Friday, August 10, 2012

The Salon

The Salon is a murder mystery set in 1907 Paris where someone is killing artists. Art patrons Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo think they may be next, so they enlist the assistance of several of their closest friends, including historical figures Alice B. Toklas, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Erik Satie, and Guillaume Apollinaire to figure out the killer's identity and put a stop to these gruesome murders. The path to solving these crimes leads the reader through the city and its landmarks, a tour of art history, and assorted absinthe-tinged escapades.

Nick Bertozzi created this graphic novel. He has a number of other credits and is known for the graphic novels Houdini: The Handcuff King, Lewis & Clark, and Stuffed! He is also a contributor to ACT-I-VATE, drawing the webcomic Persimmon Cup. Bertozzi speaks in depth about his work on The Salon in this interview with Tom Spurgeon

I felt that Bertozzi did an excellent job weaving an interesting tale, conveying information about the period and characters, and also using color and form to his advantage in this book. The art has painterly aspects, and the colors portray not only mood but also transport the reader into different spaces and worlds where the action takes place. Balancing accuracy and fantasy is a difficult endeavor, and Bertozzi pulls it off with elan here.

Reviews I have read of this book have been positive about its form, flow, and content. Rebecca Porte praised the book with its combination of "energetic line with touches of cartoon flair and high modernist whimsy." Brian Heater called the book "a fun tale, culminating in an atmospheric climax." The Comics Journal's Dirk Deppey concluded that "Bertozzi's ability to make all the elements blend together is such seamless fashion is remarkable." A comprehensive list of reviews can be found here from the author.

Unfortunately, much of the publicity about this book came from a court case that arose when comics store owner Gordon Lee unwittingly distributed a comic book that contained an excerpt of this book featuring a naked Pablo Picasso to children during a trick-or-treat event in Rome, Georgia. He was defended by the Comic Book Legal Defense Club, "a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the First Amendment rights of the comics art form and its community of retailers, creators, publishers, librarians, and readers." In the end, after years of litigation, all charges against Lee were dismissed. This controversy overshadows an inventive, daring, and cerebral graphic novel.

A brief preview and more are available here from the author. He also provides a preview video here. The Salon was published by St. Martin's Press.

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