NPR logo 'The Arctic Marauder': A Mystery Wrapped In An Enigma Wrapped In ICY DEATH

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'The Arctic Marauder': A Mystery Wrapped In An Enigma Wrapped In ICY DEATH

Cover of The Arctic Marauder Fantagraphics hide caption

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Fantagraphics

Cover of The Arctic Marauder

Fantagraphics

In 1972, the great French cartoonist Jacques Tardi decided to take a turn at Verne, and created a ripping mystery/adventure filled with derelict ships, mad scientists, richly upholstered sleeper cars and — of course — vast machines of sinister purpose.

He illustrated his story using old tools on scratchboard, which lent the book an era-appropriate, woodcut-like quality.

Fantagraphics has been publishing the first English translations of several Tardi books for a while now, and last week they got around to The Arctic Marauder, a gorgeous, sprawling tale that — thanks to translator Kim Thompson's finely tuned ear for tone — boasts chewy Vernian narration:

"They return to The Arctic Marauder, whose underwater portion offers itself, magnificent, to the eyes of the three men, symbolizing the excess of the nefarious ambitions of the two madmen. Truly, it has been built to the scale of their madness, for all of its admirable qualities. Oh, if only they had devoted their energies to other pursuits! Is there no one to thwart their wicked plans?"

Call it ur-steampunk — one of the works that laid the groundwork for a genre that would, just a few years later, fill bookstore shelves with soot, goggles and gutta percha. Do I need to tell you there's an intricately detailed cutaway illustration of an immense death machine, or that both a giant octopus and a bat-winged aeroplane put in appearances?

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To evoke the era, Tardi used scratchboard to create a woodcut-like effect. Fantagraphics hide caption

toggle caption
Fantagraphics

To evoke the era, Tardi used scratchboard to create a woodcut-like effect.

Fantagraphics

Tardi's arctic seascapes and undersea trenches are things to marvel over, as is his ability to evoke the eerie undulations of the Aurora borealis with just a few finely scratched lines.

The Arctic Marauder is at once a loving homage and a smart satire; it's also, not for nothing, a rollicking adventure. Pick it up, and get rollicked.