"Sometimes, we raise the level of the world of comics, sometimes not."

Little Nothings Vol. 1: The Curse of the Umbrella

There's just not much to say about this one. It's the first English-language collection of Lewis Trondheim's his diary webcomic, a 128-page softcover from NBM, priced at $14.95. It's as affable a comic as I can think of, a breezy, unfailingly pleasant work from an artist who's done it all, and seems to always know what he's doing.

Expect nothing tricky or fancy in here, although there's plenty of off-the-cuff beauty; Trondheim works in inks and watercolor, typically setting his character art against simple splotches of moisture, so as to suggest panels. He varies his colors expertly among 'frames,' so as to evoke particular emotional beats or carry across a tone, although he sometimes delves into richer colors when dealing with backgrounds - in those cases, Trondheim's drawn environments often stand isolated, forming their own 'frame' through the mere presence of accumulated detail.

It gives off more of a sketchbook feel than some diary comics -- Trondheim occasionally devotes a whole page to a tree or landscape he wants to draw, with captions carrying the weight of narration -- but the artist's sheer expertise, his iconic animal characters slightly bendable so as to suggest the population of a perfectly realistic world given away to the cartooning impulse of iconography and caricature, ensures that each page feels entirely complete and ready for any type of publication you might imagine.

Actually, with its one-episode-per-page structure, balanced between one-off gags and continuing storylines, it's easy to imagine this project finding a place on the daily funnies page of some parallel universe’s newspaper, where space isn't so limited and color is unrestrained. Save for the occasional joke about borrowing Italian hermaphrodite porn comics from Mœbius, Trondheim works mainly in observational humor and amusing anecdotes, with an added focus on his own nervous/whimsical peccadilloes (looking for rainbows, fretting about illness, being superstitious). He also gets a fair amount of mileage out of faux callousness: upon musing how it's good to get his family two cats rather than one, so that everyone won't be so sad if one of them dies, he tosses in "Just like with the kids?..."

There's also a few treats tucked away for longtime readers of Trondheim and/or French comics; the period covered by these comics saw the artist win the Grand Prix de la ville d'Angoulême, so there's the obligatory bits of rumination on his life in comics, and various noteworthy figures appear in funny animal form, particularly Dungeon co-creator Joann Sfar. But you don't need to know who any of them are, since this is no At Loose Ends, and Trondheim's aesthetic so rarely veers from the intimate, the moment - his is a capable illusion of presenting friends-of-friends, half known through handshakes and snips of conversation, the rest filled in through the assertions of people you know better.

Perfectly deft, lovely work here, maybe even a bit troubled by its marriage of lacquered gag diary to such estimable visual skill - I did quickly recall Matthais Wivel's criticism of the "good-looking, petty bourgeois comics affirming the status quo" he sees French comics as inclined toward, and I suspect this book -- internet-based as it might have been -- will do little to combat that perception among those who might share it or its North American autobio-focused variants. Ah, but I was happy to share Trondheim's company for a short while, soaking in his manner of presenting just what he admits to in the thing's title.