For this week’s book review, I went on a quest to find something different. And, thanks to the people at Fantagraphics (doing the Lords’ work tm), I found 5,000 km Per Second. This comic was written and drawn by Manuele Fior, and was originally published in Italy. So I have to thank Jamie Richards for the translation.
The thing that caught my eye, and made it my pick for the week, was the cover. This comic is painted; every panel is done in water colors. This is not something I see often, and really stood out to me. In fact, as I was scrolling through other books (yes, I read it digitally, fight me!), my mind kept coming back to this cover. So I knew I had to give it a read.
How to summarize this book…it’s a bit of a challenge. On the surface level, it’s easy: it’s about two people who fall in love, drift apart, and then spend their lives coming ever closer, without getting together. It’s a story about love, loss, and real life, in that it doesn’t go as planned. But it’s something more than the surface. Each section of the book covers the two lovers, Lucia and Piero, alternatively, aging them as we read. We see the progression of their lives. And this is quite interesting because, as these are the two main characters, they are only in the periphery of each other’s lives. There are mere traces of their love in the story, until close to the end. I personally love stories like this, where key elements are not directly seen. I think it goes back to Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying when my professor pointed out that the titular dying character only gets one chapter, but is the whole focus of the story. Or like in Twin Peaks, where David Lynch’s philosophy is that the mystery is more important than the answer. It really expanded my mind as to what a story could be.
Referencing Faulkner and Lynch in the same paragraph? If you didn’t know I was an English major before, you do now.
This idea that the focus of this story was these two lovers, but much of the comic does not actually feature their love, only hints of it, really captured me. It is very common to tell a love story, but less so to tell an almost love story. I should say, I’m not spoiling anything too much here, all of this information can be found in the little blurb about the book online. After all, while their love is the crux of the story, it isn’t. (Duality?) Really, it’s more of a story about life; how it unfolds, and the constant “what ifs” we all live with. It is not a fairy tale about true love, it’s about the reality of life: youth, love, growing old, drifting apart. It is, as the summary online says, delicate.
I wanted to work that in here somewhere.
It is, in the end, a very touching story that you might label a tragedy. Maybe not a full tragedy like everyone ends up dead, but you actively watch two people grow apart, try to get together again, and then realize it will never happen. It’s a sort of beautiful, sort of sad graphic novel.
This feeling is enhanced when you factor in the art. As I said, it’s watercolor, and that really intrigued me. It might be because I have no idea how to paint, but I was quite taken by the look. Although, that’s more the color, than the drawing, so I’ll get to that in a second. The line work in this story had a sad quality to it. I don’t mean that it was sad as in bad, but rather, when looking at it, things felt unhappy. The lines were thin and just a tinge shaky, giving an imperfect look (such is life, right?) This left the characters devoid of the strong, thick lined look that many comics use. Of course, for me, this helped the story a lot because, as I said, the story was kind of sad, remember?
But it was not the line work that stood out so much as the color (told you I’d get there). In fact, I don’t remember seeing a lot of the line work, but that’s how painting works, isn’t it? Asking for a friend. Boy, did the water colors just give this a whole new level. I would say most comics are colored digitally these days, but seeing a story in water color really makes you feel like you’re reading something special. Water color also has a very special tone and consistency to it that makes you say “hey, that’s water color” and that was fun to study. It was quite interesting to see how tones are done in painting vs. digital color. But that was my personal enjoyment because I work on comics so much.
What I think everyone can appreciate is the tone that color sets. As each story progress, the main color changes. For example, the first chapter is dominated by yellow and green, while subsequent chapters move to darker colors, like blue and purple. It gave each chapter a distinct feeling. In the beginning, when everything was yellow and green, it was very bright, like unnaturally bright. But they were kids, and that’s how the world looks when you’re a kid, everything is better than it really is. Then, as the story goes on, and the tone gets more bleak, the colors darken. The finale sees us in a world of purples that signal to us, “this is the end.” This was a very cool use of color, and I think that a lot can be learned from it. Color is a powerful tool for both characters and tone in comics, and for the latter, this book is a genuine study.
So, as you can tell, I quite enjoyed this book. You might say that I have a soft spot for European comics. But the truth is, I have a soft spot for GOOD comics. And Fantographic Books.