The Arctic Marauder
Written & Illustrated by Jacques Tardi
Translated by Kim Thompson
Published by Fantagraphics
Fantagraphics has been injecting a steady stream of Jacques Tardi into the American comic book market, and I, for one, am appreciating it. From the ugly World War I drama It Was the War of the Trenches to whimsical fantasy The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, Tardi is proving a singular and unclassifiable cartoonist. Their latest translation, The Arctic Marauder, continues to showcase Tardi’s range.
Set in 1889, The Arctic Marauder tells of young Jérôme Plumier, a medical student, witness to the unlikely discovery of a sailing vessel lodged atop an iceberg. When his own ship is destroyed, Plumier is eventually rescued but begins a strange, surreal and twisted adventure, leading to the discovery of why so many ships have been sinking in the Arctic Sea and the origin of the iceberg-bound boat.
Whimsically dark, The Arctic Marauder doesn’t fit in with many other books. It’s steampunkish, with an innocent. humorous narration that contrasts the book’s cynically maniacal characters. I have to admire Tardi’s choice to end the book on the most unlikely note, where most writers would end the prologue.
Graphically, Tardi is a superb cartoonist, using strong layouts and strikingly iconic character designs that stay with the reader. His page designs add to the boldness of each composition, and the architecture and technology give the book a palpable sense of place and time.
In short, The Arctic Marauder is pure fun, silly and dark camp. It’s a beautiful book, with an appealing cover and a sturdy hardcover binding. Tardi’s narrative voice keeps the proceedings puckishly light and pleasant, while the plot itself explores oceanic depths and throws out characters rife with madness and egocentrism. There aren’t many books quite like it; comics readers are better off for having Tardi available here in the States.