International Ink: Hagar, Nemi, Little Nothings, and Lenore
A regular roundup of international comic-book collections.
Years ago Elvis Costello asked: “What’s so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding?” It's not hard to imagine cartoonist Dik Browne pondering that question, coming up with "nothing," and creating the fun-loving Viking pillager Hagar the Horrible. “[Hagar] is a Viking and God knows he is a barbarian, but he is also a family man, a loving husband, and a devoted father,” writes Browne in his introduction to The Epic Chronicles of Hagar the Horrible: The Dailies 1973-1974 (Titan, $19.95). The gag strip is essentially a domestic middle-American surburban family set in the Dark Ages. After a massively successful launch in America, for some reason, it became stunningly popular in Scandinavia, and Browne was a regular guest at conventions there. The new volume shows us the first two years of the strip, with Hagar taking out the garbage by catapulting it at his enemies, getting a shopping list from his wife before invading Europe, and being snubbed by English castle owners. While I’m in favor of preserving comic strips in formats that libraries will buy, I’m not sure Hagar needed the hardcover treatment, as the gags are pretty lightweight. The strip may have been radical when it launched, and the 200 papers the introduction claims for its early-'70s launch would be a major success today, but I think Hagar will appeal most to preteens now.
French cartoonist Lewis Trondheim keeps a daily journal on the Web and collects the resulting strips in books. His latest collection, Little Nothings 3: Uneasy Happiness (NBM, $14.95), is the best so far. Trondheim draws himself and everyone else as animals, but the effect is more amusing and less distancing than, say, Maus. Much of the book is taken up by his travels—to Italy, Angouleme for France’s comic fest, Portugal, Reunion Island, Fiji…so it's clear the life of a French cartoonist ain't so bad. Beside his travels, Trondheim draws his daily travails, such as his cat bringing a mouse into the house, or how his children became better at skiing than him in just a few days. The book ends with Trondheim and his wife driving home from vacation in Spain. They pass a woman sitting in a lawnchair on the side of the road, and Trondheim says, “Oh? A whore,” to which his wife replies with a smug look, “That’s several of them I’ve seen with their chairs. Thanks for bringing us this way.” Things really are better abroad.
Nemi, by Lise Myhre of Norway, is a popular alternative strip in the free Metro papers, especially in England. Nemi III (Titan, $14.95) is a large selection of the strip that focuses on a 20-something, unemployed, hard-drinking, chain-smoking goth woman—so, clearly, it's aimed at the demographic of the Washington City Paper’s readership. If you don't even need the visual of two young women dress-shopping to grin at lines like “Wow! That one says ‘I can’t breathe because my dress is too tight. Get it off and take me hard against the Fridge!',” you should try out this collection. I’m twice as old its characters, but I still enjoyed it.
Roman Dirge’s Lenore: Noogies (Titan, $17.95) didn’t quite appeal to me, probably because Dirge is only from Los Angeles. Lenore, named for the Poe poem, follows a young dead girl (technically a zombie, I suppose). Dirge began the comic in the 1990s during the second black-and-white minicomic boom. This volume reprints the first four comic books, digitally reworked and colored due to lost originals. Reading it, one can tell Dirge is still feeling his way into doing a regular comic book. Lenore eventually became extremely popular, and fans of Tim Burton or Edward Gorey may want to try it out.