King Of Catastrophe: Tiny Tyrant Vol. 2

Posted by on March 6th, 2010 at 6:54 AM

Rob reviews the second volume of TINY TYRANT, written by Lewis Trondheim and drawn by Fabrice Parme (First Second).

Lewis Trondheim’s TINY TYRANT series is my favorite of his all-ages material.  (I don’t count DUNGEON as all-ages.)  The concept, the plotting of each short story, and the fabulous art of Fabrice Parme.  Of all Trondheim’s collaborators (save Joann Sfar), Parme seems to understand Trondheim’s storytelling style the most clearly.  Trondheim is all about the marriage of gesture and action, especially in his stories aimed at children. 

Parme’s character design performs the service of giving the reader advanced notice of what to expect even before the character utters a word.  For example, the title character (named King Ethelbert), is a bratty kid given unlimited power.  Parme draws him as a stumpy, wide-eyed little creature with eyebrows so busy they float above his head.  His prime minister is pipecleaner-thin, with a permanently deferential smile.  His guards are drawn with barrel chests.  Parme loves positioning his characters at odd angles as a way of encouraging movement within a panel and creating momentum between panels.  He’s the rare cartoonist who’s spent a lot of time in animation but whose line isn’t too slick for the page.

The stories in this volume were previously published in a longer but smaller edition from First Second.  It was decided that the book was perhaps a bit too thick for small hands, and it was republished in two volumes that were closer to classic French album size–and at about the same length.  It speaks well to the book’s concept that I came into the second volume cold, but it took no time at all to figure out what was going on.   The story also breathes a bit better at a larger size, especially given the eye-popping use of color throughout.

Trondheim sets loose his character with unlimited power and finds different ways to frustrate him with plots as full as twists and turns as any of his more complicated DUNGEON stories.  In one story, a visit from Ethelbert’s florid cousin leads to his advisor feeding him lines through a microphone in his ear.  When the advisor gets taken out of the picture, hijinx ensue but Ethelbert still triumphs…until getting a slight comeuppance at the end.  In another story, he and his hated cousin are drawn to the reading of the will of a relative that pits them against each other to get their inheritance.  There’s a twist and then a double-twist ending to this story, drawing on the sheer luck of these children and the resentment they draw from certain adults.

In the funniest story in the book, Ethelbert is alerted to criminals making knock-off products featuring his likeness: dartboards, punching bags and stuff that falls apart on contact.  Rather than be insulted, Ethelbert is delighted and wants more of these toys.  First, he joins a detective and disguises himself as they go around the city, listening to how much people hate him.  Eventually, they find the crooks and rather than get angry, Ethelbert gives them ideas for more products.   

The concept of the brat king and the nation who fears him is a great one.  It’s appealing for kids because it’s wish fulfillment, and it’s funny for adults because it’s a confirmation of their worst nightmares.  The best thing about Ethelbert is that he fully understands how dreadful he is but doesn’t care.  It’s clear that Trondheim likes him this way, because there are no moral lessons to be found in these stories.  Instead, there’s just inspired mayhem, funny pictures and a wonderfully awful protagonist.

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