast Blues and You are There.

The trim size is somewhat smaller as well.   I’m sure there’s some reason for this that probably has to do with the retail book trade in Europe vs. in the U.S., but it’s a not a huge reduction in page size.   The French edition is 9 x 12 inches, whereas the Fanta edition is 8 1/4 by 10 3/4.  It’s slightly smaller, but thankfully not Gus and his Gang smaller.

Interestingly, the Fanta edition is printed on matte, rather than glossy, paper.  I generally prefer matte paper stocks to glossy stocks and this isn’t really a noticeable change here other than the blacks being a little less black, something that just comes with the turf when printing on matte paper as far as I can tell.

My French language skills are barely “caveman level,” so I can’t really make any comment on the translation (and also, I haven’t actually read it yet), but the Tardi font that they’ve made for the book looks fantastic.  Here’s a sample where you can see Tardi’s original hand lettering side-by-side with the font used for the Fanta edition.  You can also see the size difference between the two editions and even see a bit of the difference between the way the blacks appear in each.

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The most curious difference between the two editions is their weight.  They’re presumably both the same length as far as page count goes, and they’re just about the same size, but the French edition seems like it weighs a ton compared to the Fanta edition.  I put them both on my postal scale and indeed the French edition weighs nearly a half pound more.  I guess maybe glossy paper weighs more per-sheet than uncoated matte paper? (You’d think the American would be the one overweight, haw haw haw!)

Anyway, this is a great-looking edition of this book and I’m really looking forward to reading it for the first time complete, in English, start to finish.  This Fantagraphics series is maybe the third–or even fourth–time that a U.S. publisher has tried to get Tardi’s work to “stick” with an American audience.  I hope they’re successful.

7 comments

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  1. Kim Thompson says:

    Thanks for the kind words!

    Most everything in life is a trade-off, and the cover designs and paper stocks are cases in point.

    I agree that the “one page of the interior” format Adam Grano came up with loses some of the usually excellent original cover designs (although I’m not a fan of either of the WEST COAST BLUES/PETIT BLEU French covers), but it’s a brilliant way of creating a distinctive “series” look. In fact, the original inspiration was a quote from Tardi saying he’d come around to the opinion that the best cover illustration for a graphic novel is an at most slightly modified panel from the interior (which you can see on his two PUTAIN DE GUERRE covers on French Amazon.com), an idea Adam took and ran with.

    On the matter of paper, the problem is that coated paper (what you call “glossy”), while it allows for stronger and crisper blacks and more eye-popping color, is somehow less “readable” than uncoated paper. It’s almost as if your eyeballs somehow bounce off the coated paper while they get absorbed in the uncoated. You’ll notice that after the 1980s flirtation with coated and even glossy papers in the 1980s and 1990s, most cartoonists and publishers, at least on the art/alternative end of things (us, Drawn and Quarterly, Pantheon) have gravitated to uncoated.

    Incidentally, the reason the French edition is so much heavier is that coated paper is thinner, that is to say, paper of the same weight bulks up less. So Casterman is using far heavier paper than we are but it bulks up about the same.

    I wish we could take credit for the fantastic Tardi font used on TRENCHES (and WEST COAST BLUES) but it was actually created by a Danish publisher for his line of Tardi books, and by sheer luck we stumbled into getting a copy (the guy who designed it was a cartoonist who was also in our anthology FROM WONDERLAND WITH LOVE and mentioned its existence to me). In fact we have two Tardi fonts, a “Tardi moderne” (this one) which we’re using for ’80s and later work (when Tardi’s style loosened up and he started doing his own lettering), and a “Tardi classic” we developed for ’70s work (when he had a letterer working, I believe, from his own basic letter forms), because we discovered that the loose “moderne” one didn’t really fit well with Tardi’s style on, for instance, the older ADELEs. Interestingly, at some point we’ll have to switch from “classic” to “moderne” as Tardi’s style evolved on the ADELE series…

    As for the commercial aspect: When I launched the Tardi project back in 2008 I was fully resigned to this being an “ars gratia artis” project that would lose us money or at best break even — as you say, Tardi has in the past been published and then abandoned by Fantagraphics (the original serializations of TOLBIAC BRIDGE whose graphic novel version was aborted), Dark Horse, NBM, and iBooks– but either the American audience has caught up with Tardi’s appeal or we’re just doing such a brilliant job with it because WEST COAST BLUES is a solid hit (a second printing this year is likely), the extremely difficult YOU ARE THERE isn’t doing badly, and the response to TRENCHES so far is overwhelmingly enthusiastic (as it should be).

    I plan to do one Tardi release per season (two per year) until I retire or they pry the keyboard from my cold, dead fingers, and in fact have already sketched out the next eight Tardi books I want to do. (We’ve already announced the next one, which is ADELE BOOK 1, and the likely fifth one is Tardi’s next Manchette adaptation which he is working on right now.) The support of fans and bloggers will help this come to pass!

  2. Ben says:

    Thanks for the clarifications/corrections on some of this stuff, Kim.

    As mentioned in the post, I prefer a non-coated stock as well, despite the slightly less-crisp blacks. It’s more “paper as paper,” if that makes any sense.

    As a Tardi fan, I’m especially glad to hear that the line is doing well so far. I’m betting production values do have something to do with it. iBooks’ BLOODY STREETS OF PARIS was a decent-looking book, but other than that, most U.S. editions of Tardi stuff haven’t really been nicely-designed hardcover books like the Fanta or Casterman editions.

    For what it’s worth, I’d like to put in a vote for LE DÉMON DES GLACES as a future Fanta/Tardi edition!

  3. Ben says:

    Tardi, from Kim’s post: “the best cover illustration for a graphic novel is an at most slightly modified panel from the interior”

    This is something I 100% agree with. All of the covers for my books (at least the SLG ones where I’ve been wholly in charge of the cover design) feature slightly modified panels from the interior of the book.

  4. Kim Thompson says:

    I have to admit LE DEMON DES GLACES is fairly far down on my list, although the woodcut graphics are really neat. Since it’s not THAT important to read the text in this one, it’s mostly about the crazy graphics, I’d recommend that any American Tardi collectors buy the French edition (about 25 bucks on Canadian Amazon).

    Also: CHIURES DE GOMME and MINE DE PLOMB, available from French Amazon, are splendid collections of Tardi’s illustration work, unfinished strips, weird shorts, etc. Even with the International shipping charges they’re a steal.

  5. Chris S says:

    Ben,

    I’d not picked this one up yet, but look forward to doing so. Thanks for the mention – I didn’t realize it was out! (shows how out of the loop I ma when it ain’t con season).

  6. Kim Thompson says:

    Actually, LE DEMON DES GLACES just moved up on our list. I was reading the next two ADELEs, which will obviously be in line for 2011, and realized that LE DEMON DES GLACES ties into MOMIES EN FOLIE — it would kind of ruin the gag of having the characters from DEMON show up in MOMIES (complete with a big plug for the book!) if DEMON isn’t available to readers.

  7. Ben says:

    Glad to hear LE DEMON DES GLACES is on the roster. As you mentioned, the book’s most striking feature is its gorgeous scratchboard art, but it’s a fun story as well. I must not have that particular volume of ADELE, ’cause that’s the first I’ve heard of the DEMON characters appearing in it. Thanks for the update!

  1. Everyone’s a Critic | A round-up of comic book reviews and thinkpieces | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment says:

    […] Ben Towle compares Casterman's French edition of Jacques Tardi's It Was the War of the Trenches with […]

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