Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Book-A-Day 2010 # 335 (1/4) -- Salvatore, Vol. 1 by Nicolas De Crecy

There's an image in the American mind of a certain kind of Euro-comic: the characters are animals, more grotesque than cute (but still at least a little cute). The narration is discursive and philosophical, more concerned with showing off how world-weary it is than with directly advancing the story. The plot unfolds in several directions rather than following an expected linear path, and many aspects of it don't make all that much sense. The characters are never quite likable enough for the reader to warm up to them. And unpleasant things happen to those characters offhandedly, with at most a Gallic shrug from that philosophical narrative voice.

Nicholas De Crecy's new graphic novel Salvatore, Vol. 1: Transports of Love fits that stereotype very closely -- possibly because I made up the details above to fit the book, but nevertheless. It's set in a world much like our own, populated by various animals and the usual unlikely architecture and machinery that cartoonists can so rarely keep from drawing. The title character is a little dog, one of the best auto mechanics in the world. Salvatore works far away from Paris, to keep demands on his time to a minimum. And, when he does have customers, he steals parts (of "secondary importance") from their cars, so he can finally build the contraption on the cover, with which he intends to travel to South America to see Julie, a female dog he knew and loved for six months in his youth and hasn't been in touch with since.

(One can hardly complain about all of that from a thematic or dramatic standpoint, but the more practical reader might wonder if an easier-to-reach garage and an airline frequent-flyer card might not have accomplished his travel plans vastly more quickly -- and one blushes to mention the possibility of purchasing the parts he needs.)

Salvatore has a wee man who works for him -- called "the tiny thing" -- and the narrative also follows the customer whose car we see him fixing in the early pages: Amandine, a severely near-sighted pig with a dead husband (downsized and immediately turned into dinner at the slaughterhouse where he worked) and a litter of twelve piglets who are born in the middle of this book. (One of those piglets, Frank, will have adventures of his own, needless to say.) All of these characters, plus a few more, wander through the pages of Salvatore, flying down ski slopes in cars and getting blown up in train stations, braving the dangers of the sewer and trying to steal a rare adaptor.

It's all very odd, and would be rollicking, if it weren't so understatedly French. De Crecy's art has a loose, lazy line, which makes his characters all look lumpy and lived-in. His colors are similarly understated, mostly in earth tones, brightening up to yellowy browns and greens in places. Salvatore is agreeable and quite amusing as long as the reader doesn't invest too much mental energy trying to care too deeply about any of this -- the point is to shrug, sip your cup of very black coffee, puff on a Gauloise, and flip the page idly.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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