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Comics: Joann Sfar, in the mirror of her characters and readings


Twenty years and all his claws. The Rabbi’s Cat, returned thanks to an excellent eleventh volume (1) and collections containing the first nine parts (2), still has a lot to say to his master, a rabbi from Algiers in the 1930s, and to his creator, Joann Sfar. A talking feline (after biting a parrot) that lives its life freely, like a real cat would. “I’m waiting for the character to come talk to me. It’s very fragile The Rabbi’s Cat. I don’t even know why it became a success.” wonders the author, who has sold 1.8 million copies of his flagship series, translated into 21 languages.

→ READ. Riad Sattouf: “I realize that the world can be benevolent”

Like most of his many characters, the Rabbi’s cat is both a companion and an alter ego. “It’s not really me, nuance Joann Sfar. He is braver, more defiant. As I get older, I’m less and less the cat, and more and more the rabbi. In the last volume, it is the old man who, for the first time, has the last word. »

“At 50, I allow myself to comment on the Torah! »

Another first: the author offers himself a biblical exegesis, questioning the miracles and silence of God. “At 50, I don’t have a Rolex, but I allow myself to comment on the Torah! » the one who truffles his comic fables with philosophical reflections is amused.

Since studying philosophy in Nice, Joann Sfar has enjoyed practicing the art of dialectic as an amateur. “In the last album, the cat wants to study alone, without the rabbi, but the teacher and the pupil learn as much from each other. This is a principle that can also be applied to the education that one seeks to give to one’s children. »

He laughs with Roald Dahl and cries with Marcel Pagnol

In Joann Sfar’s childhood, all the books were on the living room table, offering themselves up for discussion. Little Joann learns to speak with La Fontaine’s fables, develops a passion for watercolors with Reiser’s albums, falls in love with the headmaster’s daughter drawn by Cabu. “I had no idea that they were drawing for adults. I am incapable of telling a child that a work is not for him. If he wants to explore it, he just has to accompany him because he has a fierce desire to decode the world. »

Certain voices forever change his vision of the world. He laughs with Roald Dahl “who dares to tell children that adults are fallible beings, even fools”he cries with Marcel Pagnol, “whose autobiographical accounts open a frightening door to adulthood”. The last pages of My mother’s castle evoke the premature death of the author’s mother, echoing that of Joann Sfar, who died suddenly when he was only 4 years old. She is told that she has gone on a trip. While waiting for him, he draws a lot to fill the gap, in particular little vampirethe story of an orphan who befriends creatures from beyond…

→ READ. “Little Vampire”, a monster who wishes you well

One hundred and fifty albums later, he still holds pencils firmly, forever inspired by “Draughtsmen and authors, such as Quentin Blake, Jean-Jacques Sempé or Jack Kirby, whose work borders on imaginative drawing and drawing from life, and who manage to capture real life. »

Akissi, fighting against barriers

“Marguerite Abouet, who created this supercharged little girl character (designed by Mathieu Sapin), has a welcoming and provocative way of talking about childhood and her country, Côte d’Ivoire. She creates a connection with the reader, while doing a lot to fight against the barriers that we put on ourselves, sometimes with the best intentions in the world. The characters in this series are not made of sugar, a bit like with Goscinny. Just because they’re kids doesn’t mean they all have to be cute and perfect, they also do some serious silly things. I think he’s a character that will be remembered. »

Comics: Joann Sfar, in the mirror of her characters and readings

Ariol, the greatest youth hero

“The greatest child hero of our generation is Ariol, by Emmanuel Guibert, a close friend with whom I had the chance to work on numerous occasions. I drew Sardines from space for him, and scripted Black Olives, a series he directed. He is one of the rare children’s authors to be at the level of René Goscinny: there are the same double readings, the same tenderness… When I open AriolI find the same joy that I had to read The little Nicolas. Marc Boutavant’s drawings are also infinitely sensitive. »

Comics: Joann Sfar, in the mirror of her characters and readings

Cythère the apprentice witch, Little female Vampire

“Without Cythera, no Little Vampire!” As a child, I already drew this character, but it was consciously copied from Fred’s apprentice witch, creator of the series Philemon. I was reading this series (1979-1980) in Pip Gadget, when I was 6 years old. I loved it because I didn’t understand anything about it. She used to do magic tricks there with her grandmother. Mana, the magical power released by certain idols of which Freud spoke, corresponds well to this character. It’s a life-changing comic. For little vampireI also fed onIsabella, a beautifully drawn series by Will (1969-1995), who lives extraordinary adventures with a magician uncle. »

Comics: Joann Sfar, in the mirror of her characters and readings

“Lu! », the nobility of a childish story

“This series, created in 2004 by Julien Neel, features a 12-year-old schoolgirl who lives alone with her mother and wonders about her father, who left before she was born. A mad ambition inhabits its structure, its work of narration, its stories within history, its play on imaginary autobiography. Lou! has all the nobility of a child’s story in which the character grows with his readers. Its formal aspiration is as important as that of an adult narrative. It is a wonder ! »

Comics: Joann Sfar, in the mirror of her characters and readings

Little Nicolas, not so innocent

“What’s great about The little Nicolas (1956-1965), is that all the kids have the same head! Sempé did it on purpose and explained it. He didn’t like comics where all the characters had different reels. Even more clearly than Roald Dahl, René Goscinny shows that children are not the innocent little things we think they are. There are as many idiots in Little Nicolas’ class as among the adults around him. »

Comics: Joann Sfar, in the mirror of her characters and readings

Ben Grimm, aka “The Thing”, Jewish superhero

“American Jewish cartoonists did not want their characters to be Jewish, to avoid alienating part of the readership. Ben Grimm, he has all the biographical traits of his creator, Jack Kirby (3): he grew up in a poor Jewish housing estate in Brooklyn, he was a thug and got into fights in the street. Under the effect of cosmic rays, he transforms into an orange stone being, a kind of Golem, a giant mythical clay creature from Jewish culture. As a child, I was moved by the way his blind lover touches his face and, overcoming his repulsive physique, feels his inner goodness. »

Comics: Joann Sfar, in the mirror of her characters and readings

The fabled fox, a subversive figure

“The secret of La Fontaine’s fables is that morality really doesn’t matter. What is interesting is the game of opposition between the two characters. The fox, which has accompanied our literature since Renart’s novel, is central: it is the key to romantic subversion. The Trickery of Scapin, The Marriage of Figaro are new incarnations of the fox. These plays depict a character who is there to subvert the social group. It is an allegory of literature. »

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Bibliographic references

1971. Born in Nice.

1992. He entered the Beaux-Arts in Paris, after studying philosophy in Nice.

1993. He joined the Nawak workshop, then the Atelier des Vosges, where he met Christophe Blain, Emmanuel Guibert, Marjane Satrapi and Lewis Trondheim.

1994. The Association publishes its first boards.

1999. First album of little vampire.

2000. First collection of Sardines from space.

2002. The Rabbi’s Cat. The bar mitzvahthe first volume of his flagship saga.

2005. Beginning of the series klezmer.

2010. Produce and script Gainsbourg (Heroic life)César for best first film.

2011. Animated adaptation of Rabbi’s catCésar for Best Animated Film.

2020. little vampireadapted as an animated film.

(1) The Rabbi’s Cat. The Bible for Catsvolume 11, Dargaud, 2021, 80 p., €15.

(2) The Rabbi’s Cat. Collectionsvolumes 1 to 4, Dargaud, 2022, €19.99 each.

(3) Creator of Captain America, Fantastic Four and others X-Men.

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