Thursday, July 26, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #207: Mister I by Lewis Trondheim

Mister I -- a simply-drawn figure in a simply-drawn world -- is hungry. He's looking for fruit from a tree, or meat from a bird or hunted animal or freshly-caught fish, or even an iconic pie cooling on a windowsill.

He will not get what he wants. Maybe because he's rude: trying to steal that pie, or whining to a hunter for meat, or grabbing a lollipop from a kid, or aggressive panhandling with bad singing. Maybe just because he's unlucky.

Maybe because that's the premise. Like Wile E. Coyote, Mister I has to fail -- and to be killed at the end of each silent page-long story -- because that's the joke.

Mister I is Lewis Trondheim's other book of wordless gag comics -- I think Mister O came first, and I definitely read it first (several years ago), but they're both the same sort of thing working with slightly different material.

Mister O wants to get somewhere, and fails. (And dies.) Mister I wants to eat something, and fails. (And dies.) Entire comedy careers have been built on less.

There are thirty-two stories in this book, each of them a single large page of sixty small panels -- in a tight grid with no gutters, looking almost like an animation sequence pasted down on the page. And they all work from that same premise: here's Mister I, here's some kind of food that he wants to get, and here's how he doesn't get it.

I like this kind of stuff is pretty funny: I love the inventiveness of it, and the way one variation (digging with a shovel to get that pie, for example) leads to another and another, and the inevitability of Mister I's failure. You do have to enjoy slapstick, I suppose. But silent comics are as close to a universal language as anyone's developed yet, so I'm confident there are a lot of people who would love to see Mister I trying and failing, over and over and over again.

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