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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Review of the Day: The Professor’s Daughter (Part One)


The romantic implications behind classic horror monsters are usually explored only when horror remains the primary focus and romance a secondary characteristic. There are exceptions to this rule, but they tend to end up creating Phantom of the Opera musicals or Anne Rice-like vampire novels. You might be able to make the case that for every werewolf, Frankenstein, and Invisible Man there’s a sweet version of their story lurking somewhere, but you’d be hard pressed to say the same for mummies. Mummies just aren’t sexy. Even that Brandon Fraser vehicle, "The Mummy" was more action/adventure than mummylicious. Wait. I think I need to correct an earlier statement. Mummies just weren’t sexy. Now they are, thanks to a French duo that need little introduction. Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert take your average mummy-run-amok tale and infuse a graphic novel with all the romantic caperings a person could expect from a well-preserved protagonist.

Lillian and Imhotep IV have much in common. She is the daughter of an Egyptian archeologist who keeps her trapped within normal early 20th century conventions. He is a mummy acquired from Egypt who will soon be on display in a museum and is trapped by the self-same archeologist. One day the two go on a walk about the London streets and quite understandably (insofar as mummy/young woman relationships go) fall in love. Happiness is not to be so easily acquired for the two, however. Lillian accidentally ends up poisoning two visitors (it happens) and when Imhotep attempts to go on the run with her, he instead ends up delivering her into the arms of a man he never wanted to deal with again: His own father Imhotep III. Now Imhotep the Younger is wanted for murder, Imhotep III is trying to rescue his son through ridiculous means, and Queen Victoria has somehow ended up floating in the Thames. Romance is rarely quite this silly or, for the matter, this enjoyable.

I can convey plot and characters and setting and all those necessary accoutrements but where I really get hung up regarding Sfar and Guibert is in terms of tone. I’m just lousy when it comes to giving you the feel of a novel. Madcap doesn’t acknowledge the tenderness. Herky-jerky seems too negative, but this book is anything but a smooth sailing novel. The best I can do is slot it under the phrase "occasionally tender romp" and hope you get the gist. The words, as with so many of Sfar’s other works, feel slightly off, as if the translation has missed a conjunction here and there. This is, of course, not the case. Sfar’s books always sound the same, no matter who’s translating him, and it’s the plot rather than the writing that makes extraordinary leaps.
Under normal circumstances, the Sfar/Guibert pairing is switched. It is normally Guibert who does the writing and Sfar who does the drawing, as in the "Sardine in Outer Space" series. Problem is, I don’t actually like the "Sardine" books very much. There’s something off about them that doesn’t appeal to me. I love Sfar’s art, but Guibert’s writing lacks the essential sweetness I’ve come to expect in a First Second novel. "The Professor’s Daughter", I was happy to see, was more my speed. It was with some surprise then that I found that this book was the pair’s earliest collaboration. Certainly it doesn’t have Sfar’s standard hot-girl-in-love-with-uninterested-guy trope, but the story is sophisticated enough to allow you to believe it a new work rather than one 10 some years old. Also, Guibert picks up on the tenderness of Sfar’s storyline so very well. There are tiny details here that no one but the best collaborator would get out of a partner’s narrative unless he knew him really well. The interaction of text and image found here is sophisticated without drawing undue attention to itself.

(CONTINUED IN PART TWO)

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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.