The Arctic Marauder Review

By | Saturday, April 02, 2011 Leave a Comment
Have you ever read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? I know you know the basic story, but have you read the actual book? The original by Jules Verne? (Or at least a translated version.) Put aside everything you saw in the Disney movie or remember from Classics Illustrated or any of the myriad of adaptations that have been done over the years.

The original story, as with most of Verne's fictions, is incredibly dull. Yes, the giant squid is still there and Nemo blows up some ships and all, but Verne's writing style tends to be overly precise at the expense of the story pacing. I'm always ambivalent towards his books; he's got a lot of brilliant ideas and solid scientific extrapolations, but there's generally only the barest characterizations and not a lot by way of story narrative.

I point this out as a preface to Fantagraphics' recently published translation of Jacques Tardi's The Arctic Marauder. The story is pretty similar to 20,000 Leagues -- two scientists get fed up with the world, build a ship that's invisible to normal modes of detection and take their aggressions out on everyone who aren't on board. Like Verne's book, the story is largely told from the point of view of someone outside the main crew -- in this case, one of the scientists' nephews. Which allows Tardi to have some exposition that makes sense within the context of the story, as both the main character and the reader largely have the same perspective.

Also like Verne's work, the story itself is a little shallow and not terribly engaging at an emotional level. It feels very much like it comes out of the same late-1800s/early-1900s European writing style. It's not badly written, by any means, just in a very different style than what we're accustomed to these days.

What I think would attract most people to the book is the absolutely gorgeous artwork. The whole piece is very clearly influenced by the engraving style illustrations from that same period, and every page is a delight to look at. Even the small chapter illustrations are striking. Unlike those old engravings, though, there's a slightly more graphic element to Tardi's work here. There's a very conscious use of negative space, and makes good use of an absence of lines in his shading.

While some people may find the story not to their liking (namely those who don't care for Verne's work) the artwork more than makes up for it, in my opinion. I personally have a hard time slogging through Verne's work because the then-new scientific ideas that may have kept his original audience engaged were well-known by the time I read of his material; I had nothing in his work to engage me at any level. And while Tardi doesn't come up with any new scientific theories either, the artwork more than makes up for the flatness of characters in the story for me.
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