Into the Deep End

I've spent several posts extolling the seeming virtues of First Second, and that trend will continue this week with reviews of most of the titles that comprise their initial launch. Before getting into that, though, I got a call from their marketing coordinator last week and I want to quote something Chris Butcher said after meeting a couple members of the First Second staff at NYCC "These guys are so on-the-ball it's scary." There's an interview with Mark Spiegel, who's heading up the line, at PW that'll give you an idea of how much forethought went into this.

Two thirds of their initial releases are translated from French and two of these feature art by the amazingly talented and prolific Joann Sfar. Sardine in Outer Space, originally published in France in 2000, is a collaboration between Emmanuel Guibert and Joann Sfar and is about as well designed as a series of bedtime stories could be. Broken up into roughly 10 page short stories, it follows the adventures of Sardine and her space pirate uncle Capt. Yellow Shoulder. We're clearly dealing with achildren'ss book here (and the types of logic that entails) but it's almost an ideal introduction to the format for kids. Sfar's art is much larger and for the most part looser than in The Rabbi's Cat (which is saying something), but it's a style that works beautifully for a series featuring unusual aliens, planets and adventures. As with any book in this format, some stories work better than others but the hits outweigh the misses by a large margin (I was particularly fond of "Honkfish Jamboree" and "Pokemon" -- it's not what you think). I've had a bit of trouble deciding what to recommend to parents looking for something to read with their kids and I think this will be at the top of that list (especially with ideas like a disco ball planet peppered in for the adults). Available May 02, 2006.

The other spring release from Sfar is Vampire Loves, a collection of the first four books in his Grand Vampire series. I love this book. To be honest, as much as I like The Rabbi's Cat, this was the title I was least excited about of the Spring releases, but that was clearly a mistake. Full of interesting andcomplexx characters (who just happen to be vampires, witches, ghosts, supernatural cops and even the occasional mortal) it's an addictively humorous story about relationships and behavior. Not only do the characters feel like real people (relatively speaking of course), it seems as though Sfar just grabbed a couple of my friends and transformed them into these characters. Top that off with Ferdinand, the most likeable vampire this side of Angel (or Count Chocula), and this was a book I just could not put down. Sfar creates a cast of characters that's it's impossible not to love (even the ex-girlfriends) and we get to watch their lives intersect as they fall together and apart (with pearls of wisdom like "Some guys ought to be videotaped when they're alone with girls and have the tape shown to their buddies"). There are a few subplots that run the length of the book but the real joy of reading this are the moments and the dialogue rather than the plot. It reminds me quite a bit of the Scott Pilgrim books in that way (not to mention some distinct similarities between Scott and Ferdinand). As I said, this is a wonderful book that leaves me anxious to see what else Sfar and First Second have for us. Available May 02, 2006.

I'm generally wary of a publisher that comes onto the scene with such a large initial release rather than slowly building a line of titles like Pantheon. The genius of First Second, though, is that they're initial wave includes translations of four popular and award winning European titles plus a high profile book from Eddie Campbell. When only one of your first six titles is unproven, it makes more sense to go ahead and make a splash. I had a good amount of faith in this company based simply on what I had seen of the work they were publishing but after hearing from them I'm convinced that this is a publisher that is going to make serious waves in the sequential art field.



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