The nominees for the 2011 Eisner Awards were announced recently, and as I made my way through the list of comics and creators in the running, I realized there were a number of books included that were in my sights for reviews. I don’t plan on reviewing every Eisner-nominated comic — and couldn’t, given time and financial constraints — but I thought it would be nice to publish the occasional Eisner-related review leading up to the presentation of the awards at this year’s Comic-Con International San Diego in late July. First up for my “Eye on the Eisners” series of reviews is an English translation of a French work — Salvatore Vol. 1: Transports of Love — nominated in the Best U.S. Edition of International Material category.
Salvatore Vol. 1: Transports of Love softcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Nicolas De Crecy
Colors: Ruby & Walter
Translation: Joe Johnson
Publisher: NBM Publishing
Price: $14.99 US
Salvatore isn’t the sort of graphic novel that would normally catch my eye in the store, and it made its way into my review pile because the publisher sent along a copy. As I made my way through the first few pages in this book, I was befuddled by the creators visual style, choice to use anthropomorphized animal characters and oddball motives, and I began to dismiss the book as something I wouldn’t appreciate due to some cultural divide. But as I stuck with it, I found myself oddly drawn in by the criss-crossing plotlines, the title character’s ethical (or unethical) journey, and the surreal and energetic artwork. I found De Crecy’s writing overall to be challenging, thought-provoking and well worth reading, but the scattered, random approach to plotting and the lack of resolution of those plot threads disappointed a little as well.
A canine mechanic named Salvatore has carved out a satisfying career as one of the most sought-after mechanics in his small French village, but he’s hidden the real purpose of his mountain top garage from all but the little man who serves as his watchman. In truth, he’s been stealing auto parts from his clients’ cars — not vital ones, mind you — in his mission to build an all-purpose vehicle that will carry him across the globe to South America, to where the woman he loves moved with her family years before. Salvatore’s plans inadvertently cause ripples in the lives of several people he’s encountered, such as Amandine, the pregnant pig whose alternator he’s stolen, and the bovine wife of a Bentley owner who possesses the rare part that will finally complete the mechanic’s master work.
De Crecy’s artistic style and sense of design are exaggerated in tone, but in a manner that’s quite unlike what North American comics readers might expect. The level of detail is almost overwhelming, and the designs of vehicles, buildings and other elements are quite over the top. But at the same time, some characters — notably the title character — are incredibly simple in appearance and design. I suppose that simpler look is meant to reflect Salvatore’s single-minded motivation. De Crecy’s vision of the sow Amandine is quite grotesque, which makes for a sharp contrast with her seemingly genteel demeanor. Of course, I see that character as the creator’s commentary on the poor state of parenting in the world.
One has to give De Crecy credit for conveying action, distance and scale so effectively throughout the book. There’s a key sequence that seems clearly inspired by slapstick, American cartoons, a la Road Runner and Mister Magoo. Amandine’s bizarre trip after leaving Salvatore’s garage is quite amusing, as De Crecy keeps trying to top the previous impossible scenario with an even more ludicrous circumstance. It’s a fun scene, but it also seems like padding.
The main conflict in this book is the title character’s ethical trials in the name of the long-delayed reunion with his one true love. At first, he steals inconsequential car parts from rich clients, never placing those people at risk or truly diminishing the value and operation of their vehicles. But over the course of the book, Salvatore begins to slide down a slippery slope, justifying worse crimes in the name of his heart’s desire. He overtly steals something a property owner would miss; he toys with two women’s affections, lying to them; he considers abandoning a loyal servant whose discovery placed him in a position to achieve his dream; and then he plans an art heist. It’s only when Salvatore is exposed and his desire for an elusive motor part is laid bare that he attains it (albeit painfully). De Crecy’s message comes through loud and clear: even the most soulful, heartwarming goal can’t justify dishonest deeds.
I found the creator’s depiction of Julie to be rather interesting and possibly telling. The reader’s perspective of Salvatore’s long, lost love is through that character’s alone, so presumably, we see her as he sees her, not as she actually is. I couldn’t help but notice that save for a single word balloon, Julie’s dialogue is presented only as illegible scribbles, suggesting that Salvatore hears only what he wants to hear from her. His relationship with her and the future he’s imagined for them might be just that: imaginary. Given the cynicism that arises throughout the book, I can’t help but suspect that’s where the writer/artist is headed.
Despite the use of cute (and not-so cute) animal characters, there’s no denying that Salvatore is a cerebral story meant to challenge the reader with its social commentary — though given the scene featuring the art critic, I’m he wouldn’t appreciate the analysis. The more I read, the more I enjoyed discovery that commentary, uncovering the symbolism. But at the end of the book, everything felt so unresolved. I realize there’s more in come, in other books, but some conflict resolution, some effort to offer a shorter story within the larger plot needed to be included here. Reading this first volume of Salvatore is a bit like a weird hitchhiking experience. It’s like I got to ride along with this cool guy who shared all of these amazing, wild and weird stories, but the same guy drops me off on a back road in the middle of nowhere in the dead of night. Later on, I’ll see it as a great experience to share with others, but at the moment, I felt stranded and a bit lost. 7/10
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