Sunday, July 29, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #210: Blackbird Days by Manuele Fior

If I say a book of stories feels more European than specifically Italian, is that a compliment or a criticism? If I said the same thing with "American" and "Texan," would it be different?

I'm not sure, but they're interesting questions -- and that's where my mind has been going after reading Blackbird Days, a collection of short comics stories by the Italian creator Manuele Fior. (All translated by Jamie Richards, and published this year in the US by Fantagraphics. The ten stories here originally appeared, in various European publications, between 2007 and 2015.)

Fior's work does feel European to me, rather than specifically Italian. His characters are more likely to be in Paris than Rome, and as likely to be in Oslo as Salerno. They tend to be Italians, where their nationality is specified, but they're living and working in a wider world -- they're Italian the way I'm New Jerseyan.

These are mostly short stories -- just a couple of pages -- and mostly have the kind of realistic tone found in non-fiction or its close fictional cousins. The great exceptions are the title story, a near-future SF tale about something that is just about to begin, and the final story in the book, "Gare de l'Est," in which two giant robots (which look, very deliberately, like children's toys) battle just outside that train station.

The rest of the pieces, though, seem to be commissioned on specific topics or themes: the story of mentally disordered Great War soldier, one father's panic when his son disappears, the multi-generational story of a Laotian refugee family, a painter's convalescence, a quiet response to the 2015 Paris terrorist attack, a teacher who changes her mind on an class trip, a young woman visiting Oslo, a young couple on vacation. Does that mean they're not what Fior would have created, given the time and space to make whatever he wanted?

Who knows? And how would it actually matter?

We have these stories, that Fior actually did make. They're smart and just a bit cold, with a softness to his line no matter what the medium. They are about all sorts of things, but they are all quite European. And they make me wish more of Fior's work was available in English.

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