Saturday, May 06, 2017

Noir Com: To Have and To Hold by Graham Chaffee

I can't think of many activities as diverting as reading a graphic noir novel? And Graham Chaffee's To Have and To Hold, published by Fantagraphics, is probably the best I've read since Max Cabanes and Doug Headline's 2015 Manchette's Fatale. Not that I've read all that many in between, but you get what I mean. Unlike the Cabane and Headline publication, Chaffee's bande desinee is strictly a black and white affair, right in keeping with the genre and the era. And unlike Fatale, based on the Manchette novel, both story and graphics belong to the author.

Set in 1962 in New York during the Cuban missile crisis, it ticks the usual noir tropes- a marriage gone bad, misplaced passion, infidelity, lust, murder and betrayal. Not to mention a robbery committed for an ulterior motive and  doomed to fail. Which makes To Have and To Hold something like a close cousin to, and an updating of, Kubrick's The Killing. Moreover, Chaffee's text isn't that far removed from Jim Thompson's hard-edged screenplay for Kubrick's film.

While it's the narrative that first grabbed me, as the story progressed I was increasingly impressed by those inky graphics which alternate shades and degrees of intensity, not to mention the tight editing of the material that cuts so fluidly between the various characters and settings with all the aplomb of the finest film noir editors. No doubt the ex-cop and psychotic husband and his wayward wife, whose dreams of the good life have been shattered, deserve one another,  but while reading Chaffee's b.d., I kept thinking about that Floyd Tillman song form the same era, that would be sung by the likes of Ray Price, Don Gibson, Wynn Stewart, etc.: "The sun goes down and leaves me sad and blue/The iron curtain falls on this cold war with you. You won't speak and I won't speak it's true/Two stubborn people with a cold war to go through." Though, in this case, stubborn, is an understatement of monumental and murderous proportions.