Dylan Meconis’ ‘Family Man’ Blends History, Theology and Very Subtle Werewolves
Family Man opens in spartan home of Luther’s father, a Jewish convert to Lutheranism who saw fit to name his son after a man who advocated the burning of synagogues, shortly after the young Luther’s return from university. Once the respectable member of the family who piously studied Scripture at the prestigious University of Göttingen and attracted a wealthy patron, Luther has curiously returned home without his degree, and without his faith in God. His family isn’t sure what to make of the slovenly creature who won’t get out of bed Sunday morning, and Luther has resigned himself to an unfulfilling career as a children’s tutor, a position he decides befits his lowly Jewish surname.
But just as he seems doomed to live out his years using the servant’s entrance, salvation arrives in the form of Lucien St. Yves, a Frenchman who claims to have known Luther at Göttingen, who quickly offers him a post at the University of Familienwald, a secluded school at the Bohemian border. With no better prospects, Luther quickly accepts.
Familienwald may not be Göttingen, but the rector has little issue with Luther’s genetic background or academic disgrace, and Luther’s days are devoted to his first love: the scriptures and the brilliant men who obsessed over them. And while Luther may struggle with his intense admiration for the writings of the panentheist (and possible atheist) Spinoza, it’s assuaged in part by his affection for the lovely and brilliant Ariana, the rector’s daughter and the University’s de facto head librarian.
There are mysteries surrounding Familienwald, however, that Luther has yet to detect. Despite the latter’s insistences, Luther does not remember the itinerant scholar Lucien, who possesses both a suspiciously satanic name (“Light”) and a mild aversion to sunlight. Ariana, meanwhile, vanishes once a month for reasons her father does not wish to discuss. And then there are the wolves, which seem to surround the University grounds. Luther may be loath to examine his new home too closely, but eventually its secrets are bound to sneak up on him.
Family Man is the successor to Meconis’ webcomic Bite Me!, which revolved around vampires during the French Revolution. In fact, one of the secondary characters in Bite Me! also happened to be named Luther Levy, and he was — ahem — a werewolf. Bite Me! is a silly, slightly manic comic, due largely to its cheeky, newly vampirized lead. Family Man is at once more sober and deeply funnier than Bite Me, in part because Meconis fully owns her highbrow academic setting.
Yes, there is the occasional sly joke about circumcision (Luther is rather obsessed with his own Jewishness), but far more often, she’s sending me to Wikipedia to puzzle out the witty theological jabs. (It helps that Meconis’ own father is himself a theologian.) In that, Meconis creates a world that is accessible in its forbidden romance and love of books, but just foreign enough that we must learn more. Her lovingly rendered architecture and gorgeous sepia tones don’t hurt, either.
However, if you’re itching to see whether Meconis brings on the werewolves after pages of theological and literary discussions,, it looks like now is the perfect time to hop onto family men. In the latest plot arc, we finally get to see where Ariana goes during her monthly retreats, and the humans — and animals — with whom she spends her time. Luther Levy might be the protagonist of Family Man, but it’s Ariana’s family that holds the greatest fascination.