My Favorite Things Little Nothings
By Lewis Trondheim
Translated by Joe Johnson
Lettering and retouch by Ortho
Mainstream comic fans often prefer "realistic" drawing as a matter of course. A labored, detailed drawing seemlingly takes more effort to produce than simple one - and in the average fan's mind, more man-hours always equals better. Yet I think most of the most interesting work in comics is done by people who go in the opposite direction - creating drawings that are as simple as possible.
Drawing simply is often fraught with great peril. Too much detail can highlight the flimsiness of your underdrawing. Too little detail can make your drawings seem unfinished and inexpressive. If you're too slick, your drawings may feel sterile and lifeless. If you're too loose, your drawings may feel slapdash and crude. It can take forever to find a way to portray a complicated emotion without resorting to a pantomime shorthand. Misplace a single line and your drawing is revealed as sheer artifice.
And yet, when done right, the rewards can be great. Simple drawings can be universal, clearly understood, and direct. They speak to people across barriers of language and culture. A simple drawing can make the fantastic seem plausible, the commonplace seem extraordinary.
And to prove my point, here's five panels of Lewis Trondheim being tortured by his cat.
Trondheim's drawing here is masterful. There's not a line or gesture wasted - everything directly contributes to the overarching gag. The poses are not exact, but are specific enough that we can instantly grasp the overarching acture - Trondheim is tying his shoes, and his cat is playing with the laces. Note how Trondheim's eyes - represented by just a single line, or by two empty circles - can nonetheless express a wide range of emotions from from intense concentration to sudden surprise to agitation to a sort of world-weary boredom. The background, the setting are equally minimum - just enough detail to give you the suggestion of what you're seeing, to make it stand out from the page without seeming empty, but no attempts at specificity other than the rudiments of Trondheim's costume. The entire sequence is instantly comprehensible - there's no chance you'd read the panels in the wrong order, even without panel borders.
Little Nothings is the English langauge version of Lewis Trondheim's journal webcomic, Les Petits Riens. Honestly, I'm glad to see it finally released in English - I've been reading it online for a few years and lately it's been pushing my (admittedly poor) French to its limits. The book is filled with odd incidents, anecdotes, and observations drawn from Trondheim's daily life - and it also features his wonderful cartooning, in full color on every page.
Little Nothings is available from NBM, and more strips are available online at Lewis Trondheim's web site. Though you might want to brush up on your French first.