French cartoonist Joann Sfar is receiving a major retrospective exhibition at the Paris Museum of Jewish Art and History (Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme; MAHJ) this October. Entitled Joann Sfar: Drawn Life, the extensive exhibition will feature around 250 plates and drawings, as well as notebooks, photographs, and films spanning his 30-year creative career. The exhibition, curated by Clémentine Deroudille and Thomas Ragon, opens October 12, 2023 and runs until May 12, 2024.

Exhibition poster for Joann Sfar: Drawn Life by Joann Sfar, colours by Brigitte Findakly © Joann Sfar

According to the MAHJ website:

“The musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme presents the first retrospective in France devoted to Joann Sfar. Featuring almost 250 plates and drawings, most of which have never been shown before, as well as notebooks, photographs and films, the exhibition traces the career of an exceptional artist whose creativity has spanned comics, film and literature for over thirty years.”

The exhibition promises to really go into the life and career of Sfar – from his upbringing in Nice, his move to Paris, his art school days, sharing a studio with other budding members of the new wave of French comics (such as David B., Christophe Blain, Émile Bravo, Emmanuel Guibert, Mathieu Sapin, Marjane Satrapi, Riad Sattouf, Lewis Trondheim), and more. 

The MAHJ website adds:

“Through Joann Sfar’s most emblematic works, the exhibition highlights the coherence of his œuvre: from the countless personal notebooks (“carnets”) to those of Klezmer, from stories for children (with a room devoted to young visitors) to erotic sketches about the painter Pascin. With The Rabbi’s Cat at its centre, the exhibition is about an artist who puts a cultural rather than religious Jewish voice at the heart of his work, finding many of his sources of inspiration in the history of Judaism and appealing to his readers to be vigilant against the rise of anti-Semitism.”

Joann Sfar is one of France’s leading creators probably best known for his series The Rabbi’s Cat, which explored his father’s Algerian Sephardi Jewish cultural roots; and Klezmer, which explored his mother’s Ukrainian Ashkenazi Jewish roots. Both series were partially translated into English and have since fallen out of print but in France they have clearly found a receptive audience – The Rabbi’s Cat [Le Chat du Rabbin] was turned into an award winning animated 2011 film. While only five books of The Rabbi’s Cat were published by Pantheon in English (collected in two omnibus volumes in 2007 and 2008), the series reaches its twelth volume in October 2023. It has been translated into several other languages besides English, including Spanish, Croatian, Russian, Dutch, Polish and German. Klezmer: Tales of the Wild East, the first book of the Klezmer series was published in English by First Second in 2006 and has since fallen out of print – but in France the series went on for four more volumes before concluding in 2015 and was rereleased in two omnibus collections in 2022. 

Beyond these two titanic series, Sfar has done multiple works for kids and adults – including Little Vampire [Petit Vampire], with Sandrina Jardel; Sardine from Space [Sardine de l’espace] with Emmanuel Guibert and Mathieu Sapin; The Professor’s Daughter [La Fille du professeur] with Emmanuel Guibert; and the Dungeon [Donjon] series cocreated with Lewis Trondheim and a number of other collaborators. And that is excluding his work in TV and film as a director, screenwriter and producer – not just in adapting his own work!

A prolific artist, Sfar currently has multiple books being published in 2023 – besides the twelfth volume of The Rabbi’s Cat – in March he had graphic novel Riviera published by Sonatine; and May 2023 he had his most recent notebook Les enfants ne se laissaient pas faire [tr. The children did not let themselves go] published from Gallimard. And in 2022 he had four original books published with him as either sole or co-creator – one of which being the critical hit autobio The Synagogue [La Synagogue] about his adolescence, the Jews of France, and the resurgence of far right antisemitism.