Vacation All I Ever Wanted: The Venice Chronicles by Enrico Casarosa

Posted by on March 1st, 2010 at 9:00 AM

AdHouse; 144 pp, $19.95; Color, Hardcover; ISBN: 978-0981845500

Enrico Casarosa’s The Venice Chronicles is more of a travel journal than a travelogue; it has the feel of a vacation rather than a journey in which the creator discovers more about the world around him, which in turn provides insights into himself. This is reinforced by the fact that the trips that San Francisco animator Casarosa takes in the book are to Venice, with his girlfriend, to stay with her house-sitting parents; to Genova (Genoa), to visit his parents and his childhood home with his girlfriend; and to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to visit his girlfriend while she’s rehearsing with her modern dance troupe.  The only real challenges that Casarosa faces is a. motivating himself to draw and b. how best to put his experiences in comics form. The reader knows this because Casarosa self-consciously argues this out right on the page (he presents himself as a simplified, monkey-like homunculus in a blue top-hat, and he provides that homunculus with equally cartoony shoulder-sprite interlocutors).[1]

Left without conflict, plot, hard-won insight (well, at one point, Casarosa meets cartoonist Ivo Pavone, which leads to a dinner party with Hugo Pratt’s daughter, which leads to the revelation that Pratt did not deserve a World’s Greatest Dad mug), culture shock, lost-in-translation language difficulties, or any real character development (Casarosa likes his girlfriend’s parents; Casarosa likes his own parents; Casarosa likes his girlfriend, and they get along well, so they marry) all the reader has left to concentrate on is Casarosa’s pencils and vibrant watercolors —which fortunately is all he or she really needs.

With hand-written, as opposed to lettered, text, exquisitely detailed landscapes and interiors, playful visual flourishes (there’s a postage-stamp panel border), and experiments with how to convey modern dance in line (“I do these in the dark without being able to see what I am drawing, pencil never leaving the sketchbook … I call it dance calligraphy.”), The Venice Chronicles is an aesthetic delight, sumptuously printed it such a way as to capture every texture, every nuanced hue.  The latter is especially important because each location is distinguished by its unique light; Venetian exteriors feature brilliant turquoises and reds, with the light bright and glittering from playing off the water; Genoa is golden, with a darker blue, as it’s seaside; Santa Fe is all purple and dusty grays, because Casarosa arrives via Greyhound in the night, and then spends most of his time in the darkened portion of the theater. Intermittently, pages are drawn over a golden-sepia background; in tone and in appearance, The Venice Chronicles is a warm book.

What Casarosa captures in The Venice Chronicles is that air of slightly recontextualized reality when one is on vacation, upon separation from day-to-day cares. It’s there in the way he affectionately draws teakettles, buses, and cups of coffee, little European cars. Ultimately, The Venice Chronicles is a very sensual book (in the sensation, not sexy, sense): it triggers muscle-memories of long bus rides; the feeling of physical craving  (it even has little cocktail recipes); the impression of desert-evening light; evokes how the air in different locales sits differently on skin. It’s hard not conclude rather cheesily (not that Casarosa ever shies away from goofiness) by saying something like “if you can’t afford to go on a vacation, The Venice Chronicles is the next best thing,” because, simply: it’s true.

Click to view larger image

All images @2008 Enrico Casarosa

[1] Casarosa cites Hayao Miyazaki as an influence, and name-checks The Castle of Cagliostro; it’s possible there’s a wee bit of Lupin the III in his stand-ins design.

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2 Responses to “Vacation All I Ever Wanted: The Venice Chronicles by Enrico Casarosa”

  1. Ian says:

    That last paragraph is ace. “Recontexualized Reality”: Not quite comfort, not quite culture shock.

  2. […] Comics Journal just posted a review of the Venice Chronicles. Strange to see a review of the book now, more then a year after its release, but hey I’m not […]