The Fifth Beatle: Brian Epstein Story


By Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson, Kyle Baker & various (M-Press/Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-835-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Picture Story that truly Sings… 10/10

Graphic biographies are all the rage at the moment and this one – multi-award winning and originally released in 2013 – is probably one of the best and the most likely to reach a large mainstream audience. It certainly deserves to…

Written by Broadway Producer and author Vivek J. Tiwary and playfully illustrated by Andrew C. Robinson (Dr Blink: Super Hero Shrink, Dusty Star, JLA) – with additional material by Kyle Baker – it traces the meteoric rise of impresario Brian Epstein, who pretty much invented the role and function of modern management as he steered The Beatles from scruffy oiks playing dingy clubs and caverns to fabulous wealth and global mega-stardom in less than a decade.

The story is a pretty tragic one as Gay, Jewish record shop manager Epstein steered a trailblazing course for his charges at a time when his religion still provoked derision and prejudice and his sex life got him beaten up and threatened with prison.

In a deliciously light, enthusiastically joyous and smoothly welcoming manner this tale follows the Fab Four’s rise, as orchestrated by a man who dressed them and schooled them; sorting out tours and merchandise, toys and cartoon shows at a time when such crucial ephemera had never been seen before. He especially ensured that they got most of the money they earned…

Epstein was no one-trick wonder, but managed other star acts such as Cilla Black, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer (who provides loving Introduction ‘When I Got a Call From Brian, That’s When I Grew Wings’) and genuinely cared that his boys were left alone to make the music he loved…

If you know your history you know this tale is a proper injustice-laced tear-jerker without a happy ending, but Tiwary and Robinson – with Kyle Baker lending a superb animation-style meta-reality to the Beatles catastrophic visit to the Philippines – keep the spirits high without losing any of the edge, impact or inherent tragedies and indignities Epstein endured to succeed.

Brian Samuel Epstein first saw the Beatles perform in 1961 and by the time he died in August 1967 – of an overdose of sleeping pills – had seen them conquer the world in terms of sales and change the nature of music with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. He was 32.

How the world and the music industry have gradually made amends and returned him to the history he has for so long been excised from is covered in the author’s thought-provoking Afterword ‘This Feeling That Remains…’, and reiterated by pioneering cartoonist Howard Cruse in a feature on LGBTQ advocacy organisation Freedom for All Americans.

Also adding to the massive enjoyment is copious sketch and commentary section ‘With a Little Help from my Sketchbook: a Ticket to Ride to Selected Drawings, Preliminaries, Designs, and More’ by Robinson. offering insights and creative commentary plus more of the same from Kyle Baker in ‘The Places I Remember’.

Wrapping up festivities are a batch of features by Tiwary: ‘The Birth of the Beatles and Impossible Dreams’, ‘The Curtain Rising: Brian Epstein’s Induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’ and a memorabilia fan’s dream as ‘The Past Was Yours, But the Future’s Mine’ shares ticket stubs, posters, greetings card and other unique snippets of pop history.

This is an astoundingly readable and beautifully rendered treasure for comics and music fans alike: one that will resonate for all the right reasons with anybody who loves to listen and look.
Text and illustrations of The Fifth Beatle: Brian Epstein Story Expanded Edition © 2013, 2016 Tiwary Entertainment Group Ltd. All rights reserved.

Glenn Gould – A Life Off Tempo


By Sandrine Revel, translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-065-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Classical Interlude with real Artistic Appeal… 10/10

Publisher NBM have struck a seam of gold with their growing line of European biographies and their latest is one of the most impressive and thought-provoking to date.

Glenn Gould – A Life Off Tempo has been lovingly crafted by Sandrine Revel, author, cartoonist and comics artist (Jouvence la Bordelaise, Sorcellerie et dependences, Résurgences, Femmes en voie de resociabilisation, Le Jardin Autre Monde) as well as journalistic press illustrator for Sud Ouest Dimanche, Milan Presse and other magazines.

She’s also a devoted and passionate fan of the star of this elegiac and beguiling book: so much so that she’s also provided a menu of Appendices at the back to augment your appreciation and understanding of an archetypal troubled genius…

Painted in a number of extremely welcoming and effective styles, A Life Off Tempo offers up snippets from the strange, solitary and woefully short life of a Canadian musical child prodigy who hit the heights, changed the scene and left the world early as all revelatory, game-changing artists seem to do…

As you’ll see here, Gould – dubbed “the JD Salinger of the classical music world” – died in 1982 as the result of a stroke, nearly fifty years after his birth, and it’s as he dies that we share moments of his clearly difficult life, all deftly woven into a non-chronological narrative, dotted with observation from the paltry few people he allowed to get close to him.

