KLEZMER - TALES OF THE WILD EAST by Joann Sfar is another of First Second's publications from last year. I've previously written about Sfar's work here, here and here. To summarize, loved RABBI'S CAT, didn't like VAMPIRE LOVES and was intrigued by DUNGEON (I've read more volumes of it since, might be more on them later).
KLEZMER fits right in the middle of Sfar's oeuvre for me so far. It seemed to be a very inconsistent book in a lot of ways. I would really like some sections, for a dozen or so pages, and then find the next bit hard going and not at all interesting. Unfortunately, the book isn't any in any way a complete story, being continued in a future volume that isn't even scheduled yet (in English, at least). That loses it a few points.
The book is about a group of travelling Jewish musicians in pre-WWII Eastern Europe. This first book chronicles how five of them get together, giving some background story on each of them, with all of them getting together for the first time in the closing pages of this volume, ending with them being driven to some mysterious job they've been hired for.
The first few characters introduced are pretty interesting, and their stories were captivating and their interactions after they met were intriguing. Unfortunately, they mostly vanish for the middle third of the book as the other three characters are introduced as a separate group (with a tangential relationship to the first), and each character introduced seems to get less plausible and less interesting. The book finally starts to pick up in the end when everyone gets together and then it all ends. There's a lengthy set of notes in the back, but they didn't seem that interesting to me from a quick look, although some of the artistic studies are attractive.
The art is very noteworthy as well. Unlike Sfar's other work, which is more built on the detailed linework with strong but straightforward colouring, the colour is much more integrated into this one, with the linework sometimes being very sparse and then built up with watercolours, sometimes very realistic, other times more trying to imply a mood. It works quite often, though a few places are less than clear, and it takes some getting used to.
I'll probably take a look at the next volume if it shows up (as this one did) at my local library. Don't think I'd buy it.
Just as an aside, First Second seems to have done a pretty good job of getting the Toronto library system to buy into their books, with one or two dozen copies of each book in the system. They seem to circulate well, but not get that many holds, at least compared to some of the popular Japanese comics (so people seem to pick them up when they see them, but not actively seek them out).