Sunday, June 29, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #179: Harum Scarum by Lewis Trondheim

Lewis Trondheim has made a lot of comics, in many different styles -- there's the slice-of-life auto bio stories, like Little Nothings and Approximate Continuum; the Dungeon series of pseudo-medieval adventures he co-writes with Joann Sfar; books for kids like Monster Christmas and Tiny Tyrant; and odd pantomime humor books like Mister I and Mister O -- and there's as many more series and styles that haven't been translated into English yet. But his first popular series was a series of albums called Les formidables aventures de Lapinot, set in another one of his worlds of anthropomorphic characters and featuring continuing characters who weren't always the same people. (That might not make sense, and I haven't read enough of the books to make it much clearer than this: Trondheim draws the same characters, with the same personalities and sometimes the same names, in entirely separate stories, some of which are historical.)

Two of the ten volumes of Lapinot were translated into English, more than fifteen years ago, under the series title "The Spiffy Adventures of McConey." But they weren't popular enough for the series to continue. Admittedly, this may be in part because they were published in the French album format -- forty-eight pages in a large trim size -- which has never been particularly loved over here.

The first of those books was Harum Scarum (Walter in the French original), in which McConey, a journalist cat friend and a dog policeman are caught up in a monster story that actually begins on the cover -- when you only have forty-eight pages, you need to dive in the deep end and start things moving immediately -- and runs through a lot of convolutions before it comes out the other end. The dog cop is Inspector Ruffhaus, and we know McConey's name from the series -- but I don't think the cat is ever named anything but "the journalist."

But names don't really matter: this is a thriller, full of mad science (of the turning-people-into-monsters kind), international intrigue, kidnappings, corrupt superior officers planning cover-ups and worse, gunshots, double-crosses, enhanced interrogation, lies and fine stories, and a whole lot of running around whatever city this is (my bet is Paris, but it never says) as the night stretches on and the antagonists keep finding our heroes in more and more desperate straits. It all begins with the shadow of that creature on the cover, which sends our trio racing out into the street to escape it. From there, we get some backstory filled in quickly -- McConey was asked to come to visit the scientist living in that apartment by the scientist's son, and brought along the journalist on the son's request -- but mostly move forward at full speed.

There's a lot of dialogue here, all of it snappy and quick -- though some is amusingly off-kilter, as when the Inspector demands to repay McConey for the bill after they all run quickly out of a bar, which leads to seven panels of low finance -- and the story feels big, even at this speed and crammed into so few pages. Some American readers, used to modern "decompressed" comics, may find Trondheim's pages too filled and too wordy, but it all rattles along wonderfully and makes full use of every last nook and cranny on those pages. No matter what style or series, Trondheim makes fun comics -- and Harum Scarum is a great monster movie on the page.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

No comments:

Post a Comment