GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: The Professor’s Daughter
According to their publisher, First Second, Sfar and Guibert have had very complicated careers. Both of them write and draw, separately and together, so they each have individual works, and they each have illustrated the other’s scripts. The Professor’s Daughter – originally published in France in 1997 – was their first collaboration and their first notable success. It’s just now made it to the USA, trailing some later works by Sfar (such as The Rabbi’s Cat, which attracted a lot of favorable attention two years ago) and by both of them (the children’s series Sardine in Outer Space).
The Professor’s Daughter is album-length – 64 pages, plus some sketches and background materials as an appendix – but has a small trim size, about 5” x 8”. It’s a generally handsome book, with French flaps, cleanly white pages, and sizable margins.
The story begins without any exposition: a young woman is going out for a walk with a walking, talking mummy. We quickly learn that she is Lillian, the professor’s daughter of the title, that he is the Pharaoh Imhotep IV (and the property of her father), and that it is sometime late in the reign of Queen Victoria. We never do learn why Imhotep is mobile and active now – or why he wasn’t in the past – that’s the premise, and we have to take it for granted.
The Professor’s Daughter starts off in the mode of a romantic comedy; it’s light and pleasant, and Imhotep has fallen in love with Lillian because she precisely resembles his long-dead wife. (And, yes, we have seen that plot before…though not as comedy, I think.) But darker elements soon intrude, and we have several deaths, kidnappings, incarcerations, legal proceedings, prison escapes, dramatic confrontations, and more gunplay than I expected. It all ends pretty well, eventually, but an awful lot goes on for a short book like this one.
Because of that, the transitions get somewhat abrupt at times, as the plot tries to accommodate a lot of action and humor in a short space. The ending in particular could have used more than single page, particularly since we still don’t know why Imhotep is alive. (Is he effectively immortal? Does he just have another, new human life to live? It could make a big difference to his future.)
I can’t say that The Professor’s Daughter is completely successful; the story really needed a little more space to breathe, and definitely needed to end less abruptly. But it’s amusing and pleasant, and the characters are charmingly real. The art, by Guibert, looks like watercolor painting over pen and ink, with expressive faces (on the non-mummy characters; the ones who actually have faces) and good visual pacing. I’m not quite sure who the audience is – it’s too short for the manga audience, a bit too much for the “all-ages” crowd, and obviously won’t appeal to purely long-underwear fans – but it turns out to be a decent romantic thriller about a three thousand year old mummy and the woman he loves, so let’s hope there are some readers out there who are looking for just that.
The Professor’s Daughter
Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert; translated by Alexis Siegel
First Second, 2007, $16.95