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The Professor's Daughter
posted March 8, 2007
 

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Creators: Joann Sfar, Emmanuel Guibert
Publishing Information: First Second, paperback, 80 pages, May 2007, $16.95
Ordering Numbers: 159643130X (ISBN)

The Professor's Daughter provides as pleasurable a comics reading experience as you're likely to have all year. It's lovely-looking, for one thing. Emmanuel Guibert's art not only dramatically presents its various Victorian-era settings but the figure drawing borders on the luminous. If the characters in this comic were actors, this would be the film people would point to as proof of their vitality and/or beauty. It's also quite droll, to the point where if you've never used the word "droll" before to describe anything you still suddenly realize, "By God, that comic was outright droll." There's a patience to the humor, Sfar teases it out of each situation and uses each moment as revelatory information concerning the individual characters as opposed to shoving them through comic situations or playing to the audience.

Another great strength of the work that I think makes its high level of craft work transcend our admiration of the technical prowess involved is the smart way in which the high concept is utilized. That mummies are still preserved and alive and thus interacting with English scholars and authorities during their intense period of fascination with Egypt is treated with a really light hand: it's not HIGH CONCEPT; it just is. Unlike many comic treatments of concepts like this one, there's no need for every moment to underline the basic premise; most of what you get is absurdity played straight, the specific peculiarities and character quirks rising to the surface set free rather than bound to the one-sentence description of how this book presents a reality different from our own. Imhotep III seeking an audience with the Queen isn't the resolution it might be in a lesser work; it's a springboard for a series of ludicrous acts of violence that the pharaoh hilariously visits upon the palace in trying to make this happen.

I understand this is an early work from both cartoonists, and it does exhibit those qualities as well: an urge to show off and perform that surfaces in overeager fashion at times, and a plodding nature that seeps into some of the extended set pieces. There are single-page spreads early on that would have nice to see in the book's latter half for the sake of a more complex narrative rhythm. But overall, The Professor's Daughter is a first-rate, diverting piece of entertainment.