Ralph Azham volume 1: Why Would You Lie to Someone You Love?


By Lewis Trondheim, coloured by Brigitte Findakly and translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-593-8 (HB)

With over 100 books bearing his pen-name (his secret identity is actually Laurent Chabosy), writer/artist/editor and educator Lewis Trondheim is one of Europe’s most prolific comics creators: illustrating 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 tales are such global hits as ‘Les Formidables Aventures de Lapinot’ (translated as The Spiffy Adventures of McConey), (with Joann Sfar) the Donjon series of nested fantasy epics (translated here as the conjoined sagas Dungeon: Parade, Dungeon: Monstres and Dungeon: the Early Years) and his utterly beguiling cartoon diaries sequence Little Nothings.

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).

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

Originally released by Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis in 2001, this delicious yarn returns to the genre of anthropomorphic fantasy in a saga of wryly cynical faux-heroism revolving around failed Messiah and all-around disappointment Ralph Azham.

In his mountainous rural village, teenaged slacker Ralph is barely tolerated. He’s lazy, rude to his elders, constantly flouts authority, is always mouthing off and perpetually gets into trouble. Moreover, when he turned blue on the Night of the Double Moon – a certain sign of magical powers and an indicator that one may be the long-awaited Chosen One – he subsequently failed the tests of The Envoy and was ignominiously returned to the village…

Now he’s just an obnoxious waste of space whose only gift is the unnerving ability to tell when someone is pregnant or going to die…

His desolate village is slowly expiring. Situated in a depressing gully and old riverbed, the ramshackle dump comprises barely a dozen families now; the hard subsistence toil gradually forcing the least-dispirited farmers to emigrate to the less hostile but crowded lowlands. Moreover, with the annual visit from the rapacious marauding barbarian horde forever looming, the hamlet has precious little comfort or security to offer its dour citizens.

When the elders send Ralph out on a useless herb-gathering mission so they can have a council meeting without his annoying presence, the pariah is accosted by coquettish, scheming Claire who tries to seduce him and make him take her away from it all. After all, a boy with his gifts could surely make some money in the civilised parts of the world…?

Ralph spurns her and returns to eavesdrop on the village meeting, but when Claire follows and forcefully tries again, her big brother Piatch observes everything and attacks in a vain and pointless effort to defend her long-spent “honour”.

The running fight crashes through the village with many of the indignant elders eagerly joining in. When the well-thrashed Ralph furiously exposes many of their marital secrets, he finds himself confined to the pigsty for two months by the shamed and outraged citizens…

Later that night, his long-suffering father Bastien passes Ralph food and a knife, sadly recalling those distant days when the entire populace thought the boy was their literal ticket to salvation. After all, when the Chosen One was finally found, his mighty powers would totally destroy the terrible threat of predatory conqueror Vom Syrus and save the entire nation.

The whole episode was ill-starred. On their last night together, father and son were trapped in a cave-in and Ralph discovered his unsettling but militarily useless power. Even after they escaped death by suffocation, the airborne pilgrimage to fabled Astolia went tragically wrong – just how bad only Bastien knew for certain – and when the boy was returned to the village the populace’s high expectations soon soured.

They’ve been taking it out on Ralph ever since…

In the pigpen, Claire tries once more to sway the fed-up and furious miracle boy, but he’s already declined one attempt to help him escape. Wastrel Ralph has no intention of ever leaving his doting dad. Later, as Bastien quizzes him on why he’s still there, the alarm is sounded. The Horde is near…

The village is perfectly divided. Exactly half want to fight whilst the others favour abject surrender and throwing themselves on the invaders’ mercies. Unbelievably, now they desperately need Ralph to settle matters as the tie-breaking vote. The outcast is utterly unable to ignore the irony or resist the temptation to make them all squirm, but he is distracted by the ailing Filbert kid. The lad isn’t very well and it is another night of the Double Moon…

When the militant faction proves to be the most determined to win and acquiesces to Ralph’s outrageous and humiliating demands, the vote is cast and the villagers begin building a huge deadfall trap to kill as many Horde raiders as possible, guided by the pariah’s dear old dad, who was once a military engineer.

As the labours progress, further hidden secrets of Ralph’s interesting time in Astolia are revealed, but even as the weary folk return to their homes, the trap is sprung: not by the invaders, but rather one of their own.

Sore loser Mortimer knew that only he was right and thus couldn’t abide by the results of the vote. Surely that’s how Democracy really works?

In the cascade of rocks, little Raoul Filbert is injured and, as the enraged mob hunt for the new village pariah, forgotten Ralph carries the wounded child to the wise woman Auntie Milla. As she tends to the lad, something happens to Ralph too. Soon, he realises that his powers have changed. He can see dead people…

When he meets his father, Ralph realises that the ghost of the Envoy from his long-ago journey is attached to Bastien and soon the awful truth of his boyhood trip to Astolia comes tumbling out…

Milla too was part of the conspiracy, and now, as Ralph realises the horrible, selfish cause for his years of abuse and ostracization, he severs all ties with his father. Suddenly, the alarm sounds and the old soldier rushes back to the village where the Horde has arrived. Dejected Ralph picks up the sleeping Raoul and follows, but in the dark, nobody has noticed that the little lad’s head has turned blue…

In a wild and cataclysmic display of arcane power, Raoul destroys half the village and routs the panicked barbarians, but once they have recovered their wits, Horde outriders give chase. However, when the azure couple are cornered, Ralph’s new gift and the spirits of the pursuers’ previous victims combine to save them all, before a final cataclysm erupts and wipes out the invaders… and most of the village too…

After one final fractious confrontation with the surviving elders, Ralph heads for the plains and summons the latest Astolian Envoy to take him and Raoul to the city where new Chosen Onea are trained. As they prepare to take off on the civil servant’s triple-headed winged reptile, Claire rushes up, demanding to join them. She feels she has the right, since her cat ears and tiger stripes have turned a vibrant shade of blue…

Mesmerising and superbly enjoyable, this still-unfolding epic features a truly intriguing and clay-footed hero in a fantastic world of inescapably shallow and typically callous everyday folk: venal, self-serving and barely worth saving even if a Messiah can be found…

This engagingly sly and witty fantasy adventure tale for grown-ups begins here in a 96-page, full-colour landscape (218x168mm) sturdy hardcover edition (but sadly not in digital editions, if those are your preferred Chosen Ones): another must-not-miss epic masterpiece from one of the world’s greatest comic geniuses.
Contents © DUPUIS 2001 by Trondheim. All rights reserved. This edition © 2012 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

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