5,000 km Per Second is a multi-award winning graphic novel, originally published in Italian in 2010, but well-worth picking up now that Fantagraphics has released this English version. The plot spans the lives of two people: as teenagers they live in the same apartment block and flirt briefly, but before they have a chance to get more serious, their destinies diverge. Lucia moves to Norway to experience more of the world and Piero becomes an archaeologist, starting work on an Egyptian dig that will occupy years of his life.
Time passes and both move their lives forward, geographically and emotionally separate but haunted by the short history they share; their regrets manifesting in different ways. Until, eventually, they run into each other once more, when Piero visits his home town and finds an older Lucia has also returned, their paths crossing again after all these years.
The way that Manuele Fior paces and controls the flow of the story is glorious. The book is split into chapters, with only the first and last covering the times when Lucia and Piero are together. The remaining chapters jump between their two lives as they travel through them, bringing pivotal moments in their careers and their personal lives into sharp focus, before letting them drift off again.
The watercolour illustration is beautiful. The characters look simple but are rich with personality, especially as they age and turn from teenagers into their middle-aged lives. Meanwhile the backdrops of different countries invoke different colours and hues, subtly shaded by Fior’s dramatic, emotional painting.
The book fully deserves the recognition it’s already gathered in Italy and France, with a classic literary storyline of the imperfection of love, spanning years of people’s lives. Be ready for some heartbreak along the way and an ending you might not necessarily expect, but it’s an emotional journey that’s well worth making.