Joann Sfar is a fantastic comic artist – he is well-known as part of the new wave of Franco-Belgian comics and was also the artist on the multi-volume all ages series Sardine in Outer Space. He has done a marvelous job of adapting the famous tale of The Little Prince to comics. And let's be sure to hand out credit as well to Sarah Ardizzone who translated Sfar's adaptation into English.
The tale of The Little Prince is fairly famous at this point. Author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote the story while in America during World War II. It was published in 1943, the year before de Saint-Exupéry joined Free French forces and ultimately crashed over the Mediterranean on a reconnaissance mission during the war. It is one of the most popular books of the last century, translated in many languages. It is often described as a philosophical tale but it is also clearly autobiographical in a sense. Saint-Exupéry flew for many years, often working for national post services. On December 30, 1935, he crashed in the Libyan Sahara desert. Along with his navigator, Saint-Exupéry survived three days in the desert with extreme dehydration and hallucinations. They were rescued on the fourth day by a Bedouin traveling by camel. The Little Prince begins with a pilot crashed in the desert, needing to fix his plane and escape before succumbing to the heat and dehydration.
Sfar has done an excellent job with the adaptation of the tale into graphic novel form. At a 110 pages Sfar has given himself a large enough canvas to fully explore the prose novel in comic form. His imaginative, inventive art seems inspired by the original cover art drawn by de Saint-Exupéry. There's a child-like enthusiasm to the wiggly linework and cartoonish composition. Sfar uses a strict 6 panel grid structure throughout the entire book. I'm not sure why he made that choice. There's nothing wrong with it and it's not even necessarily noticeable while reading it, but it's not obvious to me why he went with it.
He does do a wonderful job shifting colors as he moves from one part of the story to the next. In the beginning meeting between the pilot and the Little Prince we get the browns and yellows of the hot desert with the purples and blues of the cold desert night. When we shift to the Little Prince telling the story of his rose on his home planet, we see bright red colors when the rose unveils herself to the Little Prince. Sfar uses these shifts in color as the Little Prince travels from world to world until we shift back to the hues of the desert for the final part of the story.
The drawing of the rose is just perfect for me — it's this little humanoid figure reclining in the petals of the flower. She is vain and haughty at times, and sad when the Little Prince leaves the planet to go exploring. I was a little less sold on the design of the King and the very vain man that the Little Prince meets next. The King is so ridiculous in appearance that I think it detracts a little from that part of the story. I guess I always thought that the words between the King and the Little Prince were revealing of the King's foolishness to the Little Prince, but that otherwise to the world the King was still a king. This King is visually silly so children and adults would equally find him foolish. The very vain man looks like a carnival barker to me. Again, the visuals, to me at least, undercut the way one perceived this part of the tale in the prose version. Not entirely but a little. The drinking man and the businessman — I didn't see that kind of issue with their design. There's nothing particularly fantastic about the man who is drinking too much but the businessman is a fantastic creature. A strange combination of the future — he's in his spaceship with a spacesuit mixed with the old and odd; he seems to be counting the stars by making notes on paper rolling out of some mechanical contraption. In fact that sequence to me is one of my favorite bits of the book. I think it captured the dialogue between them very well while employing a great series of visuals that should capture your imagination.
I also really liked the next scene on the fifth planet with the man who has to light and douse the sole street light there. The visual of the light going on and off works really well in comic form. The sixth planet with the geographer is less visually engaging but Sfar does a lot with the scenery around the geographer and the Little Prince talking to each other. By the time the Little Prince gets to Earth and meets the Fox, the book hits a high point that it never leaves for the rest of the adaptation. Sfar feels freer to move the characters around here, we get to see his wonderful interpretation of flowers again (the Little Prince learns there are many roses on Earth) and his fox is a great characterization. I really felt like after the pilot and the Little Prince, the Fox might have been the most realized character in the adaptation. The rose is also well done but the stretch of the book with the Fox, with the line "You can only see clearly with the heart. What matters is invisible to the eye" is pretty moving and Sfar only adds to that here.
The ending of the story is supposed to be somewhat ambiguous. The Little Prince tells the Pilot he is going home, but it involves his apparent death. I think Sfar gets this just right. We see the Little Prince wander away from the Pilot at night, the Pilot simply says "There was just a flash of yellow by his ankle" as tears stream down his face, the Little Prince is falling behind a sand dune. I thought it would be a tricky thing to visually match the ending of the prose novel but in some ways the silent last page of Sfar's adaptation is something that surpasses the prose and is an elegant, emotional end to this book.
I can't recommend this one enough. It's all ages in the best sense, and a beautiful adaptation of a well-loved book.
The Publisher provided ComixTalk with a free copy of the book for review purposes.