Editors Notes: Kim Thompson on Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot

Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot by Jacques Tardi & Jean-Patrick Manchette

[In this installment of our series of Editors Notes, Kim Thompson interviews himself (in a format he's dubbed "AutoChat") about Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot by Jacques Tardi and Jean-Patrick Manchette, now available to pre-order from us and coming soon to a comics shop near you. – Ed.]

Okay, if I already have West Coast Blues, why should I buy Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot?

My promotional tagline for Sniper is, “For those who thought West Coast Blues wasn’t violent enough.”

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Seriously? West Coast Blues was pretty brutal.

Sniper mops the floor with it. It was the last novel Jean-Patrick Manchette completed before he died in 1995, and to some degree it’s an exercise in technique. He himself said this, and he also said he wanted it to feel like the Aldrich movie version of Kiss Me Deadly, I assume in terms of velocity, brutality, and the sheer amount of virtuoso set pieces. That’s a high standard (Kiss Me Deadly is one of my top five favorite movies ever), which I think he hits. It also ends with an apocalypse, albeit just inside the protagonist’s brain.

It’s also probably the most extreme example of what Manchette called his “hyperbehaviorist” style, which is a complete refusal to go inside any of the characters’ heads: It’s all purely observational. “He does this. He does that. Then this happens.” It sounds alienating, but your own conjectures as to what’s going on in every character’s head become far more interesting than anything Manchette could have written. The blankness of Tardi’s character faces adds immeasurably to it, by the way, which is one reason they’re such a good team.

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What does the title mean? Why is the protagonist “like” a sniper lining up his shot, isn’t he a sniper and doesn’t he line up his shots? Isn’t that that like calling a boxing movie “like a guy about to punch another guy in the face”?

It’s the very last sentence of the novel, and the last sentence of the graphic novel. Trust me, it makes sense.

This is Tardi’s most recent book, right?

Yeah. At this point in his career Tardi is a zen master. Every panel is designed with such confidence, every line laid down with almost arrogant unfussiness… I can’t praise it enough. I know there are people who pine for the more anal, detailed, “clean” look of some of his earlier books, and it’s not an unreasonable aesthetic preference to have. But to me this is just pure cartooning. And it adds another level of dark wit to what is already a blackly funny book.

There’s a four-page scene where the protagonist, Martin Terrier, catches up with some poor patsy who’s shadowing him, tortures the information out of him, and kills him, and the sheer nonchalant professional viciousness of Terrier (as rendered in one of those inexpressive mask-like Tardi faces I just mentioned) and squirm-inducing nature of the scene topples over into funny… as I’m absolutely sure Manchette intended. If you’re reading a noir interrogation scene set in a car and the sentence “he pushed in the cigarette lighter” comes up, your “Oh, NO…!” reaction is supposed to be overlaid with a nervous giggle.

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Sounds like the infamous “fingers” interrogation scene in Man on Fire.

I would not be at all surprised to learn that Brian Helgeland, who wrote Man on Fire — one of the more satisfyingly uncompromising revenge thrillers of the past 20 years — had read the original novel, which is available in English (under the title The Prone Gunman). Am I the only one who found that scene in Man on Fire funny too?

Blecchh. Maybe you and Quentin Tarantino. I hope to God so, or I despair for humanity. Let’s end with a double-barreled “what’s next?” question, namely what’s the next Tardi book you’re doing and will there be any more Manchette/Tardi books?

The next Tardi book we’re committed to is the second Adèle Blanc-Sec book (collecting the third and fourth French volume), and while my current plan is to follow that with the “expanded” Roach Killer (i.e. with three or four short stories also set in New York added to it, including “Manhattan” from RAW Vol. 1, titled New York Mon Amour), this may change. As for Manchette/Tardi, there is of course Griffu which we serialized in Pictopia and could throw out there as a graphic novel some season when I’m feeling lazy and not up to adding a translation to my schedule, but I think we'll be able to make another Manchette/Tardi-related announcement soon.

One more thing: Those who would like to read an actual Manchette novel should be advised that New York Review Books just recently released an English-language edition of Manchette’s Fatale, which is a nifty hitwoman thriller. (Tardi started an adaptation of it back in the 1970s and abandoned it.) Go here to order it on Amazon.com.

I would also add that Manchette’s prose is the most fun to translate. I’m not saying it’s the best (nor am I saying it’s NOT the best) in terms of quality, I’m saying it’s just a blast. When I’m working on a Manchette book I can barely wait to finish dinner to run down and knock out a few more Manchette pages. Translation is sort of like literary karaoke and “singing” in Manchette’s voice is pure joy, even when the protagonist is ripping someone’s ear off for no good reason. Maybe especially when the protagonist is ripping someone’s ear off for no good reason. In fact I’m sad I’m done with this one.

One more thing, if you love cats… uh, never mind. There are a lot of cat lovers out there and I’ll just let them have their own little surprise.

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