Sometimes a man needs the right kind of motivation. “Lauriano made a myth out of his two days in no-man’s-land.” That is what they say about our main character in David B.’s latest graphic novel, “Black Paths,” published by SelfMadeHero. He is thought to be posturing. But, then again, his friends are quick not to judge too harshly. Everything is in flux. The First World War tore into nations and souls. It did what it did to Laurinao. And it did what it did to the accidental city-state of Fiume. They know that all too well. “Ha! Life is good in the free city of Fiume. We’re going to die of cold and hunger.” Lauriano chooses to make sense of things by being the hero. It may prove a way to cope but it can also be a very lonely place.
Some say that certain things, like the silent movie era, are lost to us, just too far away for us to relate to. But I don’t believe them. Charlie Chaplin. Mary Pickford. We can still look into their eyes and they’re still alive. Everything is relatable. It depends on who is telling the story. What David B. does with “Black Paths” is give us a sense of the chaotic state that Europe was left in after the First World War and part of the stage that was being set for another global war. He does this by focusing on the little mouse that roared, Fiume, the city without a country. Italy is not terribly interested in absorbing it. Croatia is not ready. To make matters worse, a usurper, the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, takes command. This leaves a void that is filled by various corrupt forces. Fiume is not the harsh no-man’s-land of the trenches but it definitely rates the tile of “No-Where,” that Lauriano has given it.
In truth, the details are numerous and complicated about the actual Fiume of history. To David B.’s great credit, he turns this troubled land into a wonderful gateway for further reading in history by including fantasy and romance into the mix. Lauriano is a dreamy young man who easily floats among all walks of life as if he were a ghost. But, after finding himself in the middle of a brawl over stolen loot, he stumbles upon Mina, a sexy cabaret singer. After they hide themselves on the roof overlooking the mayhem, they quickly fall under each other’s spell. They can’t get enough of each other or so it would seem. Mina, for all her charms, soon learns that she must compete with ghosts, poetry, and all manner of daydreaming.
David B.’s beautifully fluid style graces each page. His unique use of patterning gives the story a lift and emphasis where needed. David B. can create patterns from just about anything and will, whether it be from skulls, crowds, or vibrations of light. And his characters tend to have a world-weary look to them with sleepy eyes and languid expressions. We don’t see people go into a rage as much as we see them get exasperated. It’s the anger, mixed with melancholy, that you usually see Charlie Chaplin engage in. It is a jaded resistance, just the right temperament for this fable set in Fiume.
“Black Paths” is a 128-page hardcover, published by SelfMadeHero.