Watching an episode of Stephen Fry in America the other day, I caught a segment where the British comedian/raconteur makes a reference to Hawaii 5-O during a visit to the 50th state. You must hear this all the time, he tells his native guide, and as he did this, I found myself thinking, “Lewis Trondheim made a similar joke in his new Little Nothings collection.” Strolling the streets of Venice, the French cartoonist states that it looks like the Venetian Casino in Las Vegas. “I bet that joke’s been told millions of times before,” Trondheim thinks to himself.
The third volume collecting Trondheim’s personal one-page comic journaling, Little Nothings: Uneasy Happiness (NBM) provides a delightful introduction to the Dungeon co-creator’s smartly observant take on the world. Employing a similar storytelling strategy to American Elfster James Kochalka — though where the New England diarist portrays himself as an elf-eared quasi-innocent, the Frenchman draws himself as a cartoon chicken — Trondheim sidesteps the sometimes cloying whimsy that can mar the American artist’s autobiographical work. Looking to buy seeds for some exotic plants, he passes by a nursery, stating, “I don’t trust a nursery that’s selling garden gnomes.” No French elves here, folks.
Our hero’s adventures in this volume include treks to Reunion Island and Fiji, time spent at the Angouleme International Comics Festival, alongside trenchant stay-at-home refllections of 21st-century urban life. In one six-strip sequence, for instance, the cartoonist tries to prod the family cat into taking care of a mouse that has gotten into the apartment: he’s unsuccessful and winds up with a dead rodent trapped in the walls, stinking up the place. “It will smell for a few days and afterwards it will mummify,” he tries to tell his wife, unsure if he’s convincing either her or himself.
Trondheim plays his funny animal figures against some gorgeously rendered ink and watercolor settings: an ornately stain-glassed cathedral, tropical waterfalls, finely detailed cityscapes. The approach grounds his “small” observations, the thoughts of a man who’s outgrown some of his youthful cynicism (“Can you believe it?” he says of himself after noting a beautiful moonrise. “I’m getting weirdly positive.”) but is still capable of noting the infringement of commercial ugliness and his own identifiably human quirks. Thoughtful and amusing, Trondheim’s Little Nothings belie their humble title.