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Mister O by Lewis Trondheim

Mister O by Lewis Trondheim (2002). NBM, 2004. 32p., 8.5″ x 11.5″, color hardcover, $13.95.

MIster O–a circle with stick arms and legs, two dots for eyes and a line for a mouth–comes to a crevice. He wants to continue on his way, but he must cross the crevice first. He tries using whatever or whoever is at hand to help. The book Mister O tells this story 30 times, once per page.

Lewis Trondheim, a popular figure in the French comics scene, is well known for his Lapinot series (Fantagraphics translated two volumes a number of years ago), creating the Donjon series with Joann Sfar (in translation from NBM), and being one of the founders of French indie publisher L’Association (no website!). He is perhaps less known as one of the founders of the Oubapo group (Workshop for Potential Comics) where he has participated in a number of comics experiments.

Trondheim’s first book “Psychanalyse” (1990) consisted of a single head (some sort of creature) repeated endlessly in small panels with different word balloons in each panel. He stretched the limit of the single drawing.

In Mister O, Trondheim performs a similar experiment, riffing on a scenario. In sixty small panels he tells a one page story of Mister O trying to cross the crevice. In the first story, for example, Mister O, afraid to try to jump over the crevice, drops a stone into it and hears it hit the bottom. He goes back for another and another. A panel shows us the sun, moon, and a clock. In the following panel, Mister O appears again this time with a white beard. He has finally filled up the crevice with stones; he walks across. Once on the other side he has a heart attack and dies.

You see, Mister O never succeeds. Through a succession of stories with rocks, trees, birds, a rabbit, a bull, various creatures of simple shapes (who all seem to succeed where Mister O fails), chairs, rockets, and even some kind of teleportation device, Mister O tries and fails.

It’s a surprisingly amusing and funny book (well not surprising if you are familiar with Trondheim’s work) that never feels repetitive or boring, regardless of its ever repeating plot. The artwork is extremely simple (Mister O is basically a smiley face with arms and legs) and colored with a mostly dull color scheme (olives, browns, greys, maroons) that fits Mister O’s bleak world.

Trondheim has just put out a kind of companion volume called Mister I about a guy who looks kind of like a pickle (he is a long green oval) and is always trying to satisfy his hunger.

More on Trondheim as time permits.