Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Another Great Comic by Sfar

by Joann Sfar
published by :01 First Second

These characters--all itinerant musicians--live in a world that is openly hostile to them, yet also offers opportunities and a vagabond type of freedom. It's set in Eastern Europe in the nineteenth (?) century. Our lead characters are four Jews and one Gypsy. Both of those peoples were numerous and well established in the region, but definitely oppressed minorities.

There's something about the tragic religiosity of some Jewish traditions that really appeals to me. It doesn't avoid or whitewash the ugliness of life, nor does it wallow in it and thereby miss the beauty. It is deeply confident because it allows for so much doubt. There's something comforting about the idea that, when your faith is tested, you can say "this makes no sense, and pisses me off, but i still believe." It's more honest than pretending that we always understand everything and don't worry that things won't work out.

Sfar says in the essay at the end of the book that he purposefully made all of the characters un-religious. One of the two main protagonists, Yaacov, claims he's actually rejected God, though i wonder how sincere he is in that. Sfar does this to explore what it is to be Jewish apart from the religious practices. (Read the essay to get his take on this.) But i think it can apply in part to any faith: what is the essence of living life in light of deeply held beliefs? How much is dogma and how much is experience? Anyway, it seems like there's something "deep" here, or maybe i'm just taken in by the mystery of it. I am a sucker for paradoxes.

Sfar's drawing style is looser here than in anything else i've read by him. There are some elements that would be indecipherable without context. Those are rare, though. The watercolors add loads of mood, and give great impressions of light. It's not my favorite of his styles, but i enjoyed it.

Have i mentioned that Joann Sfar is the best comics discovery i've made in years? It's like when i found Paul Pope's THB at that store in Springdale: a whole new world of something different and inventive that clicks with me. That's the fangasm for me.

I guess i'll read The Rabbi's Cat next, and after that more Dungeon, which Sfar does with Lewis Trondheim.