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Chasseur-Cueilleur, Joann Sfar
posted May 15, 2006


The question naturally has to be asked: How many series does Joann Sfar really need?

Let's recap. At present he is the author or co-author of the following series:
- Le Chat du Rabbin (4 volumes to date, available in English)
- Le Miniscule Mousquetaire (3 volumes)
- Socrate le demi-chien (with Christophe Blain, 2 volumes, 1 more coming soon)
- Merlin (with Jose-Luis Munuera, 4 volumes)
- Professeur Bell (with Tanquerelle, 4 volumes)
- Petrus Babygere (with Pierre Dubois, 2 volumes, 1 more coming soon)
- Troll (with Jean-David Morvan and OG Boiscommun, 4 volumes)
- Petit Vampire (6 volumes, available in English)
- Grand Vampire (6 volumes, available in English)
- Les Potamoks (with Munuera, 3 volumes)
- Donjon (with Trondheim et al., 26 volumes, available in English, more coming)
- Pascin (6 volumes)
- Carnets (5 volumes, 1 more to come)
- Les Aventures d'Ossour Hyrsidoux (2 volumes)
- Les Olives Noires (with Emmanuel Guibert, 3 volumes)
- Sardine de l'Espace (with Emmanuel Guibert, 7 volumes, coming in English)
- L'Homme Arbre (2 volumes)
- Klezmer (only 1 volume so far, and coming soon in English)

That is 18 different series. Some of these (Troll, Potamoks, Ossour Hyrsidoux) are no longer ongoing. A few others (like the Carnet series from L'Association) are announced as wrapping up. Nonetheless, Sfar's output seems, well, insane. He has every sort of series from autobiography, to fantasy, to heroic-fantasy, to philosophy, to heroic-fantasy philosophy, to fantasy-autobiography. Now he's adding a new series: La Vallee des Merveilles (Dargaud) which is a cross between the barbarian saga and autobiography. Yes, you read that right.

imageThe first book in the series, Chasseur-Cueilleur (Hunter-Gatherer), has its strengths, but it also suggests that Sfar may now be pushing things too far. I'm sure that there's an anti-Sfar backlash coming. I'm not here to launch it, but it seems inevitable from this point forward. There is simply too much stuff coming out, so any faltering is likely to invite the type of negative commentaries that hardcore fans level at any artist presumed to have "sold out." Take my word: it's only a matter of time.

What I liked about the first volume of La Vallee des Merveilles is the way that Sfar combines genres. The story revolves around a nuclear family in age of dinosaurs (think Rahan or Conan). The father, Pot de Miel, who is a stand-in for Sfar. Pot de Miel, like Sfar, has a wife and two young children. This family is loving and happy, and they enjoy all the same things that the Sfar family does, except that they also have to deal with dinosaurs.

The plot, such as it is, finds Sfar/Pot de Miel going hunting with a friend. They kill a number of animals, get into some fights, and ultimately discover the fine art of farming, which they prefer to hunting. Then they return to their wives. The end. If this sounds slight as a plot, stretched out over 88 pages it reads even thinner. Almost nothing happens in this book, which is, after all, fairly typical of Sfar's style. Very little happens in many of his books. That's part of his charm. But even by the minimalist standards of Sfarism, this one is weak on plot.

Indeed, the most interesting material is the 15-page appendix, drawn/written in the style of Sfar's Carnets, in which the artist reflects on the creation of the book, his inspirations, discussions with his colorist (Brigitte Findakly, who does a beautiful job, as always), and his son's ability to say the word "bibliotheque." Reading the appendix reminded me of how much more I liked Caravan, his last Carnet, than this displacement of the same themes into the past.

imageThe knock on this book, and the knock on most of Sfar's work, is the sense that it might not go anywhere. As a stand-alone book, Chasseur-Cueilleur is, at best, a minor work, and an introduction to a world that could be developed into something interesting. Yet, with so many other projects, it's not entirely clear that this will ever amount to anything. Those of us waiting for Olives Noires (which I think is his most interesting genre work to date) to more fully develop are, after all, still waiting for the series to really get off the ground.

Buying a new Sfar series is a bit of a risk, the risk that the author might lose interest before the reader's interest is fully engaged. This is an interesting book, but moreso for the way that he has morphed his Carnets into a (possibly) more commercial form by displacing them into fantasy. That's a pretty narrow interest for a lot of readers, who may be better advised sticking with his A-list material: Pascin, Carnets, Olives Noires, Grand Vampire, Donjon, Klezmer, and Chat du Rabbin (roughly in that order).