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posted February 29, 2008
1561635235 (ISBN10), 9781561635238 (ISBN13)
It's safe to say that if Little Nothings: The Curse of the Umbrella
isn't the best thing that NBM has ever published in its 30 years of making graphic albums available to the English-language market, it's one of the top three. Moreover, it's the best showcase for Lewis Trondheim North American readers have yet encountered. If the Lapinot translations exposed readers to Trondheim's early promise, if the horribly under-read series The Nimrod
revealed his consistency and versatility and if the Donjon
books allowed him to exercise his canniness and fundamental cartooning skills as a designer and humorist, these deceptively simple diary comics provide our first, full measure of one of the most important cartoonists of the last 25 years. It's the best new book I've read so far this year, and I can't imagine I'll read a half-dozen better than this one by next January 1. You should really buy it.
All that said, as was the case with Drawn and Quarterly's recent publication of Dupuy and Berberian's M. Jean
comics for English-language audiences, a lot of the joys of Little Nothings
arise out of modest elements of expression. Trondheim favors tasteful, measured comics-making over bombast or huge punchlines or heart-wrenching, emotional catharsis. To describe it is to almost automatically make it sound much less than what it is. In Little Nothings: The Curse of the Umbrella
, Trondheim paints comic book vignettes that relate to various daily experiences -- from being named the Grand Prix winner at Angouleme to his family adopting kittens to playing with his plastic light saber. One thing that sets this work apart from most diary comics is the consistency of Trondheim's artwork as his perspective shifts from grander elements within his view to more quotidian self-reflection, often just a day apart. Trondheim favors a kind of pensive, intelligent restraint over a rush to confess, and thus avoids the trap of forcing any of his gentle pokes at profundity. It never feels like he's just being cute. Not only do you only rarely see the twists coming, Trondheim's reversals usually provided avenues for insight. To reduce it to a pair of phrases, Trondheim says "look at this" far more than he does "look at me." I also found a great deal of the work funny, which speaks well of the translation. This is one of those few comics I own I can imagine reading several times over the next several months, and I'm grateful it's been brought here in what seems to my untrained eye a quality presentation.