By Nicolas De Crécy
The title character in French cartoonist Nicolas De Crécy’s Salvatore is a little dog who is also a fantastic auto mechanic. That is not all that extraordinary a fact in the world of De Crécy’s meandering romantic adventure comedy, as its a world populated almost exclusively with anthropomorphic animals filling the roles of human beings.
What is extraordinary about Salvatore is that he is such a great auto mechanic that he is able to move his business far, far away from the rest of society, necessitating long, long drives from would-be customers seeking his services. He might be a good mechanic, but he’s not the most scrupulous—he helps himself to the parts he needs from various cars.
Don’t judge him too harshly though, he has a good reason for it. Julie, the love of his life, suddenly moved to South America, leaving him a note reading “If you love me as much as I love you…you’ll find the way to rejoin me.” Rather than, say, saving up for a plane ticket, Salvatore has devoted his life to building an elaborate all-terrain vehicle capable of traversing land and sea to take him to her, and it is into this contrivance that all the stolen parts go.
We first meet Salvatore through Amandine, an extremely near-sighted and extremely pregnant sow who requires his services, and she and her children—birthed at the climax of a highly animated and action-packed sequence following her Mr. Magoo-like drive down from Salvatore’s mountain—end up figuring prominently in the still-unfolding story (which continues into a second volume). Also involved in Salvatore’s quest and the various sub-plots are a young female cat who adopts one of the piglets, a bull and a cow who owns an expensive car with a part Salvatore needs, and a silent little creature who serves as Salvatore’s assistant (the “creature” is the only human being character in the book).
While technically all-ages, Salvatore skews older, probably toward young readers in their later teens, as there’s some visual comedy based around the deaths of animals, some strong language (The word “prick” jumped out at me) and a bare breast in one panel, presented in the context of breast-feeding. Librarians considering it for their collections will definitely want to give it a read first.
Those animal deaths, as well as the reversal of having a tiny, speechless human being serve a subservient role to the animal lead are actually pretty representative of De Crécy’s clever, coy usage of anthropomorphic characters.
Amandine was rendered a single mother, for example, because her husband’s destiny “slipped away from him, determined by outside forces,” a narration box reads, while the image in the panel is of her husband’s head on a platter, an apple in its mouth, on a tray.
When Salvatore calls a bull on the phone, we see the bull holding a cell phone to his ear with one hoof, while engaged in a balletic battle with a matador: “I’m in a meeting,” the bull says.
Likewise, while Salvatore is a very cartoony dog, the beautiful Julie is drawn extremely representationally.
De Crécy’s artwork is constructed with many fine lines, and his character designs are all out-sized and possessed of wiggly, almost sketchy figures (his work has been called Plimpton-esque, and it’s not a bad description), while the backgrounds they move through are all highly, finely detailed.
His greatest strength, however, is the implied motion occurring from image to image: His characters really seem to move, and nowhere is that more evident than in the Amandine driving sequences, which involve lots of careening, falling and even a surprising amount of flying.
The leisurely pace, slightly skewed sense of humor, and young adult-that-looks-kid-friendly content might make the book a somewhat acquired taste, but, once you’ve acquired it, Salvatore is something of a feast.