Pleasant diversions

May 12, 2007

I love Joann Sfar’s solo comics – The Rabbi’s Cat (Pantheon), Klezmer: Tales of the Wild East, Vampire Loves (First Second). The Professor’s Daughter provides an appealing introduction to his collaborative work. Emmanuel Guibert illustrates Sfar’s grumpy, fanciful script with elegant watercolors that are both lively and lovely.

In the book, a pair of unlikely lovers (a less-proper-than-she-seems Victorian maiden and a 3,000-year-old royal mummy) struggle to keep their romance alive as forces conspire to drive them apart. If Sfar never lets seriousness of subject matter overwhelm his comedic instincts in books like Klezmer, he’s also too crusty to let the diverting fluff of The Professor’s Daughter prevent him from dosing the story with a thread of fatalism either. Guibert’s watercolors, which range from sweet and swirly to cheerfully antic, suit the script while providing just the right notes of counterpoint.

In other words, all of the pieces fit, but they do so in slightly unexpected ways. The Professor’s Daughter doesn’t offer the depth of pleasure of some of Sfar’s other works, but as imaginative trifles go, it’s tough to beat.

*

Christian Slade’s Korgi (Top Shelf) reads a bit to me like a gorgeous, polished sketch book. Without words, Slade tracks the misadventures of a cute, woodland sprite and her full-on adorable canine companion, a helpful but excessively inquisitive young korgi named Sprout. Slade’s sketches are richly detailed and tremendously effective in conveying the simple story. If I were a kid, I’d probably immediately set about scripting it, and if I were a teacher, I’d be sorely tempted to turn it into a class project.

Since I’m neither, I occasionally found myself wishing that the tightly paneled illustrations had a little more room to breathe. There’s something about Slade’s style that makes me want to see it float in a bit of white space. Slade’s so adept at creating a lush fantasy landscape that I wanted more of a storybook presentation.

*

Bisco Hatori’s Millennium Snow (Viz – Shojo Beat) is one of the more easygoing comics about mortality that you’re likely to find. Chronically, probably terminally ill Chiyuki is trying to make the most of whatever is left of her tenuous existence. She finds diversion aplenty when she meets moody vampire Toya, who’s averse to drinking blood and unwilling to select a human partner to provide sustenance for a thousand years.

There isn’t a whisper of predation in Hatori’s approach to vampirism, which lies squarely in the land of the parasitic-romantic, depending on how you view it. Toya doesn’t want to subject an innocent to centuries as a food source. Chiyuki, entirely aside from not wanting to die young, doesn’t want Toya to have to spend his long, long life alone and unfulfilled. She likes him and says so; he likes her and doesn’t. It’s not the most novel of conundrums, but Hatori’s sincerity and quirky charms as a storyteller sell it.

The dying young person as inspirational life force usually results in the worst kind of sickly sentimentality, but Hatori manages to pull even that old saw off. There’s no treacle to Chiyuki’s optimism, and she’s funny and brave enough to carry the weight of the story on her own. She’s a winning combination of pragmatism and romantic fantasies, setting the tone for an endearing story that strikes a nice balance of light and dark.

(Review based on a complimentary copy provided by Viz.)