December 22, 2011

Better Together: The Salon and The Left Bank Gang

This review is adapted from one written for the 2012 edition of
Season's Readings, Durham County Library's annual book of reviews and recommendations, now available at all locations! Past editions may be viewed at The Salon may be found on the Graphic Novel shelf under the call number Bertozzi, N; The Left Bank Gang may be found under the call number Jason.

"Just another modernist with no head," comments a police officer at a murder scene. Everyone's a critic in The Salon, Nick Bertozzi's fantastic historical mystery, including the killer targeting Paris' avant-garde scene. Pablo Picasso, Erik Satie, Gertrude Stein and company split their time between the canvas (or score or manuscript) and drinking a peculiar, blue-colored absinthe that allows the drinker to enter the reality of any nearby painting. Soon this mind-altering key to the doors of perception is understood to be life-threatening in more ways than one.
From the opening scene of The Salon1

The story opens with subtle humor -- there is a running gag about carotid arteries, and Picasso is portrayed as more of a buffoon than genius -- but we are ultimately drawn through artistic temperments into personal struggles and interpersonal relationships, even as the meaning of the mystery deepens. Bertozzi's writing is as smart as it is touching, and his art is intoxicatingly dynamic.

Update: I recently found this nifty little promo video for The Salon, in which Nick Bertozzi describes his reasons for creating this story and his method for creating a page of comics. Fun and informative!

In Jason's The Left Bank Gang, Earnest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and James Joyce spend all their waking (and drinking) hours struggling with the meaning and purpose of their chosen profession: comics! When the fear or artistic failure and financial ruin sets in, Hemingway takes drastic measures and proposes that the quartet rob a bank. The crime and its aftermath are portrayed, Rashomon-style, by all the players, through to the bittersweet end.

Ezra Pound (left) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (right) in The Left Bank Gang2

Other historical figures appear throughout the story, including Gertrude Stein, who ruthlessly (and hilariously) critiques Hemingway's comics, and Jean-Paul Sartre, who plays a role both in Zelda Fitzgerald's bed and in the execution of the crime. Jason's trademark nearly blank-faced anthropomorphized animals and his clear-line drawing style are perfect for this book. The Left Bank Gang is quietly funny and quietly touching, and it definitely rewards multiple readings.

Top image:, © Nick Bertozzi
1. Image source:, © Nick Bertozzi
2. Image source:, © Jason

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