Are you planning a trip to Paris? The French capital is always worth a trip: fashion, culture, art. Probably nowhere else are there so many worthwhile exhibitions – and here there is yet another highlight: Joann Sfar. Drawn life

Joann Sfar, one of the most successful French comic authors – and one of the most prolific, who is also a successful screenwriter and film director as well as a painter – is currently being honoured with an exhibition in Paris. The complete exhibition of the artist’s work, with and without reference to Judaism, will run until May at the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme in Paris.

With fine ink and watercolour drawings that remind me as a German of George Grosz (he mocked the ruling circles of the Weimar Republic, picked up on social contrasts and criticised the economy, politics, the military and the clergy in particular), the star of the French comic scene masterfully maintains a balance between high and popular culture.

Affiche Sfar

His grandfather, Joann likes to tell us, was well on the way to becoming a rabbi in his native Poland. But when he came to France to study in the 1930s, he “put down the Talmud and embraced Western society”. And he claimed: “We Jews fled not only from the pogroms, but also from the rabbis from Eastern Europe!”

As a Jew, his father, who came from Algeria, saw no contradiction in fighting with the Arab nationalists against the French colonialists. After being beaten up by fascists, he emigrated to France. Sfar’s mother, a musician and Holocaust survivor from the Ukraine, died when he was a small child.

Joann Sfar, who was born in Nice in 1971, describes himself as half Ashkenazi, half Sephardic. He studied philosophy and moved from Nice to Paris, where, in addition to studying art, he founded a studio community with colleagues such as Marjane Satrapi, the creator of the famous comic “Persepolis“.

In his autobiographical graphic novels, the Frenchman illuminates Jewish life with humour and philosophical depth. He also looks back on his youth – and on almost everyday anti-Semitism. How to deal with hatred became the theme of Joann’s life and he says “I try to bring humanity and a sense of reality to the conflict between Jews and Arabs”

His cultural heritage and his family history have always flowed into his work. The idea to look back on his childhood and youth came to him on his sickbed during the coronavirus pandemic, when his doctor advised him due to his severe Covid illness: “You have to fight.”

5. Couv Chat du Rabbin

Sfar’s father, a successful lawyer, also played a decisive role in his fighting spirit. He raised his son in a bourgeois manner, but did not shy away from violence in the name of justice. “My father was the lawyer for many gangsters from Nice and had put some neo-Nazis in prison. He was threatened because of his political commitment and hid crooks in the boot of his Alfa Romeo until he went to court. I kept seeing him fighting. That fascinated and traumatised me in equal measure,” says Sfar.

Joann Sfar is one of the most successful authors of graphic novels/adult comics in France. As a Jew with Arab roots, he is one of those who speak out on the Middle East conflict – with a clear opinion.

In France, people traditionally vote for someone in the first round and against them in the second. “Ever since I’ve been able to vote, I’ve been told to vote for arseholes to prevent Le Pen,” he says to himself in a speech bubble. This describes the frustration of many French people for whom the constellation of “Le Pen vs. the lesser of two evils” seems far too familiar.

11. Couv Klezmer

He himself understands Judaism primarily as a culture, as a genuinely Central European culture. Sfar refers to Milan Kundera, who died in Paris in 2023, who spoke “of the Jewish genius” of the small nations that were crushed between Germany and Russia.

Joann Sfar. Drawn Life runs until 12th May 2024 at the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme in Paris

another grey line

Lead image Joann Sfar dans l’escalier d’honneur du mahJ 2023 © mahJ – Cécile Gabriel

Joann Sfar, illustration pour l’affiche de l’exposition « Joann Sfar, la vie dessinée » au mahJ Couleurs de Brigitte Findakly, encre de Chine et aquarelle
© 2023, Joann Sfar

Illustration pour la couverture pour le tome 1 du Chat du Rabbin, La Bar-Mitsva
Couleurs de Brigitte Findakly
2002 © Joann Sfar/Dargaud

Joann Sfar, illustration originale pour la couverture du tome 4 de Klezmer, Trapèze volant !
Gouache sur papier
2012 © Joann Sfar/Gallimard

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