Lewis Trondheim: He Never Stops

Kaput & Zösky

This should be out in a few weeks; it's a new 80-page softcover release from First Second, 10" x 7.5" at $13.95.

Lewis Trondheim is one of relatively few revered European comics artists to require little introduction to US readers; while only a small percentage of the hundred-plus albums to bear his name have seen English-language release, some inkling of Trondheim's versatility has nonetheless emerged among various publishers.

Just last month saw NBM's release of Little Nothings Vol. 1: The Curse of the Umbrella, a print collection of the artist's autobiographical comics blog, and they're currently prepping Dungeon Monstres Vol. 1, a collection of two side-story albums for Dungeon, Trondheim's and Joann Sfar's sprawling comedic fantasy series. Do note that Trondheim only provides layouts for the Monstres albums; his is a career that refuses to mark him as pure visualist or writer, and declines to settle on just a few subject matters.

First Second is another frequent Trondheim publisher, having previously released his 2004 one-off A.L.I.E.E.E.N. and a compilation of the first four albums (of nine total) from his 2001-05 Tiny Tyrant series with artist Fabrice Parme. Both of those projects could be logically classified as children's comics, although Trondheim himself declares that adults can read them too without getting bored.

So it goes with Kaput & Zösky, a 2002-03 series collected here in its entirety. The title characters -- originated by Trondheim in magazines like Journal de Mickey and Lapin -- are dopey-ass space villains who spend each episode visiting a different planet with often violent intent, only to be repelled in the end. Sometimes a little social satire is at play, like when the duo visit a vacation planet and find themselves unable to cope with the little inequities and social contracts at play in a resort. In another adventure, the two land on a planet of small blobs that instantly hail them as rulers, and proceed to follow their every word, without consideration for figures of speech or laws of physics. Disaster results.

Other stories (and you can read two of them here) rely on simple gags or basic, funny adventures, like extracts from an especially violent kids' cartoon show. Indeed, the characters actually did get their own show following the release of the initial stories; the series' second volume is a bit unique in that it consists of five adaptations of animated episodes, with Trondheim handing the formal art duties to Eric Cartier, co-founder of the French comics group Stakhano. This material is slicker, and not just from Cartier's more streamlined visual style; all stories adopt a uniform, six-page length, and focus their thematic attention on child-appropriate spoofs of the democratic process, vampire tales, capitalism, motherly love, etc. It feels like it could go on forever, although it's over pretty soon.

I can't say this is a mandatory purchase for Trondheim admirers; its lone unique accomplishment is in giving some added definition to the artist's willingness to participate as a player in franchise-building by ceding some creative authority to others, an aspect of Trondheim's career we haven't seen expressed quite so succinctly. Beyond that, it's amusing enough sci-fi hi-jinx with a crisp pace and some clever gags, and some nicely playful visuals from both artists. Perfectly good, not at all great.

Although, we do get the added bonus of several of Trondheim's wordless one-page gag stories. Titled The Cosmonaut (not to be confused with his 2000-04 Les Cosmonautes du Futur series with Dungeon Parade cohort Manu Larcenet), each of these pages exhibits Trondheim's formidable skill with simple, funny visuals, all in the service of sour little peeks into a universe where everybody is full of hate, violence, nationalistic bluster, piggish consumerism and general foolishness. It may not be as television-worthy, but one page of silent cosmic struggle against a turd-launching alien ass fits my bill all the better.