REVIEW: The Arctic Marauder by Jacques Tardi

Jacques Tardi writer and artist.

Fantagraphics Books, 2011.

This is a 64 page graphic novel that collects material that Tardi originally created and released in 1972 with the French title Le Démon des glaces. It was translated and released in early 2011.

The first thing an interested reader encountering this volume in a bookstore or library will notice is the art. Tardi’s draftsmanship is truly a wonderful thing to behold and this book features his work with scratchboard. This medium allows for a woodcut effect with an added dimension of shading and depth applied to the art and allows texture and shadow to be applied to the image. The result is a classic text illustration effect that pairs well with the Jules Verne/H. G. Wells inspired story.

The plot follows a young man named Jerome who books passage on an arctic ship. While sailing through an iceberg plagued area a ship atop an iceberg is encountered. The crew of this strangely and precariously marooned ship has been instantly frozen in place. Jerome, a doctor by training, joins the away party that is in search of survivors. When the group reaches the shipwreck the passage boat that they were on explodes, leaving the away group trapped on the iceberg shipwreck for several weeks until they are rescued by a passing Danish ship.

Upon returning Jerome discovers that his uncle has died. By chance he meets one of the sailors that he was marooned with in the North Atlantic. Jerome decides to join this man on a scientific research ship to the area where they were marooned. This ship is also destroyed, blowing Jerome into the icy water. He awakens in a futuristic floating ship that is disguised as an iceberg. Tardi treats us to some interesting schematics of the ships layout. His rendering of machinery is a feast for the eyes in its delicate lines and sense of enormous scale.

Jerome is amazed to discover that his uncle is alive on this ship, having faked his own death. It seems Jerome’s uncle is a bit of the mad scientist bent on world destruction. Jerome is asked to join this mission and he does not hesitate. No sooner has he joined then they are attacked by enemies to their global domination plots. Though the iceberg ship is sank, Jerome and his uncle (along with his uncle’s partner in crime) escape in a Davinci-esque fantasy flying machine and travel to a remote jungle pyramid to regroup and launch their attack on civilization again.

The book ends rather roughly here, with our villain protagonists poised to rebuild their machinations for global domination. That being said it is a somewhat unsatisfying end to the story. It is not that this is an inappropriate note of closure, but that the story just seems to be gaining momentum at the moment that it ends. The plot is great, but it just ends too soon into the unraveling of the characters.  One could wish for a second volume, but Tardi moved onto other things and left this story behind. If there is a sequel I am not conscious of it.

What makes this book of interest is the art, not necessarily the story. Tardi provides some great work here, which considering this was made when Tardi was in his late 30s is a damn fine achievement. I heard about this book from Vince B. of the 11’Oclock Comics podcast’s (lengthy) praise on episode 189. He noted that Tardi’s use of the medium of scratchboard was remarkable considering how “unforgiving” it was to work in.  Here is a youtube tutorial describing the process, and once you realize what Tardi worked with to create this aesthetically pleasing book:

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I have a master's degree in anthropology and do contract archaeology (in season) in the Midwest United States. The rest of the time I have a flunky job at a major retailer that keeps me in health insurance. I am married and have a cat named Odin.

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