31 October 2007

A Picture Book That Could Not Come from America

Little Vampire Goes to School was published in France in 1999. Its story and drawings are by Joann Sfar, with the text translated by Mark and Alexis Siegel. I picked it up to examine the melding of comics and picture books, but was struck more by the book's foreign sensibility. It discusses religious differences, a topic many Americans tend to avoid. Even more startling, after raising some tough religious questions, this picture book leaves them unresolved.

The story starts with Little Vampire wishing to go to school and learn, only to find that the local school (which looks tres français) is empty at night. He ends up sharing a desk and notebook with a boy named Michael. Eventually Little Vampire invites Michael home to meet the ghosts, ghouls, goblins, and monsters.

The leader of those ghosts, called the Captain, asks Michael to swear an oath of secrecy. The dialog balloons go like this.

Michael: I swear to devote my life to protecting the dead and keeping their memory. And if I break my word, may a thousand curses befall me.

Captain: Now do the sign of the cross.

Michael: No. I can’t do that.

Captain: It would give more strength to your oath.

Michael: But I’m Jewish, Captain. The cross doesn’t mean much to me.

Captain: Do the sign of the star in that case.

Michael: We don’t do that either.
Captain: You should think about all that some more. Sad times often open miraculous doorways.
The next panel shows Michael and Little Vampire alone.

The book doesn't treat Michael's lack of faith or gratitude in God, or the young characters' mystification at the Captain's remarks, as problems to be solved. They're just there, part of being human (or vampire), and the story goes on.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this recommendation--I'm charmed by Little Vampire, and look forward to reading more. (Your post reminded me of how BtVS included the occasional Jewish reference with Willow. "Ira Rosenberg's only daughter nailing crucifixes to her bedroom wall? I have to go to Xander's house just to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas every year.")

J. L. Bell said...

The first intertwining of vampire, crucifix, and Judaism that I recall is a scene with George Hamilton and Richard Benjamin from Love at First Bite.