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July 23, 2007

CR Review: Sardine In Outer Space, Vol. 4


Creators: Joann Sfar, Emmanuel Guibert
Publishing Information: First Second, soft cover, 112 pages, Fall 2007, $13.95
Ordering Numbers: 9781596431294 (ISBN13), 1596431296 (ISBN10)

imageFrom my perspective there's not too much to say about Sfar and Guibert's young-readers space adventure series; it's well-crafted, light entertainment and I would need the time machine they have in the story to regress to a point where I'm the intended audience. I look looking at them, though, and I'm always reminded of two things when I pick it up. First, if you're around little kids enough, you know how capricious they can be about the appeal or repulsion or relative scariness of an item with which they're asked to interact. I always smile a bit when I see these Sardine books, because the characters don't wear costumes outfits, they dress up to play with you. Second, it's interesting to me how well these books work as an assemblage of components. The words are funny and easy to parse, at least in the translations. Sfar's pictures are fun to look at it, and invite the reader to pay close attention and linger on their details. This isn't the combination of the two that we think of when we think of comics, but kind of a back and forth conversation that's controlled by the eyes of the reader. Perfect for kids. One forgets that as much as there's a way to read comics that scholars and critics might promote, a kind of propulsive synthesis of picture and words, kids are going to ignore those roles. They will treat the books themselves as an object with many points of entry.

The most memorable story in this fourth volume involves the kid pirates traveling into the future, with a resulting shift into adult bodies. Little Louie makes a grab at the older Sardine, explaining that ending up with her has always been his dream -- a dream no doubt influenced by the lack of available other potential future girlfriends, but a dream nonetheless. Sardine answers with a variation on "Not my problem," which is funny because it's so blunt but is kind of poignant in its own way, too. In a sense, it's not her problem because the series doesn't offer problems like that. What few problems Sardine has are external, and few of them can stand up to her application of ingenuity and force of will. I don't know if kids like the book, but unlike a lot of material that comes from established cartoonists seeking a younger audience, it's easy to imagine how a kid might have a bit of a crush on Sardine.

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