Motorcity cover header image

“Motorcity” by Sylvain Runberg and Philippe Berthet

Writer: Sylvain Runberg
Artist: Philippe Berthet
Colorist: Philippe Berthet
Lettering: Calix Ltd.
Translator: Matt Madden
Published by: Dargaud/Europe Comics
Number of Pages: 64
Original Publication: 2015


A Little Background, to Start

If writer Sylvain Runberg’s name sounds familiar to you, it might be from the two-album series, “Drones,” that he wrote previous.  I reviewed it earlier this year.

Motorcity loves the Swedish landscapes

Swedish landscapes are featured in the album.

One of his bigger assignments was doing the French adaptation of the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” books for comics.  Those books are set in Sweden, which is one of the places Runberg lives.

Sweden is also the setting for this crime book, “Motorcity.”  I can just picture him doing research for one book and letting the leftovers carry over into the next.



“Motorcity” is a one shot story.  I’ll let the official writeup give you the overview:

Lisa Forsberg is a rookie cop who has just taken her first assignment in the small Swedish city where she was born. In her youth she was a troublemaker, part of a hard-living subculture called “raggare” who worship American rock’n’roll and vintage cars from the 1950s. Now Lisa finds herself thrown back into this world when she is sent to investigate a missing person report involving people she went to school with. She and her partner, Erik Lund, will uncover secrets that put them in harm’s way and bring them face-to-face with the unspeakable.

I kept looking for a Brian Setzer cameo somewhere in the book, but no dice.

In his afterwards to the book, Runberg explains that this subculture is considered to be the equivalent of “white trash” in Sweden.  They’re the tattooed drugged-up misfits who tend to drink too much, get into fights, and just generally cause havoc.

Motorcity introduction to Lisa Forsberg

Rookie cop Lisa Forsberg used to be one of them.  Eventually, she straightened up, went to the police academy, and now returns to her hometown where her father still lives, to become a cop.  She’s thrown immediately onto a case that, of course, turns out to be tougher than expected. She also has to deal with the older cop on the force who resents her being there for her past, a younger partner who has lots of questions and fumbles around just a bit, and the constant comments from everyone in town about their surprise that she’s on the other side of the law enforcement divide now.

Don't go in the scary barn in Motorcity

You just have to look at that barn and the voice inside your head screams, “Don’t go in there!”

The missing person’s case is carefully laid out to leave the door wide open and keep the list of suspects long. However, you can discard the obvious choices quickly.  I wasn’t far off in my guess, but was still surprised by the end. It add a couple twists to the case that turn it into something all together different.

Runberg builds a solid mystery/crime story here.  The characters aren’t that deep or anything, but you can play along and make your best guesses as you go.  Forsberg’s partnership seems to go well and thankfully stays away from the romantic angle most writers would try to hint towards, thankfully.   I read the book in one sitting, and had no problem keeping the ever-growing cast straight in my mind.

The Motorcity event in Sweden is seen here, with all the hot rods and Americana surrounding it.

In the end, this book is a crime story with an interesting back drop — car culture, American worship in a weird way, the environments of Sweden, farms, boat docks, and even the more down-to-earth parts like a pharmacy.

Runberg’s script feels very plotted.  You can watch the pieces pushed into place.  It’s not about a collection of characters acting out based on their traits.  Forsberg is an interesting character, but I’m not all that interested in her by the end.  The book grabs me more for the mystery than for her character.  It’s not that Runberg doesn’t give her a background and origin story and a strong will, but that a day after reading the book I just don’t care much about her. She puts up with some crap, gets over it, solves the mystery, earns some respect, and that’s about it. But, hey, this is a plot-based story, not a character-driven one.  So it goes.

This doesn’t look to be the start of a series, but it could easily become one.  I don’t know if Forsberg is strong enough a character to justify it, but I’m sure Runberg could come up with something.I just hope it would include more development of Forsberg’s character to give us more to root for.


The Art of Motorcity

Philippe Berthet draws people. They're OK.

Philippe Berthet does the job with his art.  It’s neat and it’s precise. It has a bit of style to it, and it doesn’t go overboard in trying to be photorealistic.  It just doesn’t go far enough on the cartooning side to be special enough for me.

Fittingly for the story, perhaps, it reminds me a bit of a romance comic from the 1960s, just with (mostly) today’s fashions. I’m sure cars and buildings were being properly referenced, but the people are mostly static.  They stand there with a rod down their spine.  There’s not enough emotion or action coming out of them.

There are only a couple of action scenes in this book, though.  In then, the storytelling is clear, but those moments feel undersold, mostly by how hard Berthet works at getting anatomy so right that it robs the art of that extra spark that would lift it up.

I’m not saying his art is bad.  His anatomy is good, as is his perspective and technical drawing abilities. Truth be told, there’s a lot of talking heads in this book. It would take a special kind of artist to get too much expression and excitement into characters while they’re being interrogated.  In general, though, his style is not something that excites me.  It doesn’t stand out enough to get me to look forward to it again.



Motorcity cover by Philippe Berthet

If you’re in the mood for a little mystery/crime/thriller, this one will tell a good tale.  I don’t think it’s going to grab you by the lapel and make you want to trumpet its genius for all the world to hear, but it’s a clear and entertaining little story.

It has potential if Runberg wants to continue with it. I’d give it one more shot if a second book ever came out.  But as a standalone story, it’s a good read.

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #96.)


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