Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Review: The Salon

Your basic comic book heroes have all kinds of day jobs. You've got your newspaper reporters and your photographers and your Bill Bixbys but as a rule, you tend not to have too many modernist painters. Thankfully, Nick Bertozzi has ended that drought with his new graphic novel, The Salon. It's 1907 Paris and a mysterious blue figure is beheading art collectors with disturbing frequency. It falls to the members of Gertrude Stein's famed salon -- her brother Leo, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braques, Erik Satie, Guillaume Apollinaire and Gertrude's lover, Alice Toklas, to put an end to the killings.

Bertozzi's drawings are filled with expression and life, simple but with a rough elegance. The characterizations have depth - he portrays Picasso as a crass, nymphomaniacal cross between Peter Lorre and Joey Tribiani. The ostensible hero of the piece, Georges Braques, is tall and handsome, equally fearless in his pursuit of the killer and of the perfect painting. The scenes between Braques and Picasso as they debate how to achieve the truest depiction of form and figure is fascinating. The story, which is fast paced and tension filled, also has its fair share of humor, especially in the scenes between rivals Picasso and Matisse, and in the group's trip to the circus during which Gertrude fears she won't see her favorite animals, crying, "The poster had elephants..." It's humanizing moments like these that make The Salon so rich.

For graphic novel enthusiasts or for those who just always wanted to see Gertrude Stein as a crime-fighting action hero, The Salon is well worth reading. In fact, I'm desperately hoping there's a sequel just so I can see more of Erik Satie. I mean, the guy started his own one-man religion for cryin' out loud. Let him kick some modernist bad guy ass.

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