The Professor's Daughter / Joann Sfar & Emmanuel Guibert
La fille du professeur. English
New York : First Second, 2007
Originally published: 1997
Translated by Alexis Siegel
Three-thousand years may separate them, still... they love each other.
19th-century London. She is the lovely daughter of renowned Egyptologist Professor Bowell, he the dashing mummy Imhotep IV, owned by the professor and awake for the first time in thirty centuries. They stroll through London arm-in-arm and find their way into an abiding love, but everything seems to be getting in the way of it.
Murder, adventure, mystery, kidnapping, Queen Victoria tossed in the Thames -- what more could you ask for?
And yes, love conquers all in this rare gem from two of the most inspires graphic creators of our time.
I've whined about this before, but with the big move and my new TV, I haven't been doing much reading. And with my two group read-alongs, one of which is a monstrous 1,300-page behemoth of a novel, I haven't had anything to review. So over the weekend I went to the bookstore and stormed the graphic novel section determined to find something amusing and more importantly short so I could claim to finish at least ONE BOOK during the month of July. ONE!
I came out with The Professor's Daughter, an amusing graphic novel about love in Victorian England.
And by "love" I mean creepy necro love. The girl is Lillian, the daughter of an archaeology professor and Egyptologist. (She's drawn with like a 9" waist.) The boy is a 3,200 year-old mummy: Imhotep IV, Prince of Egypt. (He has a thin waist too... because mummies don't eat?) Call me gross, but when I'm reading stories like this, I can't help but imagine the.... physics of their intimacy. When people date demons or creatures or... y'know blobs of goo or whatever, my mind always goes to a wrong place like "How in the world do they do it?"
But I digress.
I'd first like to mention that I love the artwork in this book. The panels are uniform -- 6 to a page -- and done in expressive watercolors. The colors are vivid, but with a subdued overall palette, the style is stimulating and appropriate. The story could tell itself through the artwork alone without the dialogue.
On the topic of the story, it takes less than an hour to read, and the story flies by so quickly that I often had to go back a couple of panels because I had missed something.
And it definitely didn't go the direction I anticipated. I expected it to be very tongue-in-cheek, light-hearted, and silly. The Imhotep IV I imagined before I read it (based on the artwork mostly) resembled Ben Templesmith's ghoulish dandy Wormwood (from Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse): prim, charming, and grotesquely human. Instead, the character and the book were much more sedate and... European. To a fault.
There is nothing inherently wrong about understated mood and characterizations, but there is a difference between 'slight' and 'nuanced', and this book falls into the earlier category, the consequence of which is that it doesn't ever commit to a humorous, ironic, or dramatic style. It just sort of floats there, an entertaining story that leaves the reader cold but is definitely enjoyable to read once. The ending would have left a stronger impression had the inflections of style been more acute and the pace more relaxed, both of which would have allowed for more relatable characters.