‘5,000 km per second’ by Manuele Flor – A Graphic Novel with Subtlety

 

‘5,000 km per second’ by Manuele Flor   (2009) – 153 pages       Translated by Jamic Richards

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Every year I search the lists of the best graphic novels to find one or two that might appeal to me.  This year I have come up with an exceptional one in ‘5,000 km per second’ by the Italian writer/artist Manuele Flor.

For me, the big problem with graphic novels is that they lack subtlety.  The stories in them are too simplistic, the drawings are too obvious, or the colors are too loud.  ‘5,000 km per second’ is different in all these respects.  This is a graphic novel for intelligent sensitive adults.

The story takes place in the three countries Italy, Norway, and Egypt.  The main three characters are Italian teenagers, Pierro, Lucia, and Nicola.  Nicola is a ladies man, but his friend Pierro is quite shy.  They are both interested in the neighbor girl Lucia.  Being shy herself, she falls for the shy one Pierro.

However the narrative does not hang around in Italy for very long.  In the next chapter Lucia is in Oslo, Norway living with a small family there.  In the next chapter Pierro is in Aswan, Egypt working as an archaeologist.

All of the drawings in this graphic novel are watercolors drawn by Manuele Flor himself.  He captures the bright radiance of Italy, the darkness and coldness of Norway in winter, and the hot sunniness and foreignness of Egypt to an Italian youth.  There is one scene of Pierro riding the bus to his Aswan archaeological site that fully captures the strangeness of Egypt to an Italian boy as he overhears conversations in Egyptian that he has no idea of what they are saying, and the people are dressed in types of clothes unknown to Italians.

fem-tusen-kilometer-i-sekundet3Perhaps that is what impressed me most about ‘5,000 km per second’, the capturing of the atmospherics of a situation.   There is nothing cartoonish about this graphic novel.  It communicates on a visceral level. Not all aspects of the story are easy to understand or to follow.  One must be fully involved in order to appreciate this understated story.    Much of the story is implied rather than directly described.

The title ‘5,000 km per second’ is the speed of voice communication over the phone from Norway to Egypt.

I believe this is a particularly fine graphic novel for those of us who read a lot of novels.  It has all the attributes of good fiction plus delightful artwork.

 

 

Grade:   A  

 

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9 responses to this post.

  1. Mmm, maybe. I have only ever tried one graphic novel, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and I abandoned it because in the edition I had, the print was too small for me to read even with my glasses. I had to use a magnifying glass, which was just too irritating to persist with. But I also found it a strain to read because of the way the eyes have to dart about – I think, really, that I read it wrongly, that I was applying the way I usually read instead of adapting to a different way of reading altogether, focussing also on the pictures as well as the dialogue. A bit like the way one has to adapt the method of reading when reading with a Kindle…

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    • Hi Lisa,
      Persepolis and Persepolis II were two of the graphic novels that got me hooked on them as well as Maus and Maus II by Art Spiegelman. For me graphic novels are easier to read than novels, and a few of them are very good. I’m not into superheroes or fantasy stories but a good realistic graphic novel seems to combine art with writing. I find that I do need a magnifying glass for any reading I do first thing in the morning, and I probably did use one on ‘5,000 km per second’ because the print wasn’t very readable.
      All I can say that ‘5,000 km’ is a graphic novel for adults despite its title.
      I would call graphic novels children’s books for adults.

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      • Some of the ones I bought for my students at school (novels for 12-15 year-olds) were produced mid sized, bigger than a trade paperback but not as big as A4. They had print I could read easily. I also have two Shakespeare plays as graphic books, but although I think they’re a good way to get teenagers into S’peare, I found them wanting and not really a substitute for the real thing.

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        • Shakespeare as a graphic novel, what a concept. They used to have something called Classic Comics. I could see Shakespeare in a graphic novel, but they must include every word in the play. If they tried to condense the wording at all it would be a disaster. If they do include every word, the graphic novel would probably be prohibitively long.

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  2. I’m very picky about graphic novels – the last good one I read was Red Rosa about Rosa Luxemburg. But I have to say that the images in this one look lovely!

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