Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sensational Drunk

The Professor's Daughter
by Joann Sfar and EmmanuelGuibert

I’ve been thinking a bit more about online comic book reviews over the last few days. I’m certain my opinions don’t help books fly off the shelves but I sort of can’t help but think critically about what I read. This blog was helping me formulate some of my thoughts into something a bit more cohesive but I would go through phases where it seemed more of a chore than an enjoyable pastime.

And this all brings me to The Professor’s Daughter. Because I don’t put up artwork scans it’s a bit tough for me to give you a sense of the artwork. I’m going to try though. These are characters that are presented with a strong silhouette and a thick sketchy outline. It’s not one of those outlines that is simply thicker but here the character outlines seem defined yet with a more sketched out line than their internal linework.

The colouring is done with watercolours. This in turn gives the characters and the setting a feeling of history. Watercolours are an art style that is attached to the time period the action takes place in, so it helps set the scene not just by what is presented on the page but by what the art style’s history brings to the work from outside the page. This is Victorian England and it looks like it, not just in panel but in materials chosen and with an artstyle that itself looks like it is influenced from some of the original political cartoons showing up at that time.

As for the characters themselves they are each given, not just a recognizable silhouette but their figure itself portrays their character to you without the need for words. The protagonist mummy is tall regal and a bit rigid if not somewhat stunted and separated from the world around him. His father is rotting on the outside as he is on the inside. The professor is stuck in his ways and the daughter is, well, acting flighty to avoid her real emotions. She’s trying to remove herself as the mummy is himself forced to be separate from the world around him.

The artwork really is the draw here because the plot – not so interesting. It seems to set up a whole lot of great story telling possibilities but none of them seem to pay off here. I’m not sure if it’s the translations or simply the books I happen to get but the French comics I’m reading all tend to do that. Lots of ideas but not a heck of a lot of follow through. It’s like they want to write for the big two superhero publishers. Now, I can understand losing the plot or train of thought on a monthly book, dealing with editorial fiats and missing creative teams, etc but on one piece of work presented as a whole it just doesn’t sit right with me. There’s still enough there to make this a worthwhile and enjoyable book but I simply wanted to know more about the characters and what happens to them.

What is done well though is that complete ideas are presented on one page. It’s hard to understand that without reading the book, but say, on page 6 (sorry I returned the book to the library so this is a made up example) the mummy drinks tea and the experience makes him drunk with feeling – the whole sequence is presented on one page. The consequences are then presented on one page, and the consequences of the consequences on their own page. It’s a very rigid structure that I think may be leading to the feeling that ideas simply aren’t followed through. One idea per page. If there were more of that in superhero comics I’d continue to buy them.
I'm really happy a company like FirstSecond exists to bring these books to a new audience. They really are quality materials that are always worth a look.

1 comment:

Jason said...

I share your thoughts on this book, I really enjoyed it, but it felt like I waas reading the highlights from a larger work.

Maybe this is simply endemic to working in the field of done-in-one OGN's instead of having the ability to stretch out a story when you're dealing with monthly floppies.