You may or may not know he was a classical pianist with a unique style and manner who revolutionised how certain pieces were played and heard…

…Or how he opened up the Soviet Union to Western cultural arts tours despite playing less than 200 concerts in his entire career…

…And that he was either crippled by hypochondria ore suffered from a number of physical and psychological ailments as well as what might well have been undiagnosed Asberger’s Syndrome – or an ASD, to use today’s terminology. He certainly loved animals, despised cruelty and always bundled up as if he were freezing to death…

At the height of his fame Gould abandoned live performance to write music and experiment in recording techniques. He became a critic and broadcaster and invented pseudonymous identities so that he could savage his own recordings.

He was clearly a difficult man and beloved mystery to those around him, and this graphic account astutely gives you the how if not always the why…

The deliciously oversized (280 x 208 mm) full-colour, resoundingly substantial hardback is not a formal history or biography text, even though we meet Gould at various stages of his life and share key events and intimate moments.

You obviously won’t feel how his interpretations of hallowed pieces by Bach, Beethoven, William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, Mozart and more shook up the musical world – although if you follow the aforementioned ‘Appendices’ at the back and listen to the suggested playlist, track down the recordings cited in the ‘Glenn Gould Discography’ or use the ‘Further Reading’ and ‘Further Viewing’ lists to get a firm grip on the maestro’s output you’ll experience the innovation and won’t be at all disappointed…

Impassioned, enchanting and marvellously moving, this enigmatic engagement with a singular creative individual is a fabulous treat for lovers of comics and music and will stay for all time in your head like a favourite tune.
© Dargaud 2016 © 2016 NBM for the English translation.

Glenn Gould – A Life Off Tempo will be released on December 1st 2016. It can be pre-ordered now. It is also available wherever e-books are sold.
For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Elvis


By Fabrice Le Hénanff & Philippe Chanoinat, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-076-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Perfect Present for the One who won’t read comics… Yet 10/10

If I have to explain who Elvis Presley was this book is not going to be of much interest to you.

So… ready now? Let’s Rock…

A glorious full-colour hardback addition to NBM’s magnificent line of graphic novel biographies, this is less a critical or revelatory expose of the musician’s existence away from the cameras and microphones and more of a captivating visual celebration of the King’s life, achievements and influence.

Painted with superb design sensibilities by historical comics specialist Fabrice Le Hénanff (Les Caméleons, H. H. Holmes, Ostfront, Westfront, Amedeo Modigliani) this truncated tour from scripter Philippe Chanoinat touches all the bases – high points and low – in tracing the rise, levelling off and post-demise ascendance of Elvis Aaron Presley.

A stunning graphic aide memoir, it follows his parents’ humble beginnings through Elvis’ early days of strife and struggle. As fame came you can see the cascade of breaking cultural taboos and social barriers, experience the thrill of each record released, movie made, original bluesmen buddied-up with and mega-star met.

A joyous and surprisingly moving nostalgia ride, this beautiful book also includes a large and captivating section of Le Hénanff’s roughs, sketches, reference layouts, preliminary paintings and storyboards venerating and revealing the creation of ‘Elvis: the King’.

Ephemeral fun giving sturdy solidity through the beautiful illustration, this book is also available as an e-book, should you be making the transition to a less physical existence, so you can even store on a digital device beside your music downloads and give yourself an appropriate soundtrack whilst reading.
© 2015 Jungle. © 2016 NBM for the English translation.

For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Thoreau – A Sublime Life


By A.Dan & Maximilien Le Roy, translated by Peter Russella (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-025-6

We don’t get nearly enough access to philosophy or big thinkers in comics, but whenever some creator or other does set out to explore deeper issues regarding formative moments in human culture, the results are more often than not splendidly successful.

Author (and colourist of this book) Maximilien Le Roy has clearly given the genre much thought. He was born in Paris in 1985 and, after the usual education and socialisation, he studied Applied Art. Done with that, he began travelling the world, making socially-aware and incisively politicised comics…

His works challenging the situation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Hosni, Gaza; a Stone in the Sea, Make the Wall) got him banned from entering any Israeli territory for ten years – from October 2015 onwards. He kept on examining those issues, drawing in other concerned creators to help tell stories and depict issues authorities would rather nobody saw, and ask questions members of the global public would love to have finally addressed…

His other apparent preoccupation is great artists and thinkers, resulting in comics volumes encapsulating the lives and achievements of Nietzche (To Create Freedom in collaboration with Michel Onfray), Gauguin – Far from the road, (with Christophe Gauthier) and, from 2012, this superbly haunting examination of Henry David Thoreau’s thoughts and influence upon the world.

