||[Feb. 16th, 2009|06:24 pm]
100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)
THE LEFT BANK GANG – Jason
“Crime And Punishment was a good comic book, though.”
The Left Bank Gang takes place in an alternate universe in which The Lost Generation writers – in particular Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce – are cartoonists. In fact every famous writer is, from Gertrude Stein to Dostoevsky, and so all of the great works of literature are comics (William Faulkner apparently draws his panels too crowded). The other obvious difference between our world and theirs is that there everyone is an animal. Jason draws The Lost Generation living on Paris’s left bank in the 1920s, getting drunk, arguing in cafés and sketching in their notepads, as anthropomorphic dogs, cats and birds.
The animals are given only a bare handful of the most necessary and obvious facial expressions, the backgrounds are sparse and delineated in simple lines like Herge’s and both are shown in a regular grid of even-sized panels. In tandem these simple effects speed up comprehension and enhance the flow of the story – Jason’s style is the comic-book equivalent of Hemingway’s famously direct and spare prose.
These portraits of the artists as blank-faced funny animals aren’t quite their historical counterparts. Jean-Paul Sartre appears as a French stereotype in a striped shirt, obsessed with the size of his penis. James Joyce complains that if he hadn’t read so many comics as a kid he’d instead be perfectly happily working as a plumber instead of digging an early grave at his desk every night. Hemingway casually belts a critic who accosts him in the street, then carries on telling Fitzgerald about how wonderful bullfighting is. The most direct difference comes when, confronted with a world that has yet to recognise their genius, Hemingway turns his fellow cartoonists into a gang and plots an audacious robbery.
Halfway through, The Left Bank Gang changes from a story about struggling literary types living in the Latin Quarter of Paris and becomes a heist movie. Specifically, it becomes Stanley Kubrick’s 1956 film noir, The Killing, from which it casually borrows several of its details. The characters neatly slot into the roles dictated to them by the new genre they suddenly inhabit – the man with the plan, the fall guy, the traitor – and two-fisted Ernest Hemingway gets to become the star of a hard-boiled pulp story just like those that his work, in our world, influenced.
In The Killing one of the characters dies summing up his life with the famous last words, “Just a bad joke with no punchline.” The Left Bank takes the writers responsible for some of the early 20th century’s most notable literature and traps them in the tropes of the latter half of the century’s potboilers; it’s a good joke with a hell of a punchline.