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