Saturday, September 3, 2011

Comic Review: The Rabbi's Cat

In case anyone is wondering why this post didn't go up yesterday (erm, Thursday) as normal, I was trying to get the second diversity post up and decided to push this one back a day (since the deadline for the diversity posts was September 1st, it's now been pushed back to October first). And the reason that didn't go up is because I just had a strange day and ended up not having the time to completely write out another 3000-ish word post. So, apologies, the second part of the diversity review should be up in a couple of days and I'll probably re-post/edit them at the end of the month if I have anything new to add.

Comic time! This is a comic that I had seen at my local library many times before and I checked out both volumes of the story since I couldn't tell if it was one continuous story split into two books or a main story and then a second volume that added on to it (turns out it's the later). I mentioned it in the first diversity post since the story revolves around a predominately Jewish cast (as if you couldn't tell from the title) in Algeria in the 1930s which, funny enough, makes it the second comic I've read this summer that features Jewish main characters, a bit unusual but I'm not quite sure that any of the comics I've reviewed this summer could be called "the usual."

The Rabbi's Cat by Joann Sfar

Summary: One day, a cat who belongs to a rabbi and his daughter, becomes annoyed at their pet parrot and eats him thus gaining the power of speech to his great delight. He takes advantage of this new ability to learn more about the world and to cause mischief where ever he can, all the while offering commentary on the lives of those around him.

The Good: It's a bit unusual to find an animal narrator in stories that aren't children's literature which makes for a nice change and the rabbi's cat is a fun character. He comes off as equal parts trickster and saint (well, perhaps equal parts trickster and observer, although he certainly seems to be the most saintly character at times) and he makes the story interesting. There are some scenes where he isn't in them at all (only a few) but thankfully the story doesn't stagnant there and keeps on moving briskly back to the cat.

The Bad: Aside from the titular cat, I didn't like or sympathize with any of the main characters and found myself much more interested in some of the side characters. Most of the characters came off as rather petty and self-absorbed which is tiring to read after a while, especially how the first book ended. At the end of the first book, the rabbi is mentioning how his faith has been shaken and one of his congregation (would that be the right word?) asks him what he now thought about God and he replies that he doesn't know. It's perfectly alright to be questioning of your faith (I'm agnostic myself) but it was the way that it was done that made it feel like a complete cop-out, as if the author didn't know how their character would react and took an ambiguous middle road to avoid it.

The Art: My opinion on the art varied from panel to panel since there were some panels where I really liked the art style and others where I would just start cringing. I think that my problem with it was that I really didn't like the shading style used in some panels (short ink lines which for some reason just bugged me here, maybe because I'm not used to seeing pen and ink shading on top of colored images) and it just came off as amateruish in many places (and this artist has won awards for his work, clearly this isn't the case). So I really don't know why it rubbed me the wrong way and it's hard to enjoy a comic if you really don't like the art so this didn't help my experience of it at all.   

There were other parts in the story I also didn't like but unfortunately are too spoiler-y to include, I just ended up not really liking this story at all even though I was fully expecting to. Even more so than the books this summer, the comics I've been reading have been really hit or miss and I'm not sure why. Perhaps, drawn in by the interesting covers, I keep picking ones that are style over substance which is the exact opposite of what I want? Or maybe it's because I like my comics the way I like my regular books, plot heavy with tons of world-building and those just don't get published in book format (verses webcomics) as much here,  unless it's manga which I actually didn't read a lot of this summer (from the library anyway, I may or may not have spent several days straight reading 80s/90s shojo manga at one point....).

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