Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 14 (2/17) -- The Salon by Nick Bertozzi

I came late to Nick Bertozzi's debut graphic novel The Salon; I'd seen his work (illustrating Stuffed!, which was written by Glenn Eichler, and probably short pieces as well), but not read the book that got Georgia retailer Gordon Lee in so much legal trouble a few years back.

(I don't mean to be flippant about the case, which was horrific for Lee, but I usually like to pretend that I don't live in a world that contains such obvious imbeciles as Southern prosecutors.)

The Salon is a weird tale -- and I mean that in a technical, genre sense as well as being purely descriptive -- of the Paris modernists in 1907, focusing on painters Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, both new in town and just beginning to do exceptional work. They meet each other and are both brought into the circle dominated by art dealer Leo Stein and his sister Gertrude (who meets Alice B. Toklas during the course of the book). Other major characters include Erik Satie, Guillaume Apollinaire, and the not-as-dead-as-everyone-thinks Paul Gauguin.

But the real center of the story is a mysterious blue woman of fantastic strength who is stalking the night, finding modernist painters (all minor ones, so far, of which there seem to be an endless supply) and tearing their heads off. The modernists want to find and stop her -- Leo, in particular, is terrified by her, for reasons that become clearer as the book goes on -- but they're more interested in arguing and making their various kinds of art, drinking and carousing and having a good time. So the story wanders around, gradually giving a fantastic explanation to the mysterious blue woman (and bringing back Gauguin in an unexpected way).

The Salon is a roisterous, earthy, electric story of passionate artists and their hangers-on, lively and thrilling and adult -- both in the obvious sex-and-nudity ways and in the more subtle sense of being about avocations, art, and the importance of doing good work. If art were always this much fun, everyone would do it!

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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