Le Roy’s co-conspirator on La Vie sublime – Thoreau is Daniel Alexandre who prefers the pen-name A. Dan. A self-taught artist, his first work was seen on his blog in 2005. He then began to specialise in animal illustration and naturalistic subjects before working for Joker Editions in 2008 on heroic fantasy Jo-Bo, which he had created with scripter Benjamin Leduc.

A.Dan developed a more humanistic style for Algerian War tale Tahya El-Djazaï and WWI saga Pour un peu de bonheur (both with Laurent Galandon, in 2009 and 2012-2013) and recent historical epic La Faute au Midi with writer Jean-Yves La Nour.

The deliciously oversized (284 x 224 mm) full-colour hardback under review here is not a history or biography text. You won’t learn much about Thoreau’s formative experiences in New England or time at Harvard – although the comprehensive essay and appreciation ‘Thoreau, a Philosopher for Today’ by scholar Professor Michael Granger at the back of the book might fill a few gaps whilst clarifying the American intellectual icon’s place in history and legacy for the modern world.

Briefly then: Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1817. The son of a pencil-maker, he studied at Harvard from 1833 and 1837. He left after refusing to pay a post-hoc fee to receive the Masters degree he had already earned (anybody believe the monetisation of education is a recent thing?).

Thoreau was an author, poet, philosopher, political thinker, working surveyor, historian and development critic who would have loved to have been best remembered today for his writings on nature and ecological systems. He was also an ardent abolitionist and opposed to unaccountable or over-intrusive government – especially ones driven by a profit-motive.

He refused to pay taxes to a government which fought wars of colonialism and supported slavery whilst publicly and hypocritically decrying it. He is now regarded as the father of Civil Disobedience, with Tolstoy, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., and many elements of the Occupy Movement amongst so many other non-violent resistors all citing his writings as the major influence on their actions.

Anything more you need can be gleaned from dozens of books or via the search engine of your choice…

Following Le Roy’s emphatic Foreword, the beguiling glimpse into the writer’s most productive period begins one day in March 1845 as the wanderer returns to Concord, borrows an axe from a blacksmith and wanders off into the woods.

Over the coming months he becomes a virtual recluse, building a cabin home beside a small lake; observes nature in all its wonder and begins collecting his thoughts for the book which will one day become Walden (his immortal treatise on simple living) and the essay Resistance to Civil Government

Through solitary, bucolic months he toils, writes or reads of other philosophers and foreign belief systems; learning more and more about the natural world by essentially becoming part of it. Eventually he is quietly arrested and graciously submits to prison for refusing to pay taxes to a government he does not approve of.

Determined and unrepentant he stays there uncomplaining until his jailers throw him out. They are uncaring that he has refused liberty. All they know or care about is that is that the principled prisoner’s humiliated relatives have paid the outstanding amount… over Thoreau’s strident protests…

Back at his Walden cabin, he opens his home to abolitionists and continues his studies. In 1849 he begins publicly speaking out across the region against the shameful practice and his slowly-coalescing beliefs on the nature and failings of Government. His works are published but sell slowly as he gradually takes a more active part in anti-slavery organisations…

In 1853 his travels bring him to an Indian enclave and he meets an entire people who are his spiritual and ethical brothers. His pronouncements on business and industry destroying nature begin to make some little headway in a young nation seemingly obsessed with exploitative money-making, and whenever he feels deflated or defeated a return to the woods rekindles his spirits…

Sadly his world is not isolated and many of his like-minded contemporaries do not share all his views. In 1853 militant Abolitionist John Brown begins a campaign of bloody terrorism against slave-owners and their supporters which will culminate on the attack on the Federal Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry (now regarded as the spark which ignited the War Between the States). Despite ardently disagreeing with the zealot’s methods, Thoreau mounts a spirited courtroom defence of Brown…

And so this glorious montage of preciously stockpiled little moments proceeds: revealing telling incidents of quiet intensity – all suitably garnished with appropriate quotes from the great individualist’s writings – which paint his character in ways dry facts just can’t equal, taking the reader through those final critical years until his death in 1862…

As you’d expect and hope, Thoreau- A Sublime Life is naturalistically lovely, lyrically composed and sweetly sensible: highlighting key moments of introspection, inspiration and revelation from one of the world’s earliest ecologists and most-revered rebel rationalists.

