Joann Sfar is one of France’s many great graphic novelists who, until recently, wasn’t particularly well known to the English speaking world. So those of us who’ve had the good fortune to run into Sfar’s work can thank the likes of NBM for translating the wonderful ongoing fantasy series Dungeon, and First Second for bringing work from the back catalogue – like this charming and bizarre romance – to our Sfar hungry bookshelves.
Romance? Yes. This is a story of forbidden love, between Lillian, the Professor’s daughter of the title, and a man much older than herself. Her father doesn’t approve and, being set in the Victorian era, there’s doesn’t seem to be a whole lot she can do about that.
Bizarre? Oh yes. For this older man is in fact about 3,000 years older. And dead. In fact, he’s the mummified corpse of Imhotep IV, a Pharaoh of ancient Egypt.* As far as unsuitable romances go, this probably scrapes the bottom of the barrel, especially since Imhotep was excavated by Lillian’s father – a world famous Egyptologist – and is supposed to be on his way to the British Museum as an exhibit.
A comedy of errors ensues, with the action occurring all over Victorian London, from the Tower to the private chambers of Queen Victoria herself. Crimes are unwittingly committed, the police embark on a search of the city’s stock of mummies, and Imhotep’s own father (Imhotep III) turns up to wreak even more havoc.
Sfar skips art duties on this book, instead handing over to Emmanuel Guibert, whose cartoon-like but detailed style, along with his gorgeous sepia-toned watercolour, suits the style of the piece perfectly.
The Professor’s Daughter is a wonderfully fantastical romp – a strange but gently moving love story that keeps its oddness unremarkable by its skilful matter-of-fact telling. A perfect graphic novel for a lazy afternoon, it’s not too sophisticated to be difficult to digest but will leave you with a feeling of satisfaction: that you’ve read something inventive, witty and a little bit out of the ordinary.
Read more books by Emmanuel Guibert:
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* According to Wikipedia, Imhotep wasn’t actually a Pharaoh, though he did build a pyramid and has influenced other fictional Pharaohs including Boris Karloff’s classic bandaged monster in The Mummy.