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Book review: 'The Little Prince'

Los Angeles Times

The Little Prince

A Graphic Novel adapted from the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Joann Sfar

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 110 pp., $19.99

"The Little Prince" has long been beloved for its bittersweet pairing of a lost man and a searching youth. In the 67-year-old classic written by French aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a little blond boy leaves his home on Asteroid B-612 and lands in the middle of the Sahara desert, where he meets a stranded pilot desperate to fix his plane. Through their interactions, the prince reawakens the aviator's appreciation of the simple treasures in life, while the prince learns that grown-ups aren't always "odd."

In a new adaptation, graphic novelist Joann Sfar reinterprets this French classic with reverence and in saturated color. Gone are the art-naïf watercolors that Saint-Exupéry inked for the original, as is most of the text. Presented in neat, six-panel pages that preserve the most salient plot points, key phrases such as "draw me a sheep" are layered over drawings that illustrate the bond that forms between the two. At 110 pages, the graphic novel is longer than the original book, yet it is quicker to read because the prose is so condensed.

Chosen by the Saint-Exupéry estate, Sfar is a comic book artist who has worked on more than 100 projects, including the bestseller "Little Vampire Goes to School." Like Saint-Exupéry, he is French, and he brings a distinctly French sensibility to his adaptation. The narrator-aviator smokes and drinks wine, and the prince's beloved flower is presented as an ornate, come-hither female.

Making new drawings for such a seminal work, Sfar sought inspiration — but never strayed too far — from Saint-Exupéry's imagery. Playing off Saint-Exupéry's own statement that he could not draw the prince as well as he would have liked, Sfar's most dramatic artistic departure was crafting the look of the book's namesake. In the graphic novel, the prince looks more modern, with large, manga-esque blue eyes that underscore the wonderment with which he experiences life. His attire, however, hasn't changed. He wears the same flowing scarf and matching green shirt and pants as he tends to his flower and cleans his asteroid's volcanoes and traipses around the universe.

The unusual characters the prince encounters on his visits to various planets seem even more surreal in multipanel comic form, allowing his interactions with the king and the vain man, the drunkard and the businessman, the lamplighter and the geographer to play out in even more absurdist fashion. Readers can see the king's frantic reactions to the prince's innocent disobedience of his authority, the drunk's craggy-faced internal hell, the lamplighter's frustration with his endless lighting and extinguishing.

"The Little Prince," newly translated by Sarah Ardizzone, is not for purists. But it's a beautiful and well-rendered tribute to the original.

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