If you simply picked up and flipped through Salvatore: Transports of Love it would be easy to think it a good book for kids. After all, you see page after page of cute fuzzy animals talking, driving cars, and building wacky machinery. But if you sit down and read this newest book from De Crecy, it becomes apparent that Salvatore holds more in common with the absurdist cultural commentary of De Crecy’s book Glacial Period (2007) than anything for younger readers.
Set in a strange world in which humans talk with — and occasionally eat — anthropomorphic animals, this first volume opens with Amandine, a nearly-blind sow pregnant with twelve soon to be born piglets, driving a barely working car up the twisting roads of a snow-laden mountain. Amandine’s hilarious slapstick journey takes her not just up steep hills and hair-pin turns, but flying through the air and bouncing across the wings of an oblivious airplane. Why would the recently widowed Amandine put herself and her twelve impending children at so much risk? She’s taking her car to Salvatore, a small dog who is easily one of the best mechanics around, but also one of the most reclusive.
The focus quickly changes to Salvatore, who we learn is not just a great mechanic but also a thief using his auto shop to pilfer rare mechanical parts from his customers. His ultimate goal, though, is not to get rich off his thievery, but to finish constructing his custom built automobile and drive it across the ocean to South America where he hopes to find his long lost love Julie.
Much like Amandine’s drive up the mountain, the story lurches and veers in different directions, giving us multiple perspectives, layers of back-story, visual gags, word-play, and enough absurdist, existential humor to spin Samuel Beckett’s head. De Crecy even manages to slip in some bits of meta-commentary when the invisible narrator suddenly starts an argument with a character over the point of the story.
As the tale zigs and zags in different directions, themes of lost love intertwine as Amandine gives birth but misplaces one of her children. One can only imagine how things will tie together between Amandine and Salvatore in later volumes.
De Crecy’s sketchy, almost meandering line work matches well with a story that’s so elliptically plotted. Visually he’s often compared to the classic cartooning of George Plimpton, and while there’s certainly an influence, De Crecy doesn’t go quite as far with exaggeration of the form and his art is, quite frankly, a whole lot cuter. But the art here also manages to convey subtler layers of emotion. Bizarre as their situations are, it’s hard not to sympathize and feel for Salvatore, Amandine and the other struggling characters of this world.
Although younger readers might initially be drawn in by the inviting drawings of animals, they will be quickly put off by the existential and meta-textual humor that runs rampant through the book. While the humor will likely appeal to adult readers of Indie and European comics, the cutesy artwork might be an obstacle for some. That leave us with a fairly niche audience, but that niche audience will really, really love it.