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Cuatro manos (Four hands), the graphic novel PDF Print
Written by Francisco J. Ortiz   
Friday, 29 January 2010

Taibo II et Améziane
Cuatro manos (Four hands), the graphic novel

We are all familiar with Paco Ignacio Taibo II and his monumental crime-fiction novels set in Mexico. One of his best, Cuatro manos (Four hands), is now being released in Spain as a comic.


Written by Franciso J Ortiz

Translated into English by Helen Oclee-Brown


When discussing irreverence and crime fiction in the Spanish language, the conversation unavoidably turns to the body of work by the Asturian-Mexican Paco Ignacio Taibo II. The author of novels such as Días de combate (Combat days) or La bicicleta de Leonardo (Leonardo's bicycle) and essays including the definitive biography of Pancho Villa, PIT II has been leading the Semana Negra (the Noir Week), a crime-fiction festival, in Gijón for more than two decades. This weeklong event is the living embodiment of fused genres and narrative codes, and an intrinsically indivisible mix of culture and carnival. Many of the elements of this Molotov cocktail, whose inherent purpose is to get to grips with fiction, can be found in one of his most travelled novels, Cuatro manos. In this work, various story lines intermingle covering a vast geographical area and lengthy time period

Cuatro manos begins on 19 July 1923, on the border of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. A tired-looking man with a sad expression arrives at the border with scarcely any luggage, just eight bottles of Holland gin. The Mexican customs officer thinks he knows him, but he cannot remember who he is. It is only when the man crosses into foreign territory that the officer recognises that he is Stan Laurel, the quieter half of the famous "Laurel and Hardy" comedy duo. The next day, this well-known actor, past his prime, will be an accidental witness to the murder of the aforementioned Pancho Villa.


Many years later, in the present day, two investigative journalists, the American Greg Simon and Mexican Julio Fernández, decide to travel to Nicaragua to start up a new joint venture. Meanwhile Alex, the head of a secret CIA department with the acronym SD (Shit Department), comes up with a plan to use Rolando Limos, the mafioso and drug-dealer from the dregs of society, as his mole.


These three main plotlines are retained in the comic-book adaptation of the novel, of which only the first two volumes are available at present. The adaptation takes both the first and the beginning of the second of the five parts that make up this multi-dimensional book. Part of this extremely faithful approach - reproducing not only the facts of the story but also the same structure, the chapter titles and much of the dialogue -  is surely due to PIT II who has taken the reigns of the project together with the illustrator Amézaiane. The latter has the difficult task here of transforming the enormous imaginary world of the novelist into cartoon form, a world that encompasses turn-of-the -century cinema, the disappearance of Roque Dalton, the coalfields of Asturias and Leon Trotsky writing a detective story. This is a task that the cartoonist pulls off great flair. The reader will be led on a journey around Spain in the first half of the twentieth century following the diary entries of Tomás Fernández, grandfather of the Mexican journalist who emigrated to Asturias to start a newspaper that opposed the Franco regime and who ended up running a small hotel where a certain forgotten star of black and white films was to stay...

Despite an inundation of information and a certain tendency towards lengthy texts, which is no doubt the fruit of the main creative force's verbosity, Cuatro Manos (the comic) is a page-turner that leaves you wanting more. The friendship that unites Greg and Julia is captured with such precision that it is reminiscent of the camaraderie found in Sam Peckinpah's films. Moreover, the character of Alex and his work at the helm of the SD gives the reader one of the most fascinating glimpses into the world of intelligence services ever enjoyed, and is certainly a match for those created by Norman Mailer, Robert De Niro and Greg Rucka in terms of literary, cinematographic and, of course, comic references. Whilst we await the next instalment, with a particular interest in the incredible work of Améziane, we can content ourselves by returning to Taibo's novel where the comic finished off.

Published in:

Revista .38, No 7, December 2009

Paco Ignacio Taibo II & Améziane: Cuatro manos. Barcelona, Norma Editorial, 2008 (2 vols.). 96 pp. c/u., 19 € c/u.


Last Updated ( Tuesday, 01 June 2010 )
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