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Mister I by Lewis Trondheim; Louis au ski by Guy Delisle
posted March 9, 2006
 

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In the ongoing teapot tempest that surrounds Lewis Trondheim's criticisms of the Festival International de la bande dessinee in Angouleme, some of the specificities of Trondheim's own place in the BD universe have been obscured. When Trondheim disparages the sponsorship of the E. Leclerc supermarket chain, for example, there is a natural tendency to see this as an attack on the biggest, most commercial presses rather than as a defense of art. This conveniently overlooks the fact that Trondheim is very active with those same presses, publishing much of his work with Dargaud and Delcourt.

Indeed, just last fall Trondheim launched a new series at Delcourt. "Shampooing," a line of which he is the editorial director, targets comics to children, primarily focusing on humor. Five books have been released in the series to date (although one is simply a new edition of an old book). At Angouleme I picked up only two of the new ones because, well, frankly, I didn't see the other two for sale.

imageMister I, by Trondheim himself, is a sequel of sorts to Mister O (which has now become a part of the Shampooing series). The earlier book dealt with the comic misadventures of a little round figure attempting to traverse a chasm. Originally published by Delcourt in 2002, and then subsequently "translated" by NBM (if such a term can be usefully applied to a wordless book), Mister O showcased Trondheim's witty misanthropy. The same can be said for Mister I.

Mister I is a series of single-page wordless gag strips, each comprised of sixty panels. Each follows the worm-like Mister I in his increasingly tragic attempts to find something to eat. There are several variations of the "stealing pie from the windowsill" gag, for example. Others find him trying to get an apple from a tree, berries from a bush, fish from the sea -- anything so long as it's edible. Of course, Mister I has very little luck, and, indeed, all but one of the strips ends with the death of Mister I. And the one that doesn't is the saddest strip of them all.

The strips that make up this book are a rarity -- gag strips that made me laugh out loud. The cumulative effect, particularly of Trondheim's endless narrative repetitions, make the pages funnier when taken as a whole. At the same time, a little goes a long way. There are only 28 pages in this book, and by the end I thought that maybe that was enough.

imageThe other Shampooing book that I read is also wordless, although this one is a long form narrative. Guy Delisle's Louis au ski tells the story of a young boy who goes on a ski outing with his father, his father's friend and a slightly older boy. When Louis is left on the slopes all by himself, things happen, and they're generally not good things.

There is considerable humor in Delisle's book as well, and I would guess that it is considerably raised for skiers or snowboarders. Many of the jokes that might seem absurd -- the group of Japanese skiers guided in a mass by a man with a flag -- if it weren't for the fact that, well, they have a certain reality to them. Delisle mines ski stereotypes admirably. At the same time, he also shows tremendous facility with the mental and imaginative life of his young protagonist. Louis is guarded in all things dangerous by the living psychic embodiment of his teddy bear, who saves him from several sticky situations (bears, boors). This is a sort of wordless post-Calvin and Hobbes adventure, set on the slopes. If you're a skier, you will want this book just for the incredibly horrifying -- and accurate -- depictions of life on the t-bar.

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Both of these books are well worth your time. Both are expertly drawn, with brilliant subtle pacing. The coloring in both is also first rate (no colorist is credited), effectively establishing changes in place and tone. As they're wordless, nothing is stopping you from picking up these editions, although I suppose that it is possible that they'll ship someday with NBM on the spine. One word of warning though: each book has some scatological humor, so if you're thinking of making gifts of these for young children you might want to consider their relationship to bodily waste. Trondheim, in particular, has filled his book with fart and shit jokes.

Two more books in the series have already been released. OVNI, by Trondheim and Fabrice Parme, is described as a "game book" tracing the journey of extra-terrestrials, and Le Journal du Lutin, by Allan Barte, is the "funny and cruel diary of an eight-and-a-half year old." I'll look forward to picking those up.

Next time: A surprise early contender for best comic of the year -- from Slovenia.

*****

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