Jacques Tardi is one of the French cartooning greats—but his work is just starting to get its due in English translation, thanks largely to Kim Thompson of Fantagraphics. Run Like Crazy Run Like Hell, translated by Doug Headline, is the latest Tardi offering from Fantagraphics, and it lives up to its frenetic title—it’s a cat and mouse chase, where a hired assassin with an existential ulcer is chasing down a dopey but surprisingly daring nanny and her dumpy young charge. Why is there a price on their heads, and will they be able to escape their demise? As you seek the answers and are led to new questions, the story sucks you in and takes you along for a wild, dangerous, and violent ride.
Run Like Crazy is a graphic adaptation of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel, Ô Dingos, Ô Châteaux! and has a very literary feel about it. It begins very slowly, introducing nanny Julie as an unappealing young woman with a history of mental health issues and her charge, Peter, as a fat and whiny orphan taken in by his rich philanthropist uncle. We also meet Thompson the assassin, who is questioning his life’s work, physically driven to kill but also made physically ill by it, like Leon The Professional in The Professional, or perhaps the hapless hitmen of In Bruges. It quickly becomes clear that Thompson, tasked with killing Julie and Peter, has a number of challenges in his way, not in the least that Julie is smarter, bolder, and luckier than she looks, and that the gang Thompson runs with is full of dolts and dimwits.
Although there’s definitely an element of existential crisis (why does a hitman do what he does?), the crux of this book is simply in succumbing to the glee of an ultraviolent, winding, and unpredictable dramatic chase, with a rising body count, a plethora of weaponry, a smattering of auto thefts, and a satisfying conclusion. Tardi’s excellent sense of visual timing and sequential flow coupled with Thompson’s fine translation of Manchette’s strong and deliberate narration makes Run Like Crazy Run Like Hell read almost like an extremely detailed film storyboard. Once the chase begins, you are completely swept up in the ride.
Furthermore, Tardi’s illustration style is unique and skillful. All of his characters are essentially unattractive, chubby-cheeked, and buffoonish, but they live and travel smoothly and intuitively in detailed and often beautiful urban and pastoral settings. His style shares some DNA with Herge’s Tintin, but Tardi takes things to a new level of cartoonish ugliness and holds his characters in tighter, higher-tension focus than Herge. Tardi has an excellent sense of matching visual lightness and darkness to narrative shifts, and his ability to move the story along seamlessly makes you feel like the familiar panel-by-panel cartooning style is an entirely new form at his command.
Run Like Crazy Run Like Hell is a great and gory caper, filled with caricatures and complex character studies side by side. It is filmic and fun, dark and delightful, and if nothing else, it is a wonderful to read a story with an unexpectedly tough, and even slightly unpleasant young woman at its heart—driving the action and fending for herself with little fanfare. Tardi is a master of the subtly sinister story, and this story is a nearly perfect match for his cartooning and storytelling talents.
Run Like Crazy Run Like Hell
by Jean-Patrick Manchette, Jacques Tardi
Translated by Doug Headline
Art by Jacques Tardi