Saturday, June 2, 2012

Juggling Act: Salvatore, Volume 2

If there's one thing I've noticed about the comics of Nicolas De Crecy, it's that he's willing to pursue a tangent as far as it will take him. There are five different plot lines winding through the second english translation of his Salvatore graphic novel, but he's perfectly happy to ignore dangling plot points in favor of a tangent that yields a great series of gags. As the quest of the title character lurches slowly through the book, De Crecy slowly introduces more characters into the mix, each with their own motivations and plotline to call their own. It's a highly successful juggling act that retains all of the elements that made the first volume of this series (the first two volumes, actually, just as this one contains volumes 3 and 4 of the original French albums) such a delightful success. Once again, De Crecy's character design is top notch and drives much of the book's humor. His characters are anthropomorphic animals that frequently retain a surprising amount of their original animal nature. For example, Amondine the pig is usually depicted as nude, and De Crecy takes that in some hilarious directions. Forced to get a job to feed her brood of piglets, she first is fired from her cashier job when a customer buys a suckling pig that she fears might be her lost piglet, Frank. Then she puts on overalls for a manual labor job but is fired for getting stuck inbetween two boxes. Finally, she wears a frilly pair of panties as a topless waitress before she's fired for being too fat. That latter job is the kind of clever sight gag that De Crecy unexpectedly peppers into his narrative.

Of course, the lead narrative is Salvatore (an anthropomorphic dog) and his little friend (a miniature human being) going on a road trip to try to find Salvatore's true love Julie, who happens to be in South America. Of course, Salvatore is driving from France and plans to drive through to Russia, over the Bering Straits, over to Alaska and down to South America from there, which is every bit as crazy as it sounds. He's a deluded blowhard who heaps abuse on his friend until he's separated from him at the end of the book (and has a tearful reunion), but there's an essential kindness to his character, even as he finds himself tempted by a woman he helps out by giving her a ride. Meeting her German shepherd boyfriend is a highlight of the book, as De Crecy draws him as a leering, wolfish fashion photographer who is nonetheless nattily dressed (depicted in exquisite detail by the artist).

The quest to find Frank is the second major narrative in the story, as Almondine hires an inept and vaguely existential private detective to find him. They wind up inadvertently bumping into another of the storylines in the book that puts them achingly close to Frank. He was rescued by a young woman named Lea after a group of Goths were attempting to sacrifice him on a cross (this book goes from whimsical to grim without much warning), who fancies herself his mother. Her father, a devious businessman (there's a great sequence where he claims to be a self-made man because the factory he inherited from his father had only 6,000 employes when he took it over), finds the piglet embarrassing and hires a couple of roughnecks to try to take him out. The rest of Almondine's piglets create a business empire predicated upon scamming unsuspecting consumers with promises of "organic" food, one of many subcultures De Crecy gleefully takes a shot at in this book (Goths come in for a good-natured beating as well.). The colorist Walter adds some weight to De Crecy's scribbly drawings, but it's the surprisingly nuanced body language of his frequently bloated, grotesque and ridiculous-looking characters that carries the narrative. The authority figures look grim and officious, the litter of pigs chitters away like a miniature board of directors, the young and female characters have a curvy sexiness and sophistication, and poor Almondine careens from one disaster to another as a marvelously realized comedic force. I'd say De Crecy's slapstick and use of body language is more potent than his satire, which at times aims at easy targets. Above all else, things are constantly moving in this book, even if, like Salvatore discovers, all that movement wound up plopping him back at the beginning of the journey. De Crecy ensures the reader that the fruitlessness of Salvatore's journey doesn't extend to the entertainment value and sheer delight found in his cartooning.

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