Clever, wise and passionate, this is a fabulous and welcoming treatment of a forward-looking individual increasingly in tune with the times and the people.
© 2012 A.Dan/Le Roy/Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard S.A.). © 2016 NBM for the English translation.

The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded


By Jim Ottaviani & Leland Purvis (Abrams ComicArts)
ISBN: 978-1-4197-1893-9

After decades of cruel injustice and crushing, sidelining silence, British mathematician Alan Turing – one of the greatest intellects of the 20th century – is at last becoming the household name and revered figure he deserves to be.

As well as books and films describing the amazing achievements and appalling way this brilliant, tormented man – arguably the creator of the modern world we inhabit – was treated by society, there’s now a new graphic novel delineating the factual stuff whilst trying to get beneath the skin of a most perplexing and unique individual.

It’s only fair to warn you: this is categorically not an adaptation of the 2014 film.

Spellbindingly scripted by Jim Ottaviani (who has similarly eulogised and dissected quantum physicist Feynman and primatologists Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas in Primates) and compellingly effective art by Leland Purvis (Vox, Pubo, Vulcan & Vishnu and Suspended in language: Niels Bohr’s life, discoveries, and the century he shaped – a previous collaboration with Ottoviani), this full-colour hardback biography divides Turing’s life into three broad sections, incisively and winningly reviewed as if in a documentary.

Events from his turbulent life are cleverly mixed with “interviews” and candid disclosures from those who knew him – his mother, the computing girls at Bletchley Park, fiancée Joan Clark, Professor Max Newman, engineer and lab partner Bayley and the weak, shady rent-boy who brought about Turing’s eventual downfall and death…

‘Universal Computing’ covers the difficult, solitary boy’s childhood and college years, with plenty of revelatory scenes showing how smart, obsessed and just plain different Turing was.

Top Secret Ultra’ focuses on the war years that made Turing’s reputation as a cryptographer and inventor at the “non-existent” base where the Enigma Code was cracked and the battle against fascism won.

The most painful and potent moments are seen in the post-war years at Manchester University, trying to beat the Americans in the race to build Thinking Machines and coming under increasing stress as his open homosexuality – accepted as fact and ignored at Bletchley – came to overtake and destroy the life of the mis-socialised simple genius whose thoughts and writings resulted in the breakthroughs everybody now knows as ‘The Imitation Game’

Rounding out the cruelly educational experience is a poignant and challenging ‘Authors Note’ touching on the still unresolved mystery of Turing’s death, a vast ‘Bibliography and Recommended Reading’ list and a bewilderingly comprehensive ‘Notes and References’ section, covering everything from the panel structures to the mathematics involved in and comprising much of the book’s subtly beguiling make-up.

This is an astoundingly inviting way to take in a true story of incredible accomplishment, dedicated passion and terrifying naivety, ending in a horrific loss to us all and forever-unanswered sentiments of “What If?” and “If Only”…
Text © 2016 Jim Ottaviani. Illustrations © 2016 Leland Purvis. All rights reserved.

The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded will be released on March 22nd 2016.

Hip Hop Family Tree Book 3: 1983-1984


By Ed Piskor (Fantagraphics)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-848-9

Another year gone and at long last another spectacularly barnstorming, award-winning comicstrip history lesson from proudly self-confessed Hip Hop Nerd and cyber-geek Ed Piskor is here, detailing more secrets about the world’s most explosive musical discipline.

In astounding detail and with a positively chillin’ attention to the art styles of the period, Piskor resumes his astoundingly engaging exploration of the rise of the rhyme-&-rhythm musical art form – all whilst paying equal attention to the symbiotic and parallel growth of graffiti and street art – with wit, charm and astonishing clarity.

Kicking off with a crucial ‘Rogues Gallery’ of the 80 movers and shakers involved, this latest blockbuster-sized volume begins in 1983 after Hip Hop at last makes the leap from local parks and parties to the club scene and onto vinyl. It also sees the street wisdom that Rap doesn’t work on albums finally disproved forever…

Of course now that the strange noise and weirdly evocative dance moves are a proven commodity, the establishment business sharks begin to circle the pioneering proponents and all their hundreds of hungry wannabe, would-be stars…

‘The Freaks Come Out at Night of the Living Bassheads’ closely studies that inexorable rise, following a few key behind-the scenes-personalities like in-at-the-start devotee Russell “Rush” Simmons, fanatical white-boy Rick Rubin and miracle-working Swiss opportunist Charlie Stettler whose tireless efforts are slowly eclipsed as the movement goes global, tracking the tenuous migration to television via shows such as Graffiti Rock and documentaries Style Wars and Breakin’ and Enterin’ until even whites Rock-only MTV finally capitulates …

Filled with feuds, mash-ups and team-ups of the new talents, highlighting Rubin and Simmons unification as Def Jam and focussing closely on British support from landmark books such as Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant’s Street Art, this titanic tome covers the start of the careers of Whodini, The Fat Boys, Slick Rick, LL Cool J and Doug E Fresh, sees The Beastie Boys adopt rap as their metier and follows Run DMC’s unstoppable rise.

