Sunday, March 08, 2009



I first read Klezmer, by French comic artist Joann Sfar, a few years ago, and I couldn't really get into it. However, that was before I had read some of Sfaar's other comics last year* and come to really appreciate him as an artist.

I started with The Professor's Daughter, which was very good, but since another artist, Emmanuel Guibert, did the art I didn't realize it was a Sfar book at the time. Dungeon was pretty much the same story, except it was cowritten by Lewis Trondheim and drawn by a number of different artists. Plus the reading order seems ridiculously complex.

Then there was The Rabbi's Cat, which in other hands would be a very bizarre story about a talking cat, but in Sfar's hands becomes a story about Jews living in Northern Africa in the 1930s. This was the book that started changing my mind about Sfar. The hardcover from Pantheon collects the first three books published in France, and while the first story didn't really grab me, by the end I wanted more. Thankfully, more was available in volume two, which is both stranger, and better, than the first.

Then there was Vampire Loves, about a sad and lovelorn vampire and various other monsters. Its release from First Second collected the first four volumes in one book, and after finishing it I actually searched through the BD** at a local foreign language bookstore to find the two volumes not yet out in English. (I didn't succeed.)

Having created several titles I really enjoyed, I decided it was time to reread Klezmer.

And immediately found a major problem I have with most comics dealing with music: they just don't work for me. You can write "Umpa umpa umpa umpa!" and "Bom! Bom! Bom!" as much as you like, but it doesn't sound like music to me. I could claim that this was due to my lack of knowledge of Klezmer music, but a few months ago I actually read a comic (Me and the Devil Blues) about music that was about a genre I knew nothing about. And it worked, mostly I think (or seem to remember) by being entirely silent in regards to music.

Simlarly page after page of people singing songs in Yiddish, or at least I assume it's Yiddish, it's some language I don't understand, doesn't do much for me.

The art is frustrating. The flaps on the book say Sfar uses a "startling, loose watercolour style" and I can only assume that by this they actually mean that he didn't spend a lot of time on the art. This is not to knock Sfar as an artist, some of his other books are fantastic, and this one definitely has it's places where you can see his talent. But I find the art too loose. Too frequently the characters seem like nothing more than squiggles that have been painted strange colours.

The style he uses of more realistically drawn closeups and caricatures for longer shots is one I think is good slash interesting. you already know what the characters look like, but he's able to use artistic short hand. Still I didn't really enjoy it here and found it, like much of the comic, lacking. Perhaps that's why future volumes haven't come out in English.

*Well, I read one of his Little Vampire books years ago too, but I don't even remember which one it was, so apparently it didn't leave much of an impact on me. (Though apparently I loved it!)

**Bande dessinée, the French term for comics.


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