Graphic Lit: Two new books by Lewis Trondheim
One of the most prolific and interesting comic artists of the past fifteen years is the French cartoonist Lewis Trondheim.
Since his debut in 1992 he has produced an astounding body of work totaling more than a hundred books that range in subject matter from experimental works ("At Loose Ends") to children's books ("Tiny Tyrant") to comedic fantasy (the "Dungeon" series).
Unfortunately only a small percentage of his work has been translated for North American audiences, though recent years have seen that slow output rise to a steady trickle.
This year sees the release of two books that serve to underscore his range: the autobiographical "Little Nothings: The Curse of the Umbrella" and the humorous children's sci-fi parody "Kaput & Zosky."
"Kaput" follows the misadventures of two would-be world conquerors, forever traveling to one alien planet after another in a near-desperate attempt to gain wealth and power, usually in a very violent manner.
It goes without saying that all of their attempts meet with complete failure. Indeed, even the moments where they do meet with success have unforeseen and hilarious consequences.
In one sequence, for example, Kaput and Zosky discover a planet inhabited by little red blobs who welcome their new dictators with open arms. Unfortunately, they also tend to take the pair's sayings too literally.
While slapstick violence and occasional bathroom humor might irk some parents, and the later stories, with art by Eric Cartier, have a formula slickness that erodes some of the manic feel of the earlier tales, "Kaput & Zosky" remains a funny, smart-aleck book that adults will enjoy as much as children.
"Little Nothings" meanwhile, avoids slapstick in favor of a more honest, observational type humor. A collection of full-page daily strips, taken from Trondheim's blog, "Nothings" follows the artist as he works, plays and generally frets about forces beyond his control.
Like a lot of comic autobiographies, Trondheim -- who draws himself as an anthropomorphic eagle and his friends and family members also as animals -- focuses intensely on the minor incidents in life, such as the arrival of new pets, finding a rainbow outside your window or frustration at a lack of gardening ability.
It all sounds shallow and overly precious, but Trondheim is an engaging cartoonist with a sharp sense of self-awareness. It's his ongoing interior monologue that makes the book sing.
His borderline obsessive-compulsive disorder, for example, is funny enough (he finds an umbrella on a rainy day, but then worries that such a discovery will bring a reciprocal run of bad luck), but it's his self-deprecating acknowledgment that his behavior is foolish that gives the reader that sense of "Ah yes, I've been there."
At one point, while sitting on a train, watching people rush to board, Trondheim has a moment where he worries whether or not he is actually on the train, before castigating himself for his obviousness. It's that confessional nature over everyday ruminations that makes the book such an inspired joy to read.
As "Little Nothings" and, to a lesser extent, "Kaput & Zosky" prove, Trondheim is one of the most talented people working in comics today. One hopes these releases will net him a larger American audience, both young and old.
Copyright The Patriot-News, 2008