July 2007

Chris Barsanti

fiction

The Professor's Daughter by Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert

Originally published in French in 1997, The Professor's Daughter is an enlightened collaboration between the great graphic novelist Joann Sfar (The Rabbi's Cat, Klezmer) and Emmanuel Guibert (Alan's War, as well as many of Sfar's series, like Sardine in Outer Space) that should have come to these shores long ago. With Sfar providing the story and Guibert the limpid and lithe watercolors, the book (their first collaboration) is a marvel of wit, economy and good humor that puts most graphic novelists -- who seem to work just so hard in their frantic genre-splicing -- to shame, and with ease.

Set in Victorian London, Sfar and Guibert's story rather matter-of-factly sets up a romance between Lillian, the beautiful and freedom-yearning daughter of a wealthy professor, and Imhotep, an Egyptian mummy who's been dead (in a way) for about 32 centuries. The professor, you see, keeps a number of mummies in his collection and doesn't like to let them out of his sight. But the regal Imhotep is no more fond of following orders than Lillian, and so they find trouble strolling about London in the daylight, she in her Sunday finest and he in one of the Professor's suits and all his bandages like The Invisible Man going promenading. It's all rather grand and romantic in a light, Anne Rice sort of way, and about as logical. Trouble follows, and the lovers must hit the road, much to the professor's dismay at losing his daughter to a mummy ("You are the property of the British Museum. You are dead. Stay out of this.").

The plot has a brisk and rather madcap pace, much like Sfar's work in the darker toned Klezmer, with its two mismatched lovers fleeing into the dark London streets, pursued by a band of villains who prove to be in the employ of yet another mummy: Imhotep's father, the pharaoh. He also desires Lillian, though his attempts at courtship are quite a bit clumsier ("These are crickets. Would you care to try some?" "Revolting!"). There are kidnappings and a grandly dramatic trial where everybody takes the sight of walking and talking mummies with an extremely British lack of fuss and consternation. At some point the Queen is involved, because, well, who can understand royalty but royalty?

It all has rather the feel of a 1920s Saturday matinee where pavement-pounding action, slapdash humor and a gleeful absence of any historical logic merge into a giddy whole that is quite a bit less substantial than some of Sfar's other work (no theological musings a la The Rabbi's Cat, for instance). The slippery grace of Guibert's watercolors add a rather sumptuous gloss to what is already a highly endearing shaggy-mummy story.

The Professor's Daughter by Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert
First Second
ISBN: 978-1596431300
80 pages