Review – Salamandre GN (Dark Horse Comics)
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics (Berger Books Imprint)
Writer/Artist: I.N.J. Culbard
Release Date: 9th November 2022
On sale today from Dark Horse Comics, Salamandre tells the tale of a young artist named Kaspar who, struggling to deal with the death of his father who he idolized in every way, is sent by his mother to stay with his mildly eccentric grandfather in a country living under an oppressive regime.
It’s safe to say that I.N.J. Culbard is one of my absolute favourite artists working today, so the prospect of him writing and illustrating a 140-odd page graphic novel instantly filled me with excitement from the moment I first heard about it. The execution of the story here is beautiful, with Culbard seemingly drawing on his own life experiences to paint an evocative picture of a young man learning about both the harsh realities and the hidden joys of the world he lives in.
Kaspar is a truly fascinating protagonist whose world completely and utterly falls apart when he is forced to live without his hero. The brief interactions between Kaspar and his father Swann in the early pages of the book are more than enough to establish that relationship, and as the story moves on, his father is never far from his thoughts in the form of the relentless ticking of his ‘lucky’ watch, which Kaspar claims for his own, and a recurring underwater dream where he and his dad are briefly reunited.
The world Kaspar is thrust into is equally as fascinating, as he finds himself living under a regime where music and art is illegal and the only person anyone is allowed to idolise is the “Emperor.” The loss of his father has clearly stripped him of the boundless joy he once had when he would write thrilling adventure tales with his dad as the swashbuckling hero, and in this new environment where such things are completely forbidden, he finds that sense joy further suppressed… to begin with, anyway.
Culbard’s work is immaculate here, adopting a measured pace while still managing to draw the reader into the world that he has created. The mystery which Kaspar discovers during his time with his grandfather piques his long-time love of spies and subterfuge, but it feels almost secondary at times to the development of the young man himself as he gradually discovers that there is still beauty and creativity in the world.
There are some beautiful moments along the way, but perhaps the one which stuck with me the most was the family’s humble post-dinner celebration, where – due to the aforementioned ban on music, and much to Kaspar’s surprise – they end up miming singing and dancing in silence to the accompaniment of his grandfather’s similarly mimed ukulele. It’s a tremendously poignant scene, and the way Culbard brings it to the page, with Kaspar gradually letting himself go and starting to “hear” the music for himself, is truly fantastic.
On the visual side of things, Culbard is his usual polished self, with a rich, stylized approach that belies its initial simplistic appearance. This clearly isn’t a book that can rely on action or physical drama, but the way Culbard keeps the pages moving fluidly – not to mention the expression he packs into young Kaspar’s face throughout the course of the story – makes it a thoroughly engaging ready from start to finish.
A tale of loss, family and the power of imagination from one of the most talented cartoonists in the business today, Salamandre comes highly, highly recommended.
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
The writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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