As always the technical and stylistic innovations, musical struggles and physical battles, management shenanigans and recording landmarks are all encyclopaedically yet engaging revealed as Piskor connects a bewildering number of strands and weaves them into the coolest of tapestries …

To Be Continued…

Produced in the tone and style of those halcyon, grimily urban times and manufactured to look just like an old Marvel Treasury Edition (a tabloid sized 334 x 234 mm -reprint format from the 1970s which offered classic tales on huge and mouth-wateringly enticing pulp-paper pages), this compelling confection also includes a copious and erudite ‘Bibliography’, ‘Reference’ and ‘Funky Index’, a fun-filled Author Bio and another blazing collection of ‘Pin Ups’ with spectacular images from guest illustrators including TLC by Natalie Andrewson, Biz Markie by Miss Lasko Gross, Kool Moe Dee by Jonny Negron, Kool DJ Red Alert by Toby Cypress, Blowfly by Johnny Ryan, Jay Z by Jim Rugg, Wu Tang Clan by Benjamin Marra, Mantronix by Dean Haspiel, Dr. Dre by Jenny Goldstick, MC Hammer by Robert Crumb and Digital Underground by Skottie Young to get your pulses racing, if not your toes tapping…

Informative and irresistible, Hip Hop Family Tree is wild fun and deliciously addictive – and only a year until the next one…
This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All Hip Hop comic strips by Ed Piskor © 2015 Ed Piskor. Pin ups and other material © 2015 their respective artists. All rights reserved.

Hip Hop Family Tree book 1: 1970s-1981


By Ed Piskor (Fantagraphics)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-690-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: way better than Record Tokens… 8/10

Comics is an all-encompassing narrative medium and – even after 30 plus years in the game – I’m still frequently amazed and delighted at the new ways creators constantly find to use the simple combination of words and pictures in sequence to produce new and intoxicating ways of conveying information, tone, style and especially passion to their target audience.

A particularly brilliant case in point is this compulsive compilation of strips and extras from self-confessed Hip Hop Nerd and cyber geek Ed Piskor (author of the astonishing Hacker graphic novel Wizzywig) which originally appeared in serial form on the website Boing Boing.

In astounding detail and with a positively chillin’ attention to the art styles of the period, Piskor details the rise of the rhyme-and-rhythm musical art form (whilst paying close attention to the almost symbiotic growth of graffiti and street art) with wit, charm and astonishing clarity.

Charting the slow demise of the disco and punk status quo by intimately following fledgling stars and transcendent personalities of the era, ‘Straight Out of the Gutter’ begins in the mid 1970s with the South Bronx block parties and live music jams of such pioneers as DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Grandwizard Theodore and Afrika Bambaataa.

The new music is mired in the maze of inescapable gang culture but as early word-of-mouth success leads to at first rare vinyl pressings and the advent of the next generation, the inevitable interest of visionaries and converts leads to the circling of commercial sharks…

The technical and stylistic innovations, the musical battles and physical feuds, the management races by truly unsavoury characters to secure the first landmark history-making successes are all encyclopaedically yet engaging revealed through the lives – and, so often early deaths – of almost-stars and later household names such as Furious 4-plus-1, Kurtis Blow, The Sugarhill Gang, the Furious Five, and even three kids who will become Run-DMC.

The story follows and connects a bewildering number of key and crucial personalities – with a wealth of star-struck music biz cameos and ends with Hip Hop on the very edge of global domination following the breakout single Rapture (from new wave icons and dedicated devotees Blondie) and the landmark TV documentary by Hugh Downs and Steve Fox on the national current affairs TV show 20/20 which brought the new music culture into the homes of unsuspecting middle America…

To Be Continued…

Produced in the tone and style of those halcyon, grimily urban times and manufactured to look just like an old Marvel Treasury Edition (an oversized – 334x234mm -reprint format from the 1970s which offered classic tales on huge and mouth-wateringly enticing pulp-paper pages), this compelling confection also includes a copious and erudite ‘Bibliography’, ‘Discography’ and ‘Funky Index’, an Afterword: the Hip Hop/Comic Book Connection (with additional art by Tom Scioli) and a fun-filled Author Bio.

