Yet Another Review of the Day: Vampire Loves
Can you tell I'm posting all the things I read at the ALA Conference at once?
Now, I swore to myself I'd only review children's books. I told myself I didn't have time for all the young adult novels, books, and GNs out there competing for attention. And I think I did a pretty good job at avoiding anything and everything YA until "Vampire Loves" fell into my lap. Even then, I wasn't convinced that I'd want to read it. For me, author/illustrator Joann Sfar is a touch-and-go kinda guy. On the one hand he's written a whole range of infinitely interesting graphic novels with a unique comic edge. On the other hand, I was not blown away by his "Sardine" series for the kiddies. But there was something about "Vampire Loves". Partly it was the cover design. Partly it was the premise. And partly it was the snatch of dialogue on the back of the book between Ferdinand and Lani. Before I knew it I was staying up late devouring, "Vampire Loves" as quickly as my little brain could parse its dialogue. By and large I do not read YA graphic novels, but when I do you better believe they're going to be pretty special. "Vampire Loves" is.
Ferdinand the vampire is a delicate sensitive soul, by and large. His girlfriend, Lani, recently cheated on him with his good friend Michael and the two have been apart ever since. Ferdinand would love to get back together with Lani but she's just so utterly unremorseful about everything that occurred. In the meantime, he has other thoughts to occupy his mind. There's fellow vampire Aspirine who absolutely adores Ferdinand in spite of all his efforts to escape her. There was a Japanese girl he met in Paris that seemed an ideal mate for him until he lost her. And in the meantime there are people like the Tree Man who's been dating Lani and a peculiar mass murderer that Ferdinand is asked to track down. In the end, the book is more a look at relationships, dating scenes, and the difficulty of finding someone to love (or, in Ferdinand's case, seduce), even when there are plenty of people to choose from.
Elements I've found so difficult to stomach in Sfar's past works turned out to be a strength in the case of "Vampire Loves". In the "Sardine" books, Sfar's storylines jump willy-nilly from plot to person to person to plot without much in the way of logical transition. The same could be said of this book, but here it works to the author's advantage. Now we can see Ferdinand's past relationship foibles with the ladies. At the same time, Lani's subplot is carefully laid out and in some ways she comes across as the most believable of characters. Sfar sometimes even stops the action dead and will fill a page with something entitled, "A few notes on the protagonists of this story". These come across more as rough sketches than filled out story elements, but what they add is infinitely interesting.
As for characters, Sfar is at his best here. Adults reading this book (and there are bound to be more than just me) will find some of the people in this story horribly familiar. Ditto the relationships. At the same time, Sfar isn't afraid to just toss in a new character, say a Golem or a Jewish bookstore owner, without any preface or understanding. Under normal circumstances, this kind of thing would bug me. Here, it comes across as an extra added tasty treat, filling out an equally colorful narrative.
I wish that I could say that "Vampire Loves" is for kids, and certainly there's a lot to it that children would enjoy. But there is a bit of sex talk (that'll go over their heads, but still...) and just the adult nature of the relationships in this book calls out for a more mature reader. Honestly, if a nine-year-old asked me for the book I wouldn't hesitate to hand it over. There are some references to drug use and some sex discussions, but interestingly enough the act itself never occurs on the page.
I like my graphic novels, but I don't read them as voraciously as most. In the end, however, "Vampire Loves" is probably one of the best YA GNs to come out this or any year. A compelling story, it actually had me thinking about the characters long after I put the book down. Who knew you could get so much depth out of a cartoon bloodsucker? As "Buffy the Vampire" has taught us, vampires make for wonderful metaphors, both on the page and off.