[In this installment of our series of Editors Notes, Kim Thompson interviews himself (in a format he's dubbed "AutoChat") about Approximate Continuum Comics by Lewis Trondheim, now available to pre-order from us and coming soon to a comics shop near you. – Ed.]
Now this is the material that was serialized in The Nimrod, right?
Yes and no. The Nimrod #1, 6, and 7 featured the first three installments (out of six). So if you have all the Nimrods, sorry, you'll be buying half of it all over again. But the translation's been reworked and it's been re-lettered from scratch.
Why re-letter? I thought whoever did the comics did a really nice job.
I agree, but Jeremy Eaton's no longer interested in lettering, which means that the second half would've looked different from the first half. Also, in the intervening years, someone created a fantastic Trondheim font. And re-lettering allowed me to tighten up my translation. Turns out I've gotten better in the intervening years, I look at the Nimrod version and go "I can do better than that."
Is that the Trondheim font you used for his MOME story? That is a good font.
It's such a good font that the Eisner Awards jury nominated that story for "Best Lettering," which amused me.
Call me old school but I feel translations should be hand-lettered.
The problem is, if you hand letter translations you lose the infinite-tweaking capability that font lettering gives you. I tweak my translations endlessly, and if I were to do that with a hand-letterer every book would cost us ten thousand dollars to letter. And of course font lettering is far, far cheaper even setting aside my own undisciplined idiosyncracies. But I also think we've tipped over to the point where in many cases the font lettering actually looks better than the hand lettering, partly because it's in the artist's hand, partly because even the best letterer tends to tense up when trying to copy-fit, particularly when lettering those artists who in the original did their lettering and then drew the balloons around them to fit, like Trondheim and Tardi. The hand-lettered chapters of "It Was the War of the Trenches" in Raw and Drawn and Quarterly were done about as well as you could imagine, and I miss the irregularities of hand lettering that font lettering eliminates, but ultimately I think our font-lettered version is better.
One exception: Céline Merrien, who letters our Mahler translations for MOME and will letter our next Mahler project (not announced yet, you heard it here first), can do utterly flawless impressions of pretty much anybody and make it work so it looks like the original. But she's superhuman (and not cheap). If it wasn't for the flexibility/cheapness issues above, I'd hire her to re-letter every foreign book we do… I mean, except for the ones that were font-lettered to begin with, like King of the Flies and the Mattotti stuff.
So, getting away from the lettering nerd-talk, this is all autobiographical comics from the 1990s, right?
Right. Although as Lewis explains in his endnotes, it almost happened by accident. He was writing and drawing a comic in the U.S. "pamphlet" format which was intended to be a combination of fiction and little autobio vignettes, and the latter completely took over. The vogue for autobio comics didn't hit France nearly as hard as it hit the U.S., but Lewis is one of the few who really got into it — and still is, in his "Little Nothings" series. (Others would be Jean-Christophe Menu, Fabrice Néaud, and Guy Delisle.) What's funny is that Lewis is in person quite shy, but utterly willing to expose himself in his comics. He writes with extreme candor about his shyness!
Any juicy gossip about other cartoonists?
No. Several other cartoonists figure prominently, particularly his studio mates at the time (Émile Bravo, Charles Berbérian), and his L'Association compadres (David B., Jean-Christophe Menu, Killoffer), but no real dirt – unless it comes as a surprise to you that Menu is quite the lush! Mostly just mildly embarrassing anecdotes about things like Émile Bravo's annoying humming habits, and Lewis (who hits himself 100 times harder than he hits anyone else) lets the cartoonists set the record straight in a "Rebuttals" section at the end. Oh, there's a wordless cameo by Moebius, too, watching Lewis nearly throwing up.
Why did you stop publishing Trondheim? Fantagraphics was out front with both The Nimrod and the McConey books, then you just quit.
Because both series tanked! American readers rejected the European album format of McConey, and The Nimrod was caught in the death spiral of alternative comic books. Tom Spurgeon wrote a very nice little essay a few weeks ago about how if a great book like The Nimrod couldn't work that signaled the doom of the "pamphlet" form. On the other hand we'd kind of run out of Trondheim material that worked in that format, all we had left was to run more chapters of Approximate and that sort of seemed to be cheating; I'd started to resent the use of the pamphlets as just being double-dipping pre-graphic-novel content providers, and I'm sort of pleased two thirds of the Nimrod material did not fit that definition. (It does also mean that Trondheim fans who missed the now sold out issues are shit out of luck.)
Anyway, NBM and First Second have been doing a pretty stellar job of cranking out Trondheim stuff. NBM has been putting out three Trondheim books a year for a while, and when you consider their Dungeon books collect two of the French editions, the amount of Trondheim albums available in the U.S. has got to be pushing 40. Which is only about a third of his output, but still.
That said, I would like to get back into the Trondheim business and actually plan to start putting out two of Lewis's books a year.
That would be telling. It would make sense to put out La Mouche as a "pendant" to Approximate Continuum, of course. But wait and see. No matter what, I think he can still write and draw them faster than Terry Nantier and I combined can translate them.
Is Approximate Continuum some of your favorite Trondheim work?
Yes. Why else would I pick that since he's got a zillion other books to choose from? Check.
Because you already had it half translated, it was easier doing a new one from scratch, and you're lazy. Check.
Good point. But back then I picked it because it was some of my favorite Trondheim work too. Checkmate.
Well played, sir! And you're right, it is a great comic.
One of his best, I think.