The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec: Pterror Over Paris and The Eiffel Tower Demon

I don’t read enough European comics. I like many of their visual styles, but I’ve found often that the package seems expensive for the amount of story you get, or worse, they’re written from and for a very male perspective. (The science fiction books, for example, tend to have lots of undressed busty robots.)

Adele Blanc-Sec cover
The Extraordinary Adventures
of Adele Blanc-Sec:
Pterror Over Paris and
The Eiffel Tower Demon
Buy this book

When I saw this at the Fantagraphics table at SPX this year, then, I jumped at it. A creative historical adventure starring a woman? With the kind of detailed, setting-based art I associate with European works, but with minimal cheesecake? Looked like just what I was searching for.

It turns out that the comic was originally created in French in the 1970s (!). There was a previous attempt at American publication by NBM in the early 90s, but Fantagraphics has relaunched the series in English in attractive oversized hardcovers with new translations and the intent “to collect every one of its nine (soon ten) volumes.” (Note that this volume contains the first two, thus the lengthy title.) There’s also a media tie-in. Director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) released the first in a planned series of French films adapting the comics in April 2010.

Some call it “steampunk”, but there’s a lot more mystery and adventure than retro technology in this series set pre-World War. Adele starts as one of many players, but she’s firmly in charge by the second chapter. When we first see her, she’s kidnapped another woman in order to steal the use of her father’s invention to break an innocent out of jail.

There is a pterodactyl, as promised, plus changing loyalties and attempted murder and socio-political commentary, with a police bureaucracy, doddering professors, and a cowardly gentleman hunter. In the second story, a mysterious Assyrian statue of a demon leads to a secret society, an on-stage killing, and revenge on the double-crossers from the previous story. I was reminded, in the way events inexorably become stranger and stranger in an historical setting, of Rick Geary’s Adventures of Blanche.

I enjoyed Tardi’s art, which made me feel as though I was visiting 1911 Paris. It can be difficult keeping all the characters straight, what with the similar suits and bowler hats, but that was the way fashion worked, and it contributes to the feelings that everything we know might change any moment. The stories are dense and packed with outrageous events, providing a sense of adventure. The recaps, as characters explain what’s going on to each other, were both a help — I often got lost in terms of who was allied with whom at any given moment — and a satire, reinforcing just how much Tardi is playing with the conventions of the genre and layering event upon event, a kitchen-sink approach to plotting that keeps the reader interested in a world that seems so sedate but where anything can happen.

The publisher’s blog has some preview pages, as does Publishers Weekly. Author Jacques Tardi is considered quite the grand master of the artform, as discussed in this interview with translator/editor Kim Thompson about the artist from last year, when Fantagraphics started reprinting some of his other works. The second Adele volume, The Mad Scientist/Mummies on Parade, is planned for Fall 2011. It will be difficult to wait that long, but in the meantime, I can reread this book. I’ll likely discover more in its pages each time. It’s fun, but with the knowing remove of self-awareness and satire.

9 Responses to “The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec: Pterror Over Paris and The Eiffel Tower Demon”

  1. Grant Says:

    This looks pretty good. I really enjoy stories set in late 19th and early 20th century. Having just finished re-reading Margaret MacMillan’s Women of the Raj and Paris 1919, I think I’m definitely in the mood for something like this.

  2. Skye Says:

    I just wish the film had been released in the U.S. I was hoping to see it.

  3. Budget for Good Books: Comics Out November 10 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] shopping earlier this year, I don’t have to make one. If I hadn’t already bought The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (Fantagraphics, $24.99), it would be a very difficult choice for me this week between that and […]

  4. SPX Snuck Up on Me — It’s Next Weekend! » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] the second volume of The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec by Jacques Tardi, because I appreciated the first. I’d like to get the second Mickey Mouse comic strip volume, “Trapped on Treasure […]

  5. Fantagraphics Puts International Comics on Sale » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] upcoming Volume 2 can be pre-ordered at the same discount), A Drunken Dream, Jacques Tardi’s Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec and his other works, and anything by Lewis Trondheim. Check out the sale and see some of the […]

  6. Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec Movie Coming to US » DVDs Worth Watching Says:

    […] Tardi’s graphic novel series The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec had a live-action movie adaptation that came out in France two years ago. The film was directed and […]

  7. Adele Blanc-Sec Movie Announced for Blu-ray and DVD » DVDs Worth Watching Says:

    […] French movie adaptation of Jacques Tardi’s graphic novel series The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec has been announced for Blu-ray and DVD from Shout! […]

  8. Interview With Jacques Tardi About the Adele Blanc-Sec Movie » DVDs Worth Watching Says:

    […] The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec provided this interview with Jacques Tardi, the original comic creator. I’m reprinting it here because I admire Mr. Tardi’s attitude toward a movie adaptation […]

  9. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec » DVDs Worth Watching Says:

    […] I liked most about the comic book version of The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec by Jacques Tardi was the sheer number of imaginative concepts carried in its pages. I’m […]




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