Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

Home > Bart Beaty's Conversational Euro-Comics

Salvatore: Transports amoureux, Nicholas de Crecy
posted February 22, 2005


Currently receiving a good deal of publicity is Dupuis' new line of full-color albums, targeting the same sort of high-end genre works and artists that have turned Dargaud's Poisson Pilote line into an award-winning success story. Expresso, as the Dupuis line is so inelegantly titled, represents a new direction for Dupuis, a sort of copy of a copy of an innovative idea. When Dargaud launched its Poisson Pilote line several years ago, it was widely seen as an attempt to steal the thunder of L'Association by repackaging their artists in traditional full-color albums. The fact that L'Asso alumni like Lewis Trondheim, David B., Guy Delisle, and Joann Sfar were contributing books to the line certainly bolstered this impression. Viewed by some as a watering down of the revolutionary spirit of the small-press, and by others as an opportunity for alternative creators to legitimately revitalize the mainstream comics traditions in France and Belgium, the Poisson Pilote emerged as a critical success, spawning two Angouleme winners for best album: Christophe Blain's Isaac le pirate: Les Ameriques (2002) and Le combat ordinaire by Manu Larcenet (2004). Expresso, it seems, is Dupuis' take on Dargaud's take on L'Association's innovations.

Expresso, which combines such alternative comics friendly talents as Nicolas de Crecy, Dupuy and Berberian, Gregory Mardon, Hugues Micol, and Caroline Hui Phang (author of Panorama, discussed here last week) with well-established smart comics stalwarts Miguelanxo Prado, Jean-Philippe Stassen, Max Cabanes, and one contemporary superstar in Zep, is an attempt to rebrand one of the most traditional of Belgian publishers. Dupuis is well known for the thousands of books in their back catalogue, including classics like Gaston, Spirou et Fantasio, les Schtroumpfs, Buck Danny and literally dozens of others, but it is not particularly well known for its cutting edge material, despite the fact that they have published a number of high quality albums in their Aire Libre series. Last year, however, the company was acquired by the massive publishing concern Media Participations, which also happens to own Poisson Pilote's Dargaud (as well as manga publisher Kana, Lucky Comics (Lucky Luke), Blake and Mortimer (who are responsible for the comic of the same name) and Lombard). While still run as a distinct company, it is clear that Dupuis is taking steps to make themselves more innovative and relevant, not the least of which is a rumored return to the Angouleme festival after a nearly twenty year absence.

Given the challenge of rebranding, then, how have they done? Well, the first book is something of a mixed bag. Salvatore: Transports amoureux is the first album in what is promised as an ongoing series written and drawn by Nicolas de Crecy. When De Crecy broke into comics a decade ago he was one of the most innovative visual stylists working in the medium, stringing together a collection of classics (Foligatto, Leon la came, Bibendum celeste) in quick succession. Ten years later, he remains one of the most interesting artists working in the field. Salvatore, while drawn in a more spare style than much of his work, will not disappoint fans looking for another eye-pleasing tome. Nonetheless, this time out De Crecy's visual style seems completely let down by the script.

The story of Salvatore revolves around an anthropomorphic bear who fixes cars, while longing for his childhood sweetheart. In the first volume he is visited by a myopic pregnant pig named Amandine. Salvatore fixes her car, steals a part for his own vehicular invention (intended to transport him to his lost love in South America) and tries to make a deal for more car parts. Along the way there is a beautiful set piece in which Amandine loses control of her car (the absolute highlight of the book), but little else happens.

In many ways, this is typical of the new album phenomenon launched by Poisson Pilote. The books of Joann Sfar, for example, often carry on with little in the way of plot progression or narrative closure, resulting in a seemingly endless series of to-be-continued books that do not stand on their own merits. This is a break with the classical tradition in which most albums were self-contained, even when the story continued in other volumes. Here, however, De Crecy does little other than introduce the protagonist of the series and sketch the central theme. On its own, it is not enough. The book feels incomplete, because it is incomplete -- deliberately so. Moreover, so little is introduced that it was hard for this reader to generate any interest in the inevitable second part.

For lovers of De Crecy's art, of which I am most definitely one, the hollow story places Salvatore on a level only slightly above his sketchbooks (Monographie, Plaisir de myope, Des gens bizarres, Cafes moulus), which is not what most people are looking for from a full-fledged comic book. And that's the problem, it's not a full-fledged work, but a promise of something larger. So, I'll get back you when it's finished for a final verdict, but as a stand-alone volume, Transports amoureux is a disappointing way to kick off what is hyped as an innovative new line.

Next time: More Expresso from Gregory Mardon