Friday, October 17, 2008

13 for Halloween: Emotionally drained by Vampire Loves

Ferdinand is possibly the most emo vampire ever.

At the center of Joann Sfar's Vampire Loves, Ferdinand is a complex character in what can sometimes be a pretty dense read. Which isn't to say it's not worth the effort: Following Ferdinand's all-too-human romantic misadventures is at turns funny, hopeful, poignant and frustrating. In other words, for anyone who's been in love or has ever wanted to be in love, this book can be uncomfortably familiar.

This is especially true with Ferdinand, a hapless vampire who clings to tradition and nostalgia in a world filled with modern women he barely understands. And before you get the idea that he's some sort of tragically romantic figure, forget it. Ferdinand is something of an asshole, the kind who pines for the wood nymph ex-girlfriend who cheated on him while ignoring a woman who's dying (undying?) for the chance to be with him. The more impossible the potential relationship, the more it appeals to Ferdinand. Often petulant and petty, self-absorbed and selfish, he's hardly sympathetic.

But at the same time, most readers can probably relate: We've all known — or been — that guy at some point.

Written and illustrated by Sfar, the story and its characters can be both annoying and endearing, with a plot that seems to sometimes wander aimlessly and art with that is deceptive in its apparent simplicity. Sfar's line work especially deserves attention because it tends to share more depth and detail after a closer look. Undeniably moody and with atmosphere to spare, surrender to:

Vampire Loves!

This panel, stark and painterly, always jumps out at me:

And in spite of all the moping and navel-gazing going on, there are a few chase scenes and assorted ramped-up weirdness thrown in to keep things moving. Like the run-in Ferdinand — and a ghost he's picked up — have with a crooked mummy sea captain on board an ocean liner:

But still, this isn't really a book about vampires, mummies, ghosts or other assorted monsters going bump in the night. It's really a story about how long and lonely those empty nights can be, and how we've all been haunted by ghosts of our own:

Panels from Vampire Loves
Joann Sfar, writer/artist; Audré Jardel, colorist; Alexis Siegel, translation

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