Moreover there’s also a blistering collection of ‘Pin Ups and Burners’ with spectacular images from guest illustrators including The Beastie Boys by Jeffrey Brown, Afrika Bambaataa by Jim Mahfood, Fat Boys by Scioli, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five by Ben Marra, Vanilla Ice by Jim Rugg, Run-DMC by Dan Zettwoch, Eric B. and Rakim by John Porcellino, Salt-n-Pepa by Nate Powell, KRS-One by Brandon Graham & Snoop Dogg by Farel Dalrymple to get your pulses racing, if not your toes tapping…

Cool, informative and irresistible, Hip Hop Family Tree is wild fun and deliciously addictive. It will be a harsh wait for the next volume…
This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books. All Hip Hop comic strips by Ed Piskor © 2013 Ed Piskor. Pin ups and other material © 2013 their respective artists. All rights reserved.

Little Nothings volume 4: My Shadow in the Distance


By Lewis Trondheim, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-523-8

With over 100 books bearing his pen-name, (Lewis Trondheim is actually Laurent Chabosy) the writer/artist/editor and educator is one of Europe’s most prolific comics creators: illuminating his own work, overseeing animated cartoons of adaptations of previous successes such as La Mouche (The Fly) and Kaput and Zösky or editing the younger-readers book series Shampooing for Dargaud.

His most famous works are the global hits ‘Les Formidables Aventures de Lapinot’ (translated as The Spiffy Adventures of McConey) and, with Joann Sfar, the Donjon (Dungeon) series of nested fantasy epics (translated as the conjoined sagas Dungeon: Parade, Dungeon: Monstres and Dungeon: the Early Years).

In his spare time, and when not girdling the globe from convention to symposium to festival, the dourly shy and neurotically introspective savant has written for satirical magazine Psikopat and provided scripts for many of the continent’s most popular artists – such as Fabrice Parme (Le Roi Catastrophe, Vénézia), Manu Larcenet (Les Cosmonautes du futur), José Parrondo (Allez Raconte and Papa Raconte) and Thierry Robin (Petit Père Noël).

He is a cartoonist of uncanny wit, piercing perspicacity, comforting affability and self-deprecating empathy who prefers to control scrupulously what is known and said about him…

A little while ago the well-travelled graphic self-critic began drawing a deliciously intimate cartoon blog wherein all the people Trondheim knows or encounters are rendered as anthropomorphised animals with him a dowdy, parrot-beaked actor/director. These marvellous meanderings have been periodically released as a series of enchanting full-colour albums. Page after page of whimsical, querulous and enticingly intriguing reportage deliciously rendered in watercolour tones has emerged since and now at last here’s another collecting his daily thoughts on 2009…

This collection focuses heavily on the global peregrinations of Trondheim, with and without his family, to such far-flung places as Iceland, America (for an extended and hilariously unsettling family vacation from New York to Las Vegas), Quebec and Canada, Germany, Prague, Madrid, Italy, Corsica, Argentina, Ushuaia, Antarctica and Africa, with all the attendant joys and night-terrors such voyages engender for him.

As ever he highlights the ways in which humans vary and yet remain intrinsically similar (although only my own German forebears could possibly have devised such a brilliant method of enhancing and yet sanitising men’s urinal experiences…) but also finds time and space to ponder the inevitable decline in quality of movie sequels, roaming credit-card charges, his health, travel etiquette and preparation, the pitfalls of snacking, airports everywhere, the urge to eavesdrop, the varying quality of hotels, weather and climate, forgetfulness, comics conventions, fans and professionals, personal space and getting old, skiing holidays, making your own music and what cats are good for, before concluding with an extended and rather grotesque episode covering his nasal polyp surgery and the inevitable overreaction to it…

These daily bulletins explore little events and really big themes and there are also purely visual moments that you just have to see to believe, whilst the ruminations, micro-dramas and amicably nit-picking pictorial monologues regularly range from his inability to de-clutter, toilet etiquette, gadgets, marriage, parenthood, computers, and getting old, which mercifully comes to us…

Little Nothings is easily one of the most comforting and compelling biographical comics series ever created; gently contemplative, subtly pleasing and ineffably something that no fan of any advanced or significant vintage would care to miss

I once more strongly suggest that if you need a little non-theological, un-theosophical yet hilariously existential spiritual refreshment you take advantage of this fortuitous collection toot da sweet

© 2009 Trondheim. English translation © 2011 NBM. All Rights Reserved.

