Little Vampire Does Kung Fu!

By Joann Sfar
32 pages, color
Published by Simon & Schuster

It wasn’t until I read NBM’s publishing of Dungeon that I first encountered Joann Sfar’s creativity. Sfar was working together with Lewis Trondheim on the project, though, so I really hadn’t seem a solo work by Sfar at all. Thankfully, someone at Simon & Schuster seems to have discovered Sfar since we’re now getting his Petit Vampire series brought into English in the form of Little Vampire. This is one bloodsucker you’ll want in your home.

Michael keeps getting picked on by Jeffrey, the school bully. What’s a kid to do? Fortunately, Michael’s friend the Little Vampire knows the answer: Michael needs to learn kung fu. What happens next is an adventure that Michael will never forget, involving alternate worlds, zombies, golems, sorcerers… and of course, kung fu.

Originally published in French as Petit Vampire Fait du Kung-Fu!, I think what surprised me the most about Little Vamprie Does Kung Fu! was not how entertaining it was (and oh, it is) but how much Sfar crams into just 32 pages. Sfar crams in more plot than most people would have accomplished in 48 or 64 pages, but without it ever feeling rushed or awkward. Sfar has created a meandering story where each point logically follows the next, but where you never see the next twist coming. Ultimately a children’s book, it’s nice that the moral of Little Vampire Does Kung Fu! (hard work always works better than a quick shortcut solution) is never overwhelming or blunt. Sfar weaves it into his narrative with large doses of humor and silliness, making sure that it’s just as appealing for adults as it is for children.

Sfar’s art here is nothing short of adorable. Little Vampire and Michael, with their oval heads and innocent expressions, can’t help but charm the pants off of anyone who reads the book. The designs are really attractive here, between Little Vampire’s “floating head and cape” look and Ophtamol’s three tentacle-attached eyes. Each character is not only instantly recognizable, but you’ll want to stop and look carefully at them to see how Sfar created them. Then again, that’s a quality that goes through the whole book, with great looking backgrounds and locations to ooh and ahh over. Most importantly, though, is that Sfar’s pages never look cramped or crowded despite how much he puts on them. If a page has six panels it’s remarkably underpopulated for Little Vampire Does Kung Fu! (most of them have eight or nine, but going up to twelve panels a page is not unheard of), but every panel always looks distinct and wonderfully rendered.

Little Vampire Does Kung Fu! is one of those books that truly is all-ages, and I’m absolutely delighted that Simon & Schuster has decided to bring Sfar’s series into English. With Little Vampire Does Kung Fu! and Little Vampire Goes To School already here, let’s hope it’s just a matter of time until the other two books get translated as well. These are the sort of books that you’ll treasure for years to come.

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