Relatively Serious Comics Reviews: The Professor's Daughter
From the comments section of the ISB's review of Red Eye, Black Eye:
"You really should do more of these, you know."
You want it? You got it!
Over the past year, First Second has quickly become one of the premier graphic novel publishing houses in the industry, and I'm not just saying that because they're nice enough to send me free comics to review, either. They are, after all, the same people who brought you Gene Yang's Printz Award-winning American Born Chinese (the first comic ever to be nominated for a National Book Award) and Eddie Campbell's truly phenomenal Fate of the Artist, so it really shouldn't come as a surprise that they publish some very, very good comics.
But then again, when something as remarkable as Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert's The Professors' Daughter comes along, it's always pretty unexpected.
Long-time ISB readers might remember Sfar and Guibert as the creators of Sardine in Outer Space (also released in America by First Second), the kid-friendly adventures of a young space pirate and her battles against a thoroughly inept dictator. It's charming, if a bit simplistic, but The Professor's Daughter is a pretty big departure from what you'd find in Sardine.
For one thing, the roles of the creators are reversed in this one: It's an earlier work, with Guibert doing the fantastic art and Sfar providing a story that has everything I could possibly want from a romance story. Seriously, it's got humor, tragedy, action, revenge, mummies, mummies who are also pirates, murder (both intentional and otherwise), all wrapped up in one of the most captivating love stories I've ever read.
It follows the romance between Lillian--the proper Victorian Englishwoman of the title--and one of her father's greatest finds, the three thousand year-old mummified corpse of Imhotep IV, a pharaoh that has become little more than an archaeological treasure for a civilization that views him as a novelty. The first scene picks up in the middle of their first date, and Sfar wastes absolutely no time bothering to explain why Imhotep's able to walk around wearing a tuxedo over his bandages; it just assumes that mummies occasionally wake up and go on about their lives, and also that they happen to be utterly charming:
Sfar's pacing is incredible, but translator Alexis Siegel does a wonderful job, keeping the dialogue at the start at a clipped, formal tone you'd expect from a Jane Austen story, then moving it to an increasingly manic pace as things go horribly wrong.
And they do go horribly wrong, in the grand tradition of all the great love stories, only magnified by the fact that one of the parties in this case is, y'know, a mummy. What follows is an amazing sequence of events, but it's a testament to Sfar's ingenuity that it starts with a double homicide and just gets worse from there, but still manages to stay fun and lighthearted amidst tragedy. The scene where the police are sent to round up every mummy in London alone is worth the price of admission for the great gags that Sfar and Guibert work into a sequence that's like a hilariously macabre Keystone Kops adventure.
Guibert's art, as you can see for yourselves, really requires no commentary from me: It's fantastic, and fits the story perfectly from the way each section is based around a single background color with a washed-out watercolor palette accenting it, to the way the art itself moves from the hazy pictures of first love to the stark, sharply-drawn picture of reality at the end. Simply put, it's an absolutely gorgeous book in every way.
It's one of the best comics I've read in a long while, and I really can't recommend it enough. If you're interested, it's in this month's Previews catalog on p.294, where it retails for $16.95, or--for those of you who prefer your commerce electronic--you can find it for pre-order on Amazon in both regular softcover and Collector's hardcover versions for a little less.
More Relatively Serious Reviews:
| ALIEEN and Sardine in Outer Space |
| American Born Chinese |
| The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, v.1 |
| Red Eye Black Eye |