Monday, March 14, 2011

Joann Sfar: Gainsbourg


I recently saw the film “Gainsbourg: Vie Héroïque” by Joann Sfar. I know, I know… it’s been out for a while now, but I really really liked it a lot, so I just had to make a post about it…





Joann Sfar is of course a well known French comics author. This is the first time he has made a film (if we don’t count the animated series that were made based on his “Petit Vampire” comics). It’s not that often that a comic book artist tries his hand at making films, not just having his books adapted, but really “making” a film, as a writer and director. Sfar does, and he succeeds wonderfully in this task.

Then again, Sfar has this extraordinary capability of mixing childlike nonchalance with outrageous intelligence. That is what made his books such a delight to read and it is equally present in his work on Gainsbourg.

Take a look at the trailer, but also at the short interview which follows, and you’ll see what I mean…



Don’t worry, I found an interview in which he speaks English…



Sfar has been very prolific as a comic book artist in the past years. Books like “Le Chat du Rabbin” (The Rabbi’s Cat"), “Petit Vampire” and “Grand Vampire” (yes indeed: Little Vampire and Big Vampire), an adaptation of the book “Le Petit Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and of course his work (together with comrade-in-arms Lewis Trondheim) on the “Donjon”-series, has gained him recognition as one of the top French comic authors.

Sfar often uses elements from all kinds of popular genre comics: vampires and monsters, knights and dragons, musketeers, detectives, etc… But in stead of telling straightforward adventure stories, he lets these characters wonder around, fall in love with the first beautiful girl they meet, or get drunk and have lofty philosophical conversations (which more often than not actually make sense!)




(I’m very sorry but I must interrupt the article on Joann Sfar here for a little technical announcement:

(Pling Ploing, Pling Ploing…)

New on Monsieur Bandit: (Tadadadaaa!) The Pearltree!

(Ooooooooh!)(Ahum… sorry.)

The strange diagram below is a called a “pearltree”.

A pearltree is a way of bookmarking and sharing links. I’m not going to bother you with the whole explanation. If that is something you are interested in you can find out everything you need to know right here at  or you can find an introduction in this Pearltree video. Give it a go, if you don’t already know it. It really is quite nifty!

What you need to know for now is this: each circle in the diagram below is a “pearl” and stands for a link. What would happen if you click on it? Right… And if you click the center pearl it takes you to the Pearltrees site, where you can watch the complete series of pearls, or check out the rest of what I’ve bookmarked.

This pearltree is a collection of some short animation videos by Sfar. Included are the opening sequence of the Gainsbourg movie, some of the “Little Vampire” cartoons (in French), a little music video and an extra clip where you see Sfar drawing at a performance of “The Little Prince”.

Go ahead: take a look for yourself…

(Pling Ploing, Pling Ploing)

Back to Joann Sfar…

Joann Sfar Animation


I must admit I initially had a lot of difficulty appreciating Mr Sfar’s work because of the often crude drawing style he uses. It sometimes looks like the young punk-nephew of Quentin Blake is at work.






Even when he doesn’t use his trademark watercolor style, his drawings remain a happy-go-lucky quality.




When I first saw his work, I thought the guy just wasn’t all that good.

It took me a while to realize why that is not so.

No, Mr Sfar is not a virtuoso draftsman. He is first and foremost a storyteller. No matter how crude his drawings may seem, they do succeed in communicating clearly what he has to say. But where Sfar really leaves a lot of his colleagues, so called “better” draftsmen, behind, is in the cheer joy and life which speak from his work. While many “realistic” drawing styles might at first glance seem superior, they so often lack these qualities.  




Eventually, my favorite books from the many, many (100+ ?) he has made, are some of the crudest drawn ones: his notebooks (hefty volumes of drawings, family anecdotes, philosophy, music lessons, travelogues, political commentary, and what-nots (a whole lot of what-nots…), and the highly pornographic “Pascin” series, about a turn-of-the-century painter who doesn’t like to paint, but does like to draw.







I’m not sure exactly how much of Sfar’s work has been translated into English, but whatever you can get your hands on is recommended… Maybe this partial bibliography can be a start.

Or you can check out his blog at "The little world of Joann Sfar" (which can be read in English as well).

On the other hand,  this is as good a reason as you are ever likely to get to start and learn French, n’est pas?


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