My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'll start with a quote from the author's acknowledgements page:
"In the 60s my parents and grandparents moved to the U.S. from southern Italy. They brought a lot of stories with them about what it was like growing up there in the first half of the century. These were vivid and revealing tales, and seemed to hint at a rich and ancient world that had been lost somehow between two World Wars. At some point I decided to start writing them down."
The story of this book is "a strange little vignette," as the author put it, "hovering between fact and fiction, a quick fade-in and fade-out of a small puzzle piece of [his] own history." It is the story of one day in 1923 when Cavallaro's paternal grandfather, "Paolo" in this rendition, wrecked his life irrevocably. A band walks home after a festival. A group of fascist sympathizers "escorts" them on one side, and a group of Socialists, spurred on by the chance of a confrontation, walks along the other.
The page I have placed here to the right is perhaps the book's most understated; it is also one of my favorites. It is a short study of a typical day in the life of Paolo (the guy on the right) and his friend, the "Professor," just before havoc hits. We learn from this page that "Vincenzo has brought a whole parade with him." And the nature of the fireworks can easily be guessed at.
Dragged into the fray by matters of family loyalty, mixed in with the crazed clannish idealism of the time and place, Paolo commits murder and is tried for it. He only gets six months, but things are vastly different when he gets out: the burden of his legal defense has ruined his family financially, and the stress has led to the death of both his parents.
Raw passion is replaced by raw ruin.
However, the fiery passion of the Italian radical spirit, it seems, was not to be subdued. But he doesn't dwell long on his pain, as is apparent from the last page.
The artwork in this book is fantastic, and perfectly mirrors the intense mood, laced with sadness that this story epitomizes. It has big bold colors, with sharply defined shadows, and what I can only see as great pencil work, obviously done by a person with a strong background in animation. All of which made me audibly take notice when taking my first flip through, and elevate this book greatly in my imagination.
The comic, as I found out after a little digging, was originally published online, one page at a time, for free on a "webcomix collective" called Act-I-Vate. Web comics are a dime a dozen these days, but in this case "eyes popped" and publishers took notice. The story was published in a two-part miniseries by Image and later packaged into one trade paperback. The whole thing can still be read online, for free (though I am of the opinion that the colors, a big draw for me, lose of their impact when viewed on a monitor.)
And the story is apparently only the beginning of a planned larger arc, tentatively titled "Seven Years Without the Sun" -- though, as far as I know, no additions to the series have materialized. It seems Cavallaro has moved on to other things, but hopefully he never forgets his past -- and even remembers to write and illustrate some more of it, so the rest of us who have nothing but drunks and heart failure to fill up our family histories have some more great personal history to read.
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