Review: ‘5,000 Kilometers Per Second’ untangles relationships with elegance

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In 2010 Grand Prize winner at the Angoulême Comics Festival in France and the Lucca Comics Festival in Italy 5,000 Km Per Second, Italian cartoonist Manuele Fior utilizes his strong watercolor skills to offer not the whole of a relationship, but slices, and leaves it up to the readers to fill in the spaces with the parts he gives them.

Piero and Nicola are friends, young guys who clown around and find themselves both fixated on Lucia, a pretty girl in their apartment complex who comes of mysterious, even aloof, only heightening their interest in her. Fior takes this first encounter as a starting slice, offering several more incidents in the triangle over a period of years that reflect confusion as realized through heartbreak and abandonment, and the eventual reconciliations and realizations made too late.

Fior’s presentation of love is a mature one, and the book is like one of those moments a person has when they are older and gain a clear vision of how little they actually knew when they were younger. The usual inclination is to focus on the romance, but Fior finds greater interest in the implications of the romance, and the tremors through the years that follow. While some might center the romance as a special moment to cherish and celebrate, to obsess about in the narrative, by not even portraying it, Fior delegates it to a lesser role in the human emotional life, taking its place as one component in a series of feelings and events that make up a life.

From the vantage point of maturity, Fior suggests that the romance might in fact be little more than a catalyst for everything else that happens in the lives of Piero, Nicola, and Lucia. To elevate the romance is to miss the point of living a life.

It all comes together with Fior’s absolutely gorgeous artwork. In his renderings of Italy, Norway, and Egypt, he is able to bring the physical properties of the locations together with the emotional realities that surround his characters, and their experiences with the world captured in swashes of various color that define this collusion of spaces, both in the head and outside of it.

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