Pompeii, 79 AD. Flavius, a renowned but unfaithful painter, enters into an affair with a princess from Rome, far from the eyes of Alba, his wife. His assistant, Marcus, limited to the task of preparing colors, tries to learn his profession while serving as a cover for the infidelity of his master. But a disaster, the eruption of Vesuvius, will forever seal the fate of the city…
Universal feelings, noble artistic ambitions, existential questions, characters condemned by their capriciousness…the American cartoonist Frank Santoro combines all the ingredients of a romantic tragedy against the backdrop of a real historical disaster that will surprise more than a few. This is because, as we will see, its originality comes not from its perfectly banal plot, but indeed from its stunning graphic approach. In Pompeii there are few details but the desire to depict accurately. Behind the apparent naïveté of the whole, there appears little by little, over the course of the book, a baffling and touching expressivity. We feel the suffocating heat of the eruption, the fragility of feelings, the urgency of the catastrophe, the grace of human bodies. Never transparent though they may be loosely sketched, the characters literally live the story. Flavius and Marcus, caught up in their troubles, try to escape the ephemeral by fixing on a canvas or a wall the eternal beauty of a face or a landscape.
With pencil sketches, Santoro’s rough line draws its strength from contrasts of colors and of ambiances in sepia hues. With his visual language in motion and the beautiful energy imbued in expressions or postures, Santoro invites us to be immersed and leaves the rest to the reader. To imagine, to feel, to tremble; it is a delicate gambit, but he succeeds. Even if the drawing risks, perhaps, to dissuade more than a few, making the effort to overcome that first impression is eventually rewarded. The balance between content and form is here, unfailingly, much more beautiful than it is unstable. Pompeii, an exciting ancient drama filled with tension, thus avoids a grand spectacle in favor of an intimate fresco, like a painting of feelings stunning in accuracy and truth.
(translated by Andrew White)