Oliver Solomon is a private investigator delivering photographic proof of spousal infidelity to a well to do man named Clemens in the opening scene of The Gentleman by Greg Anderson Elysee and Massimiliano Veltri. Tall and well built with a proud and weary face, Solomon offers a sympathetic ear and after being refused instead returns home to a darkened apartment. Working alone suits Solomon. Being a private detective provides a usefulness. He has secrets. Like Clemens, his heart has been broken; once by Lucy and then by Ralph who appears frantically knocking on his door in the early morning hours with a woman named Espere St Lanme after her apartment was broken into. It’s no wonder Solomon enjoys the presence of his cat whom he named after actress Simone Simon who is most known for her role in the horror classic film Cat People. Simone Simon doesn’t judge him.
Had Elysee made this simply a noir detective story I have no doubt it would be a good one. It is partly that though Elysee takes the plot in a supernatural direction. Remember, I said Oliver has secrets. The biggest one is he possesses or is possessed by something supernatural that allows him to traverse the world in a shadowy form. The intertwined nature of Oliver and his ability is just one mystery Elysee is laying the groundwork to explore. Espere and Ralph are members of a “spiritual belief system who honor the worship of our roots, our people, our ancestors” or a cult as Solomon calls it. Espere is convinced that something supernatural is responsible for the break in and Ralph thinks Solomon can help. Add to this the sudden deaths of two otherwise healthy members shortly before the break in. As for Espere, whose name means “hope” in French but might as well be spelled t r o u b l e if you ask Oliver whose instincts tell him there’s more to her than what she shares. Even Ralph, as good natured and concerned a friend as he appears to be, keeps at least one secret from his former lover. At this point Simone Simon is the only one who may be without secrets and yet I won’t be surprised to discover she’s no different.
All of the above elements are quite engrossing in and of themselves. What makes it really come together for me is how Elysee treats the characters. Yes, Oliver is cynical and guarded because he’s been hurt. Even so, he ends up helping Clemens after leaving the man’s home. I won’t spoil here how he accomplished that. In a subsequent scene Elysee convincingly opens up and lays bare Oliver and Ralph as not so old wounds come up. Despite the circumstances of the breakup, Oliver seems to be in love still. Also, I found the way Elysee handles the sexuality of his characters, particularly Oliver’s bisexuality, to be refreshing. To quote Espere on the idea of Oliver and Ralph sharing a bed together: “That’s no issue for me.”
Massimiliano Veltri’s line art coupled with Marco Pagnotta’s colors is a perfect match for illustrating Elysee’s script. While it can be unfair to compare one artist to another I will mention that if you enjoy the work of artists like Denys Cowan and John Paul Leon then Veltri’s art will entice your eye. A confident style with descriptive lines creates believable people who are moving in and through realistic spaces which makes several scenes involving supra normal elements appeallingly unnerving. Starting with the very first panel’s establishing shot, Veltri’s layouts rely on a predominately horizontal format to subtly mimick a film lens and draw the reader into the story while continuing to engage the eye with different angles and ranges interspersed with the occasional vertically oriented panel.
A more cliched phrase than “moody and atmospheric” may not exist when it comes to writing reviews and so I should probably steer away from using it as a descriptive for Pagnotta’s coloring. Too often the phrase evokes oppressively dark, dull, and flat monochromatic tones. Pagnotta’s palette has a darkness when the scene requires it and it often is required, but the colors are never oppressive. Instead there is an energy and sophisticated balance to his colors which may not be apparent in the samples here because many of the more vibrant panels give away too much. Importantly, a source of light is never far away, symbolic of Oliver Solomon’s status in life I believe.
Micah Myers contributes his expert lettering skills. The most basic function of a letterer’s job is to convey dialog and descriptive text while obscuring as little art as possible and not call attention itself which can create challenges because who wants their work to go unnoticed? Myers juxtaposes a florid, cursive font with a bold and rough all caps font on the credits page, both in white, against a blue field and writhing visual element in darker blue and black coursing around the edges of the page. A curious choice and symbolic of Oliver’s duality as are the dark upon light text boxes of his thoughts. The logo features a clever touch with the inclusion of a top hat wearing man.
These folks are giving their best here and their best makes for a spectacular effort! I want more please!