It’s Victorian London and Egyptology is all the rage. This makes Professor Bowell, with his recent finds from the lands of the Pharaohs, the toast of all London. Pride of place in his new collection is to be the mummified remains of Pharaoh Imhotep IV.
But this isn’t your standard mummy. In fact when we first see Imhotep, he’s more Fred Astaire, complete with top hat, tails and cane, than he is ancient corpse (a bit more dapper than his namesake Imhotep from the Mummy movies! – Joe). Because that gorgeous image of the cover above is just how we see him first, walking arm in arm with none other than the Professor’s other prized possession; Lillian, Professor Bowell’s daughter. There is no complex explanation offered as to the reason for Imhotep’s rejuvenation, nor is one particularly needed, for frankly that would simply get in the way of this love story across the ages. Because Imhotep and Lillian find their mutual feelings of confinement change to mutual feelings of attraction and thence love.
(Lillian and Imhotep find that they have much in common. Art by Emmanuel Guibert from The Professor’s Daughter, published First Second (c) Guibert & Sfar 2007.)
Their attempts at romance in Victorian England fail miserably. Her father is understandably concerned at the romance, and his concerns are exacerbated by the discovery of a dead policeman in his drawing room, poisoned (but merely accidentally) by Lillian in an attempt to protect her love. Faced with incarceration (whether jail or museum) the pair then attempt flight to Egypt, which proves equally disastrous and eventful and brings them to the attention of Imhotep’s father. Just as mummified and just as alive. Obviously it’s not just Imhotep’s embalming fluid that imbued him with a particularly long life. Back in London, there is an inevitable trial, where just as inevitably first Lillian, then Imhotep attempt to take full responsibility for their combined actions out of love.
If this is sounding rather like a farcical romantic comedy, that’s because it’s exactly that. The misadventures build and build and are given farcical release, situations go from frying pan to fire and a chase scene or some visual or verbal slapstick is never far off. This is a good thing, and Sfar and Guibert handle the farcical nature of the story expertly, never letting it overwhelm the story, merely providing great humour along the way.
(It was the Professor’s daughter, in the drawing room, with the poison M’lud. Art by Guibert from The Professor’s Daughter.)
Sfar & Guibert usually work the other way round, with Sfar’s stark lines and matt colours illustrating their other 1st Second collaboration Sardine. But here it’s Guibert on the art duties, where his elegant watercolour washes give the book an old fashioned, period feel. The subtle colouring, the beautiful washes and the lithe and playful figures throughout the book just grabbed my eyes and really wouldn’t let go. Everything you need to know about the artwork you can tell from that gorgeous cover.
The Professor’s Daughter is a cultured romp of a book, far more assured than it should be (this was their debut book after all). The art is a perfect fit and brings the characters to life quite vividly. It’s a delightful comedy of manners presented with the usual design excellence we’ve come to expect from 1st Second so far. In the few years they’ve been publishing they’ve very quickly established themselves as a major force in the medium. I look forward to plenty more where The Professor’s Daughter came from.
Richard Bruton, whose life occasionally turns into one big farce, can be found online here at the fpi blog and at his own blog, Fictions. In the real world he can often be found sitting with a drink.