Cartoonist, world traveler and observer of comic minutia, Lewis Trondheim returns with a fourth volume of Little Nothings (NBM). Subtitled “My Shadow in the Distance,” this newest set of funny animal autobiographical one-page strips follows our man/bird hero as he travels with his family on vacation in the U.S.A. (spying a “real cowboy” out west, he’s disappointed to see the cowpoke wearing a baseball cap), then hits a variety of European and South American locales for book signing and comic con appearances. Unlike some autobiographical alt cartoonists, Trondheim has a global range of tiny li’l experiences to illustrate. Walking the streets of Prague, dismayed at the “string of tacky souvenir shops” dotting the promenade, he looks up at the old architecture and thinks “from 8 feet up, it’s very beautiful!”
The fourth volume’s most enduring sequence takes place closer to home, however. Told that his sinuses have polyps and advised to avoid flying, Trondheim ultimately has to go under the knife. The strips capture our hero’s pre-op dread and post-op processing with a sharp and distinct wit. Clearing his nose in the aftermath, he describes getting a “gigantic monster” out of his nostril. “I should have taken a picture,” he tells his spouse. “I’m sure your artistic talent will be able to give us an exact idea of it all,” she responds. And, sure enough, the last image we get in the book is of Trondheim standing in the bathroom, a large red glob dripping out of his beak.
Yet for all the anxieties and small annoyances catalogued by the writer/artist in these self-deprecating strips, he ultimately knows he’s got a pretty good life. Advised that sea bathing is highly recommended during his recuperation, the cartoonist tries snorkeling in the ocean off Mayotte (an island near Madagascar), but is unable to get any seawater in his nose. “Right… feel sorry for yourself, you poor dear,” he tells himself as he sits back in the water. Sometimes life’s little nothings really are little nothings.
As with the previous entries in this series, Trondheim’s animal world plays the French artist’s cartoony figures against frequently detailed backgrounds (he loves rendering old European streets) and a soft water color-y palette. The latter is especially well suited to the cartoonist’s understated punchlines: these are the kind of comics more likely to elicit a nodding smile than a laugh. Those reading these strips for shockingly frank autobiographical confessions are hereby advised to look elsewhere. For the rest of us, Trondheim’s ongoing Portrait of the Artist as a Middle-Aged Bird continues to charm and deliver.