Monday, April 14, 2008

Lewis Trondheim's Diablotus (1995)

So, three weeks ago I was in Paris for Easter weekend (though strictly speaking I went for Purim), and while there a friend of a friend directed me to a terrific comics shop near the Bastille called OpéraBD. Please, if you are in Paris and you enjoy comics, go to this store. They're open 'til midnight seven days a week, the staff are friendly, and they have ways of emptying your wallet. Just look what they did to me:

Okay, to be fair: not all of these books and comics were purchased at OpéraBD, though I probably could have found most of them there; and to defend myself: they're not all for me! My lovely wife personally chose about a third of these items, and a few are intended as gifts. But all are fair game for blogging comment, and I'd like to say a few words about the tiniest comic of the lot, which I just put in the mail to Isaac as a present (sorry for the spoiler, Kaiser, but it's for the cause!).

The comic in question is a 22-page story from the prolific master of modern BD, Lewis Trondheim, and it's the tale of a little demon whose name is probably the same as the title:

Visually, it's drawn in much the same style as Le Pays des trois sourires (The Country of the Three Smiles), possibly my favorite Trondheim comic, which employs spare but clean black-and-white doodles and which likewise features the occasional walking skeleton. Unlike Le Pays des trois sourires but like Mister O (also possibly my favorite Trondheim comic), Diablotus is a wordless pantomime. Unlike either of those works, which are formally quite constrained (Le Pays reads like one hundred episodes of a daily comic strip, Mister O adheres to a rigid many-panel grid for a series of single-page gags), Diablotus unfolds like an improvisation, one weird thing after another. It's not entirely devoid of plot, inasmuch as certain strands of incident get wound back into the thread of the story after being set aside for a while, but mostly Diablotus is a kind of comic bagatelle, a brief exercise in invention and style that probably shouldn't be asked to bear too much interpretive weight. Take, for example, this two-page sequence (you'll want to click to enlarge, but take care not to read across the whole page by mistake):

Now, if I wanted to get all "lit crit" about it, I could say something about how the dealing out of punishment in this work inevitably implicates both would-be punisher and would-be victim in an exchange of roles and suffering, and I could make a lot of hay out of the way identities are exchanged and reshaped as characters literally try on different skins or resculpt their familiar faces (as at the end of this sequence). But, you know, that kind of reading just doesn't seem suitably playful for a work as gleefully violent and innocent of consequence as this one. Even when ghosts eat each other in this comic, it's good more for a laugh than a meditation on mortality. At least I hope Isaac laughs when he finally gets to read his copy.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to see a single-page, doodly pantomime strip that shows Isaac and me at our most Trondheim-like, please check out "Because of This, I Cannot Love" in Elm City Jams #3 (the strip is included at that link). And if you want to see the sorts of demons we've turned out on occasion, Demonstration also is but a click away...


Isaac said...

Wow! Shades of Quimby the Mouse!

Can't wait!

(Picture me standing by the mailbox, rubbing my hands together with glee. This is how I spend most afternoons anyhow.)

Anonymous said...

This mini was reprinted in an issue of the sadly-defunct Trondheim spotlight title THE NIMROD some years ago. I think it's either #2 or #2, but both issues are out of print, alas. Getting them from France was probably the easiest way to get them!

--Rob Clough

Isaac said...

It came in the mail yesterday, Mike!

I was stunned to see that it was vol. 11 of a 52-volume series by L'Association that looks like a sort of minicomics imprint. The series is called "Collection Patte de Mouche."

My computer-translation widget turned that phrase into "spidery scrawl," which is funny, because the literal translation is "fly's leg."