Dungeon the Early Years: Night Shirt - Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim
This was an interesting book. After reading The Rabbi’s Cat and loving it, then not really enjoying Vampire Loves as much as I probably should have, I was interested in checking out this series by Joann Sfar. I’m glad I did since it appears to be a healthy mixture of what worked well in both books mentioned above. I felt that Vampire Loves was just a bit too much stream of consciousness or allowing the story to go off wherever it lead but when Sfar has a direction and edits towards it the stories are better for it. I’ve read a bit too much Kerouac that needed to be edited for me to truly enjoy pure unedited stream of consciousness stories.
What this story has is, and I’m guessing a bit here, is the introduction of some of the characters that will play a larger role in the development of this world and the series. I’m waiting for a few more collections in the Dungeon series. It’s an anthropomorphic fantasy world with a young idealist meeting the corruption and stench of a big city. He takes on the ideals of justice in a manner befitting Robin Hood, the Scarlet Pimpernel or the Three Musketeers. If you like swashbuckling fantasy stories with a bit of humour then this is a good book to pick up.
If you’ve never come across Sfar’s artwork before then you should definitely check out the book before purchase. It is crude but not bad. It is simple without being poorly executed. In other words it is very very French. It has style and doesn’t particularly give a shit about being anally retentive about rendering and being perfect. If the art could speak it would look at you saying it was bad and it would spit at you and tell you it will piss on your mother because it doesn’t need to waste time trying to impress someone so uneducated and banal. It is simply fun because it looks like it was drawn by an enthusiastic child – granted it’s a child who is unbelievable consistent in character design and who creates fantastic backgrounds and city designs.
The protagonist is Hyacinthe (I think - he's the Dungeon Keeper in the rest of the series) who is either a duck or a chicken or some kind of fowl. He’s the country boy sent to the city so is able to see it for what it is. He isn’t a part of the system so he can see the hypocrisy of it all as well as how easy it is to be swallowed up by it. His adventures include jokes about his inability to write in his journal on horseback (we get scribbled narrative boxes) to upper-classmen necromancers at the university trying to impress girls by pulling out his heart only taking a lung accidentally. He’s in love with a sexy assassin and gets schooled in fencing, love, power, sex and politics. When he finally dawns his mask to take on the quest for justice, Hyacinthe is sort of recognized, but he is also wearing his nightshirt. He spends the next few pages struggling to come up with a cool sounding name but is eventually referred to as Night Shirt. You can’t stop popular culture, it’s organic.
This is a fun book. It’s overly clever but isn’t a totally cerebral comic. They play with the form making visual jokes and referential jokes that are only applicable to the comic book medium. I quite enjoyed it and I’m glad I picked it up on a whim since it is one of few translated Bandes Designe available in the library. If you’re looking for a new fantasy based comic that doesn’t take itself too seriously then this is it. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Smax because it is aware of the medium but doesn’t fall prey to the melodrama that is present when the fantasy genre tries to get “serious.”