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La Malédiction du Parapluie

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Do little nothings fill huge voids ? Can a lot of “not much” come up with what matters ? And who really is Lewis Trondheim ?

A few month ago, the whole world (including Le Monde) was convinced he was Frantico. Even though he denied, doubts remains for many. Here is an author who dabbles in autobiography, who is know and well known because of it, and of whom, paradoxically, we know very little — to the point that we might confuse him with other pseudonyms.

Considering the best strategy for defence is attacking, Trondheim exposes himself to bette hide. He tells nothing of his childhood, nothing about his past loves, he does not say “I did this and how”, but “chance led me to do this, made me witness in this situation”.
He only mentions what was visible, shown and tangible, in a widely shared present open to questionning, carefully and more or less conciously filtered by the words and the line, searching for a scenario to draw. Being a stellar storyteller, he manages to find a punchline where others are looking for the meaning of life, and this is surely what made his works so important and endearing.

Since his debut, he has hidden behind a pseudonym, has mostly stayed clear of interviews, and in the rare occasion dodging questions with subtle or provocative humor, not letting out much more than he shows.[1] For us readers, everything has to be guessed, interpreted from the margins, and his incarnation as a bird, like the ostrich, can only run.

Trondheim has chosen an ideal medium for him. Talking about yourself in comics, is not about saying “I”, or even showing “I”, it is about being outside yourself and being there only in representation.[2] It means distancing yourself, stretching yourself between the words and the picture unless they are created simultaneously in the most immediate description of what is happening to you.[3] Trondheim had never really done that, especially since he has learned how to draw late in his life (or so he pretends) and that his drawing style is akin to language. When he draws his Carnets de bord and this colorful (technicolor) sequel in those “little nothings”, he practices a sort of incomplete autobiography based on another type of storytelling (short stories) through the filter of this other language that has become his, his style and his trademark.

Trondheim resorts to his humor to dissimulate his moods (good or bad), which remain internal if you only look at the surface. Similar to his northern pseudonym and his southern life, Trondheim never tries to be in the center but remains in the margins. He lives elsewhere and manipulates his strange bird (this homeopathic alter ego) in a world of animals, not animal but fleeting.

Now in his forties and recognized as a professional (or so it’s been said), he would find more difficult to dissimulate his moodswings. We will leave this as a hypothesis as the author remains hidden even though. But let’s note that in this book, his patiently refined language seems to reach its limits when he claims himself more of a writer while watching CSI and explores his parallel universe in the smaller things, as if it was there, in this “not much” indeed, that the last untapped space of freedom remained. What is sure, is that those little nothings have value but that they are not infinitesimal, and therefore, this new frontier will also end up meeting a more or less pacific ocean.

Jules Renard used to talk about “modesty” and “moral cleanliness” about this strange notion that is humor. The problem for Trondheim is not about him seeming to have too much of it (quite the opposite), but that the strategy underneath this fine skill and the resulting style are starting to show the underlying mechanisms, subtle they may be. La malédiction du parapluie (The curse of the umbrella) is still a good book, funny and pleasant to read, but which worries by its short sequences that imply the idea of repetitivity that some have and other would tend to overuse.

Trondheim remains a major author, still far from the gaussian mid-point of his carreer that he thinks he has reached, but faced with the ambivalence crystallized by the Angoulême award and the confusion with Frantico. Trondheim himself know it : he has to change. Those little nothings appear to be a short-term freedom, at least in this form. A dash of color, the management of an imprint and leaving L’Association will not change much to this (and maybe also lack humor). The auther is who he is and it will be difficult for him to hide it, especially considering that everyone is expecting him to reveal himself again.

Notes

  1. In the Hugues Dayez book for instance, he clearly asked not to be part of the interviewed authors. Similarly, a few years ago, his answer to Proust’s questionnaire in La lettre de Dargaud is very representative of his avoidance strategy based on his humorist skills. On this point, Trondheim is at the opposite of the very verbal and playful Sfar.
  2. Unless resorting to a “subjective” view, something that Trondheim never uses.
  3. Menu, in his Livret de Phamille, is the author who, to my knowledge, has the most tried (in some pages) towards this approach, and therefore towards an “authentic” autobiography in comics, in the sense that what is said/drawn is the most closely linked to the present.
Official website Lewis Trondheim
Official website Delcourt (Shampooing)
Chroniqué par in March 2007