The books are part adventure comic, part hardboiled fiction. They're terrific whodunits that conjure up all the precise atmospheric detail of, say, a Georges Simenon novel, but with twice the plot. And the artwork is striking, paneled like a comic but with historical grit. Here is Paris in its authentic beauty: rainy, crowded and bristling with characters who wear their neuroses like carnival masks.
And I was sold.
This graphic novel is recently available in English, but I figured, hey, I can read a French comic book. In French. I've done it before. So I did it again. Les aventures extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-sec, tome #1, Adèle et la Bête, by Jacques Tardi.
What I like most about the story is how it combines some pretty disparate elements, all interesting in their own right: prehistoric creatures, seemingly supernatural powers, a feminist sensibility, early 20th-century Paris.
I'm a little fuzzy on some of the details, however, like who's the guy the pterodactyl swoops in to rescue from the guillotine. Not sure if that's the fault of my graphic-novel literacy, or my French. Doesn't matter, I'll read it again and figure it out.
In a weird coincidence, a few days after I brought the book home, my daughter watched the film adaptation at school (they have movie afternoon at the end of the month). From what she tells me, the movie has developed Adèle's back story and filled in many of the details. I look forward to reading about Adèle's further adventures.