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Archive for December 10th, 2011

By Bob Clark

The term is film noir, but it could just as easily be comics noir, couldn’t it? Really, you’d have to go all out and use the French term bande dessinee, but that wouldn’t really be a good fit. After all, when one thinks of French comics, even the harder and more mature stuff, it tends to arrive either in the slick ligne claire style of the Belgian master Herge (even much of the more sordid works of guys like Jacques Tardi bear his inimitable influence) or in the high-concept fantasy school of Jean “Moebius” Giraud. American comics, however, are full of the stuff that noir dreams are made of, especially if you look back to the time of funny-page works like Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, which began in 1931, around the same time that the earliest recognized noirs were taking shape on celluloid.  Gould’s bold, determined style has shown plenty of influence on countless artists both in comics (Art Spiegelman’s pre-Maus experiments play like absurdist detective fantasies) and in film (don’t be surprised if a certain Warren Beatty movie finds itself covered in this column sooner or later– don’t hold your breath for it, either, because I’m likelier to go digging up The Rocketeer if I can locate a copy of the Dave Stevens comics). It’s especially interesting to read Gould’s colorful, grotesquely amusing adventures in crimefighting fantasy and think of them being run in the same papers that might’ve run headlines reporting the same kind of gangland wars that Tracy himself was fighting on the front lines of. It makes a certain amount of sense that you can see the genre cementing in those two primary forms of media during the depression– in cinema and in print.

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