“Der Familienvater“, or “Family Man”, is a comic about a surprisingly underused topic: Academics.
Wait no! No, don’t worry. There’s definitely something about werewolves coming up too, and I’m like 90% sure one of the dudes is a vampire. But really, that’s all incidental. The draw of the comic, for me, is the unique setting and fleshed out characters. It’s made me care about academic politics in a way actual school wasn’t able to.
The comic takes place in Germany, 1768. Well, not Germany, because Germany wasn’t in 1768. But the place and the people who eventually would become Germany. Luther Levy, a hard-headed and embarrassingly question-filled academic finds himself sent packing without a Doctorate to his name after hinting a little to hard that he might not be that dedicated a Christian any more. All seems bleak, as any recent jobless graduate will sympathize, as his skill set of “can discuss religion really nicely” isn’t exactly marketable.
As luck would have it, a traveling acquaintance has a job opportunity at a tiny university in a backwoods town hundreds of miles away that might not care quite as much as the civilized world about his unctuous lack of faith and awkward tendency to ask impolite questions.
Luthor is an engagingly desperate character, having so completely given up on a real career that he can take most of the vagaries of academic existence in stride. The other major players are generally well fleshed-out and multi-layered, with suggestive glimpses of what they keep hidden from polite society. One particular interlude starring the straight-laced, aloof, and dedicated daughter of the University Rector reveals a particularly strange ritual that hints at the direction the comic is most likely going in (the hint is wolves).
All this would be be significantly less impressive if the art wasn’t spectacular. And it is definitely spectacular.
McKeonis creates scenes replete with detail work, while managing to keep her linework spare enough when it counts that it never seems overloaded or unrealistic. Her characters are realistically portrayed, but given enough of a unique and cartoon-like flair (like Luthor’s rather impressive nose-scape) that they’re recognizable from any angle. She tells you exactly what you need to know in order to paint the scene at a glance without falling into the trap of making her pages look like a boring succession of static pictures that ultra-realistic comic art often does.
Her pages flow well singly, and in collections they match up expertly, making the physical work more than worth checking out. It’s also bigger than the online archives, so you can appreciate how pretty it is more easily!
Check out “Family Man” if you enjoy good things, and if you don’t enjoy good things check it out anyway as part of your education.