Approximate Continuum Comics


By Lewis Trondheim, edited & translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-410-8

With over 100 books sporting his name, (which isn’t actually Lewis Trondheim but Laurent Chabosy) the writer/artist/editor and educator is one of Europe’s most prolific comics creators: illustrating his own work and working with the industry’s top artists; overseeing animated cartoons of his print successes as La Mouche (The Fly) and Kaput and Zösky and even editing a younger readers book series Shampooing for Dargaud.

His most famous works are the global hits ‘Les Formidables Aventures de Lapinot’ (translated as The Spiffy Adventures of McConey) and, with Joann Sfar, the Donjon (Dungeon) series of nested fantasy epics (see the translated Dungeon: Parade, Dungeon: Monstres and Dungeon: the Early Years).

In his spare time he has written for satirical magazine Psikopat and his scripts for the continent’s most popular artists include Le Roi Catastrophe and Vénézia with Fabrice Parme, Les Cosmonautes du futur (Manu Larcenet), Allez Raconte and Papa Raconte (José Parrondo) and Petit Père Noël (Thierry Robin).

He is a cartoonist of uncanny wit, piercing, gentle perspicacity, comforting affability and self-deprecating empathy who prefers to control scrupulously what is known and said about him…

I first became aware of Lewis Trondheim’s subtly engaging comics mannerism in Fantagraphics’ Mome anthologies which reprinted excerpts of his comics blog Little Nothings wherein Trondheim’s friends and acquaintances, drawn as anthropomorphised animals (with him a dowdy, parrot-beaked central figure) revisit episodes of his life, flavoured with philosophy, personal introspection, whimsical inquiry and foible-filled observations.

These mini-treats have since been gathered into three terrific tomes of drawn diaries for constant re-reading (Little Nothings: Curse of the Umbrella, The Prisoner Syndrome and Uneasy Happiness) and are available as collected gift set entitled Bigger Nothings.

However, before all that Trondheim first explored the idea as a four issue American styled comicbook project in 1993 and those prototypical slices of wry and winning reportage are finally available in a translated black and white softcover collection.

Some of the very first autobiographical works on the French bande dessinée scene, these little gems were a genuine game-changer for cartoonists and storytellers, prompting a rise in personal stories that has produced many works to rival the best of Harvey Pekar himself…

In the collected Approximate Continuum Comics the trademark blend of visualised introspection and self-condemnatory flagellation finds the younger Trondheim questioning his own professional integrity, violently and graphically wish-fulfilling his way through rush-hour crowds (haven’t we all?), planning – for which read risk-assessing – his marriage, and dealing with his unfathomable Japanese publisher during the early days of creating his multi-media hit La Mouche.

He regularly gets lost in his own free-associating daydreams and rightly fears being castigated by his own conscience for swimming in megalomania, indecisiveness, forthrightness and deference.

Trondheim’s many inner voices don’t like him very much: there are myriad incidences of self-abuse where his alternate egos beat the crap out of him; counterbalanced with gloriously loaded “real-world” episodes where he lampoons and embarrasses his fellow studio-mates of publishing collective L’Association.

(To be fair these are fabulously balanced by a marvellous section at the book’s end where such maligned and injured creative colleagues as David B., Emile Bravo, Didier Tronchet, Jean-Christophe Menu, Killofer and Philippe Dupuy among others, as well as civilian friends, his wife Brigitte and even his mother all get a trenchant and often hilarious right-to-reply.)

The first inklings of the artist’s perennial problems with technology in general and computer games in particular appear here, as do many childhood memoirs and sundry diatribes against people and places either experienced or sometimes only imagined.

One of the best sequences concerns the trip-of-a-lifetime to America (first of many, but he didn’t know that then…) and his apparent inability to think of one single strip idea about it, only surpassed by his behaviour at a raucous party held in his beloved studio.

During the course of these cartoon capers, Trondheim married his fiancée, sired his first child and moved into a new home, but although these major events are thoroughly and compellingly covered they still pale into insignificance against the spectacular battles against his inevitably spreading paunch, obsessively mean-spirited self-criticism and the thunderbolt-like occasional phone call from his mum…

…And whenever that’s no longer painful enough there’s always the violent physical assaults and punishment-beatings from his inner selves…

Superbly skilled at switching imperceptibly from broad self-parody to cripplingly painful personal revelation, wild surrealism to powerful reportage and from clever humorous observation to howling existentialist inquisition, Trondheim’s cartoon interior catalogue is always a supremely rewarding and enjoyable experience and, as these ancient texts prove, always has been…

© 2001 Lewis Trondheim and Cornélius. This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books. All Rights Reserved.

