Little Nothings: Curse of the Umbrella

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks
Lewis Trondheim is one of the finest and most acclaimed cartoonists in the world, but that doesn't prevent him from feeling the same frustrations, joys, and paranoia at the little things in life that everyone else feels. This wonderful autobiographical book chronicles Trondheim's quiet daily existence, presenting humorous and moving little one-page stories that chronicle his inner life.

Like the best autobiographical comics of Robert Crumb and Eddie Campbell, Trondheim is a master at finding just the right event or just the right snippets of conversation to make these little stories really interesting. He's a natural storyteller who is adept at simplifying his stories to emphasize the humor or drama in them.

For instance, on page 76 we see Trondheim wandering around Paris. Everywhere he goes people are coughing. People on the street, people on the Metro, people in restaurants, all are hacking away. "Ever since I got to Paris yesterday I hear people coughing," he thinks. Cut to a small inset. Trondheim has a small cough. He pauses for thought, then mumbles to himself in a reassuring way, "It's psychological. I'm not sick. It's psychological. I'm not sick. It's psychological."

Page 87 brings a more poignant moment that emphasizes Trondheim's eye for capturing exactly the right threads to make a great story. On this page, Trondheim runs into his friend Sergio and compliments him on what seems like a great suntan. However, Sergio doesn't have a healthy glow; the tan comes from his Addison's Disease. Sergio spends much of the page describing the disease--leaving Trondeim in the last panel looking dazed and unable to answer. After all, how does one answer news like that?

The book has a little bit of a travelogue element to it as we follow Trondheim on his various travels, including one in which he travels to the Angoulême festival. Typically for Trondheim, he wins the grand prize as he's happily speeding away from the festival to go back home to his family. Also typically for Trondheim, the honor somehow seems smaller than life. As he says, "I'd always imagined that if I won the city's grand prize one day, I'd throw a great party with all my friends in Angoulême. No such luck . . . this year, the selection took place on a Sunday afternoon, and almost everybody had left."

Maybe my favorite page in this book is page 46--a playful, silent moment that just plain makes me laugh. Trondheim is walking around his house and sees a toy lightsaber sitting on an end table. He picks up the lightsabre and works it like a Jedi Knight would use it to fight stormtroopers. Finally, after his workout, Trondheim wanders away with a big goofy smile on his face, as a caption reminds us that he is "age 41."

That page, more than any other, kind of sums up why this is such a wonderful book. First and foremost, the art is absolutely charming, and it’s perfect for a book like this. It's hypnotic to see the quality of work Trondheim delivers. He is clearly a master of his craft, and the inventiveness and diversity of the page layouts shows that mastery.

He's also a master at conveying small details with just a few strokes, emphasized with his use of color. Page 114, for instance, is a gorgeous panoramic view of a park in Hong Kong. The page looks like an interpretive painting of the place, with Trondheim's majestic line and wonderful coloring bringing the place a beauty that may be even more wonderful than a photo might be.

Little Nothings is a clinic in autobio comics by a true comics master. It feels like a blog, but Trondheim's mastery of the medium makes it very special. If only all blogs were this glorious.

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