Griffu (1978)

Streets Of Paris, Streets Of Murder: The Complete Graphic Noir Of Machette & Tardi Vol. 1

Griffu has all the trappings of hard-boiled detective fiction–a reluctant “hero,” in this case the titular Griffu, whose not a private investigator but a “legal advisor” (read, apparently, debt collector), a femme fatale (or three), and an intricate plot line involving corruption and class—only set in seventies Paris. And, of course, there’s the omnipresent narration.

The first panel’s exposition box sets the scene for the story, though without any fanfare—writer Jean-Patrick Manchette seems to fully understand what it means to be narrating in the past tense and gets the important stuff out of the way first, but without signaling the importance. Manchette and Tardi originally serialized Griffu, which means if you happened to miss the first installment, you’d entirely miss out on the long-term layering the creators had been doing.

The majority of Griffu’s narration is terse and pragmatic, with just enough personality for Tardi to find a good expression to accompany it with. Eventually Griffu will get talky—including the requisite “detective explains all” scene in the finish—but Manchette and Tardi are working hard at establishing Griffu, the character, as not too bright.

If he were bright, he might’ve listened to the nagging suspicion in his head and not gotten taken for a ride by the first cute girl customer he’d had in a while. She gets him to break into a real estate developer’s office to get some files, then abandons him there once she’s got them. After a quick recap of how Griffu found himself in the situation, goons show up to confront him on the breaking and entering. They give him a beating before he can escape.

They’re going to catch up with him later and hire him to find the girl—but only with the files. By that time, Griffu will have already met up with the girl’s roommate, fetching coed Evangeline, whose already had a run in with the same set of goons.

The story will take Griffu around Paris, from ritzy parties to immigrant hostels, from the offices of Charlie Hebdo to the strip clubs; Griffu’s always a bull in a china shop, bumping as many heads and noses as possible. When the comic finally does get to the shootouts, it’s incredible Tardi’s able to get so much mileage out of the violence’s intensity given Griffu’s usually bleeding from one nostril or the other. Tardi and Manchette spend most of the story establishing the hard, violent world only to then explore how much harder and how much more violent it can get.

Great art from Tardi, which gets slightly overshadowed when Manchette actually makes sure to plug all the plot holes he’d left leaking throughout. The finish is simultaneously exciting, harrowing, and depressing. Tardi will occasionally have these haunting punctuation panels, searing the image into both Griffu and the reader’s minds—Manchette even draws attention to one in the narration, with Griffu standing and staring—and the finish brings that quality to the lightning paced action sequence.

Griffu’s awesome. It’s Tardi; of course it’s awesome. But it’s also really nice Manchette wasn’t lazy with the loose threads.

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