Sfar, known best in Europe for his Little Vampire books, has produced a more grown-up version of the world he established in these children’s comics–a look at the life of Ferdinand, a vampire with a great record collection and a hopelessly complex love life. The episodic narrative follows the shy Ferdinand, recently jilted by a capricious tree spirit named Lani, as he drifts from one affair to another. Sfar’s strength lies in the way he mixes the gothic atmosphere with a cast of characters who, by comparison, seem very real. In one sequence, Ferdinand encounters a Japanese tourist wandering the Louvre at night; she stuns him with the flash from her camera and, after Ferdinand recovers, the two go on a bittersweet tour of the museum. The vampire explains that, looking at certain paintings, he can almost remember what the world feels like during the day. Although the next panel shows Ferdinand and the Japanese woman sitting chastely in front of a sunrise scene, its caption reads: “We basked in the sunlight and kissed.” Sfar drives home the poignancy of the short-lived romance through understatement, contrasting the restrained quality of the panel with Ferdinand’s melancholy courtship.
But Vampire Loves never dwells on tragedy overlong. Sfar has a light touch and good sense for when to leaven sentiment with a dry, almost satirical humor. The result is a book that feels melodramatic and frothy at the same time, much like a heartsick teenager with a precocious sense of irony. In a way, that dichotomy drives the characters, as in the case of two whimsically named immortal sisters, Ritaline and Aspirine, who involve Ferdinand in their lives. “Aspirine,” Sfar writes, “shouldn’t constantly poke fun at her older sister’s old age, because the two of them are only eight years apart. And when you were born in the 18th century, that shouldn’t make too big a difference. Except that for all eternity, Aspirine will be seventeen, and that’s a painful age to be. The older sister is probably luckier.”
Sfar’s art, complimented by Audre Jardel’s saturated coloring and Alexis Siegel’s translation of the original French, is full of whimsy and sly references to European adventure comics from previous decades. If Sfar occasionally relies too much on narration, it’s not because his art doesn’t do a significant amount of work in its own right; the well-paced panels propel the vignettes forward without overpowering the ambiguities of the dialogue and characterization. Love after death, in Ferdinand’s world, means floating through an eternity of small, laughable stories in which you can never manage to act your age.
Review Source: Rain Taxi
learn the art of drawing at Sfar’s website Joann Sfar