Pascin by Joann Sfar Review

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<i>Pascin</i> by Joann Sfar Review

Writer/Artist: Joann Sfar
Publisher: Uncivilized Books
Release Date: October 10, 2015

Joann Sfar is reliably one of the most intuitive and innovative voices in comics, and he begins his imaginary biography of the artist Jules Pascin with a drawing of his subject at work: hairy, skinny legs, refined fingers, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, an absolute mess of a face and his flaccid penis hanging out from under his shirttails. That penis will make many an appearance in the pages to follow, but Sfar treats it with no more shock value than the other, unsexualized appendages; it is merely another part of the body, albeit one that has analogies to creative pursuits. (Turnabout is fair play, too. Pascin is well known for his nudes of women.)

Originally published in smaller French volumes between 1999 and 2005, and newly translated into English by Edward Gauvin, Pascin is based more on impressions than on well-documented fact. Louche but often impotent, philosophical but hedonistic and direct in his speech, Pascin the character seems like more fun than Pascin the historical figure, who committed suicide in 1930. (This book has a happy ending.) The narrative isn’t much of a straight line. Instead, Sfar sets up scenes to convey ideas about art or friendship or the right way to approach life, not bothering with any of the niggling details of biography. Famous folks like Ernest Hemingway show up without much of an introduction. The facts are fairly beside the point; what Pascin wants to do, in Sfar’s eyes, is spend his time drawing, which is where the two overlap.

Sfar is an astonishingly prolific artist, but his line never feels steady or expected. Here, as elsewhere, it skips, it skitters, it blurs, it jumps around, it gets blotchy, and then it straightens out for a bit. The panels, when they exist, are blobby and uneven. The faces recall every negative thing that’s been said about modern art since the Impressionists made their appearance on the scene. Sfar is never afraid to make his work ugly, but it always contains an underlying glimmer of delight, which is what makes his stuff so readable. It might be messy, but there’s a real joy in its execution, and he presents his subject as coming from the same place—whether or not it’s true is irrelevant. This graphic novel feels like truth, or, as Picasso said of art, it’s a lie that makes us realize truth.

Pascin Interior Art by Joann Sfar

Pascin Interior Art by Joann Sfar

Pascin Interior Art by Joann Sfar