Blutch’s Total Jazz is as Great as the Genre That Inspired It

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Blutch&#8217;s <i>Total Jazz</i> is as Great as the Genre That Inspired It

Writer/Artist: Blutch
Translator: Barbara Appleby
Publisher: Fantagraphics
Release Date: February 20, 2018

The number-one thing standing in the way of Total Jazz’s success is the fact that so many people won’t even bother to pick it up, either because they hate or are completely indifferent to jazz. I’m not here to tell you about how great jazz is. Some of it is lovely, and some of it is insufferable, and almost all huge jazz fans are the latter, but Blutch is somehow not. What this book is actually about is synesthesia, or at least the process by which humans can translate one art form into another (as well as how they fail at it). French comics artist Blutch (a.k.a. Christian Hincker) isn’t particularly well known in the United States, but he won the grand prize at the Angoulême comics festival back in 2009, which is a big dang deal. Also: he is wonderful. New York Review Comics put out the English translation of his book Peplum in 2016, and it was like turning over an ordinary log and finding a phantasmagoric beetle underneath: something rare and unexpected and mind-blowing.

Total Jazz Interior Art by Blutch

Total Jazz is the same trick. You go into it expecting to take your medicine like a dutiful grown-up person who reads comics, and you end up totally delighted. Mostly, this is because Blutch can flat-out draw. You get the feeling that if you dropped him on a desert island with nothing, he’d find a way to make some stellar art. Every crease in a pair of pants feels right but not photorealistic. His characters have weight to them, which means they walk around with confidence and presence. You don’t need to know much about jazz to appreciate or enjoy the book, and, in fact, your loose perceptions of it as noise appreciated by a very small audience that can nonetheless be very cool sometimes will be reinforced by its contents.

Total Jazz Interior Art by Blutch

Most of the pieces in here are only a page long, and they read like the best Mad magazine one-pagers, with fluid set-up, pacing and punchline all done without much padding. There’s a ton of cross-hatching and scribbly stuff, which can make the pages dark, but it doesn’t feel messy. It’s like a tornado confined to a bottle. Executed over a long period of time, for the magazine Jazzman, they show a fairly wide variety of line work and approach, but they’re all animated by the same rambunctious, itchy spirit. Read this book!

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