Thursday, October 30, 2014

Little Vampire

Little Vampire is a collection of three stories starring a little undead boy. To say that these tales are off-beat would be about right, and I think that they are excellent examples of effective and well defined world-building. His mom is some kind of supernatural being (a vampire or a ghost?); his dad (guardian?) is the Flying Dutchman, and his friends are all monsters of different types. He has a flying, talking red dog who accompanies him on his adventures. These stories seem fantastical and based on fairy tale logic, but they are also rooted in some pretty straight-forward real world considerations. The result is enjoyable, surprising, somewhat gruesome, and very satisfying.

In the first tale, Little Vampire decides he is lonely as the only child among the monsters and wants to go to school. Unfortunately for him, there is no one in the school at night when he can go. So he starts doing a young boy's homework and then strikes up a correspondence with him. The captain of the monsters is alarmed by these letters, as they may jeopardize the monsters' secret hiding place. So the Little Vampire has to go meet the boy to ensure their secret is not revealed, and, after some moments of alarm and terror, the two end up being fast friends.

In the second story, the little boy, whose name is Michael, decides he needs to learn kung fu to defend himself from bullies at school, and Little Vampire takes him to the unlikely training grounds of Rabbi Solomon. After a rigorous, secret ordeal, Michael is ready to take on lots of malefactors, but it is really for nothing. Some of Little Vampire and Michael's monster friends decided to take matters into their own hands and ended up killing and eating the bullying classmate. Not wanting to be party to murder, the gang then goes on to seek out magicians who can bring the boy back in one piece.
A visit to Rabbi Solomon's place (in the original French)
The last story is slightly less supernatural, about rescuing some dogs from a cruel owner who feeds them lipstick and tests various products on them. Of course, the rescue is not a smooth operation, and the children and monsters have to think pretty quickly to deal with all the repercussions of their actions.

Eisner Award winning graphic novelist Joann Sfar, a prolific French artist with more than 100 books to his credit since 1994, is responsible for this charming and creepy set of stories. Sfar has won many awards for his work in Europe and the US, and he is well known for idiosyncratic works such as Sardine in Outer Space, The Professor's Daughter, and The Rabbi's Cat. He has a pretty sardonic sense of humor, as seen in the English version of his homepage.

The reviews I have read of this book have been positive. Kirkus Reviews wrote in two different reviews that this book "will keep preteen comic-book fans amused" and "offers plenty of gags." John DeNardo worried that the horror parts might be too much for younger readers, but in the end concluded that he might be over-protective and that "these stories flesh out a highly imaginative world." Tina Kelley wrote similarly that the "unruliness, combined with some gross-out jokes and frightening characters, may give some parents pause. For those same reasons, of course, young readers will probably love it."

Little Vampire was published in the US by First Second. I may be mistaken, but it seems the book is out of print here currently, though I do see lots of copies available online from used book sellers.

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