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Saturday, January 05, 2008

TINY TYRANT by Trondheim et Parme

TINY TYRANT by Lewis Trondheim (writer) and Fabrice Parme (artist) is a collection published by First Second in 2007 of a dozen ten page stories featuring King Ethelbert, the spoiled six year old ruler of the kingdom of Portocristo, where he expects everyone to bow to his whims. The stories were published in France under the title LE ROI CATASTROPHE.

I wasn't really sure what to expect from the book, since Trondheim's work had been hit-or-miss with me, mostly just liking some of the DUNGEON stuff done with Joann Sfar. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was one of the best new comics I'd read in a while. It's a bright and funny book, heavily influenced by classic animation. It most reminds me of the old Jay Ward cartoons, with a similar frantic pacing and mixture of slapstick and verbal humour. And while possibly not a direct influence, a lot of it also reminds me of John Stanley's O.G. Whiz, which I have a particular fondness for. Every story is a compact little adventure following the whims of a child who knows he can get what he wants. I especially liked the occasional eye-rolling aside from the grown-ups as they resign themselves to having to deal with every little thing that passes Ethelbert's mind.

My favourite of the dozen stories is the first, "The Ethelbertosaurus". The King is bored with the recitation of the business of his kingdom until he hears the word "dinosaur", which sends him straight off to dig, where he's disappointed to discover that "his" dinosaur is just a small one. Not being one to accept his lot in life, he tries various ways to get his dinosaur the way he likes it, leading to some cloning and some time travel and a very unexpected twist at the end.

"The Great Love Race" establishes that there are other such child rulers in Ethelbert's world, including his cousin Sigismund and the rather verbose Princess Hildegardina. Which perhaps explains why Ethelbert's subjects put up with him, since it seems it could be worse.

"Books Are Our Friends" is another highlight, showing what happens when Ethelbert catches a glimpse of a comic book belonging to the daughter of his tutor, finding it much more interesting than his studies and, as is his way, becoming obsessed with them, leading to his adventure in trying to get his comics signed by the creator, who happens to hate royalty.

"A Surprise Visit" is a great demonstration of the slapstick nature of the series, with Ethelbert deciding to impress Hildegardina by having one of his subjects translate her long words and feed him some lines through a radio. Needless to say the radio winds up in wrong hands.

"A Routine Investigation" is a strange entry, exploring what happens when they discover a shipment of bootleg merchandise featuring the image of Ethelbert and, to Ethelbert's surprise, designed to mock him. He insists on going along to investigate, with about the results you'd expect.

Other stories feature Ethelbert deciding he wants to meet Santa Claus, replacing all the kids in his kingdom with robot doubles of himself, competing with his cousin for an inheritance (an especially dark twist there) and trying to secure his legacy. None of them are less than amusing, and several are excellent.

As usual for First Second, this is also a gorgeously designed book. Each story is printed on a different pastel-shaded background, the linework is sharp, the colours are bright. Definitely something that a lot of other publishers should look at when deciding how to put a book together.

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