Bigger Nothings: The Little Nothings Gift Set volumes 1-3


By Lewis Trondheim, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: vol. 1: 978-1-56163-523-8 vol. 2: 978-1-56163-548-1 vol. 3: 978-1-56163-576-4
Gift pack ISBN: 978-1-56163-599-3

I first became aware of Lewis Trondheim’s subtly enchanting vignettes in Fantagraphics’ Mome comics anthologies rather than through its internet presence and it’s an utter delight for this old duffer (me, not him) to see this blend of cartoon philosophy, personal introspection, whimsical inquiry and foible-filled observations gathered into such handy tomes for constant re-reading.

With over 100 books sporting his name, (which isn’t actually Lewis Trondheim but Laurent Chabosy) the writer/artist/editor and educator is one of Europe’s most prolific comics creators: illustrating his own work, overseeing animated cartoons of such print successes as La Mouche (The Fly) and Kaput and Zösky and editing the younger readers book series Shampooing for Dargaud.

His most famous works are the global hits ‘Les Formidables Aventures de Lapinot’ (translated as The Spiffy Adventures of McConey) and, with Joann Sfar, the Donjon (Dungeon) series of nested fantasy epics (see the translated Dungeon: Parade, Dungeon: Monstres and Dungeon: the Early Years).

In his spare time he has written for satirical magazine Psikopat and provided scripts for many of the continent’s most popular artists – such as Fabrice Parme (Le Roi Catastrophe, Vénézia), Manu Larcenet (Les Cosmonautes du futur), José Parrondo (Allez Raconte and Papa Raconte) and Thierry Robin (Petit Père Noël),

He is a cartoonist of uncanny wit, piercing, gentle perspicacity, comforting affability and self-deprecating empathy and prefers to control scrupulously what is known and said about him…

A little while ago the well-travelled graphic introvert began drawing a deliciously intimate cartoon blog wherein all the people Trondheim knows are rendered as anthropomorphised  animals (with him a dowdy, parrot-beaked actor/director) which has been edited into a series of enchanting full-colour albums. Page after page of introspective, whimsical, querulous and enticingly intriguing reportage has emerged since, and thanks, presumably, to the global recession you can now pick up the first three in an extremely economical bargain gift pack…

Volume 1, The Curse of the Umbrella, features ruminations on gardening and possessing a vegetable death-touch, introduces his family, examines the love-hate relationship with technology and computer games and covers the dramas of becoming first time cat-owners at an advanced age. Hypochondria and the internet’s impact as an enabler of such recurs, as do work-processes for the self-employed, keeping fit, snacks, memory, death, bird-poop, the weather and travel to comics events in exotic locations such as the Reunion Islands and Edinburgh. The daily bulletins explore little events and really big themes and there are also purely visual moments that you just have to see to get…


In volume 2, The Prisoner Syndrome, the cascade of cartoon delights continues with more of the same whilst adding summer beach madness, floating with the fishes, exploring volcanoes, ecology and hotel wastefulness, comic convention memory (so different from the regular kind). There’s animal antics, travel, energy-saving, visiting Africa, Guadeloupe, Romania and London, the differences between men and women, global political crises and the heartbreaking helplessness and inevitable consequences of seeing your pet die.


Uneasy Happiness, the third and final volume in this collected set, sees the bird-faced gentleman amicably nit-picking and further musing his way through the life of an old and successful comic creator: travelling to conventions, making stories and dealing with the distressingly peculiar modern world, especially focusing on his increasing hoarding proclivities, concerns over his creative and financial legacy, mice in the bookshelves and packing…

The ruminations and anti-dramas regularly range from his inability to de-clutter (every comic maven’s weakness!), toilet etiquette (public and private), gadgets, marriage, parenthood, the actual science in TV shows, how mad cats are, brilliant ideas that come when you’re asleep, computers, and getting old, interspersed with reactions to the many wonderful places he has visited on the comics convention circuit (Venice, Portugal, Fiji, Australia and others in this volume).

All genteelly re-coloured for book publication, these Little Nothings have become some of my favourite 21st century graphic novels; gently contemplative, subtly pleasing…

I strongly suggest that if you need a little non-theological, un-theosophical yet hilariously existential spiritual refreshment you take advantage of this fortuitous collection with the utmost alacrity…

© 2010 Trondheim. English translation © 2010 NBM. All Rights Reserved.