Lewis Trondheim’s Mister i is the comic book equivalent of silent movie short comedies – rather dark comedies, however. Each narrative is told in a single page of 60 – yes, 60 – rather small panels, slightly larger than one inch square. In each “adventure,” Mister i struggles to obtain food in it’s various forms, through thievery, guile or charm. Sometimes he’s the little guy struggling against “The Man,” other times he’s a bit of pest. Yet each ends in failure, always in death, sometimes gruesome, sometimes tragic, sometimes deservedly so.
It would be unfair to say the book has no writing simply because it has no dialogue. Each episode plays out in the requisite number of panels, and reading the small drawings takes a little getting used to. I found the first few pages a little dense, but once I reached a rhythm, I enjoyed the book immensely. It’s full of dark humor, and sometimes a little gross. It’s not for children, but I would be hard-pressed to define its age appropriateness.
The drawings are out necessity simple, but therein lies the wonder of the work. Trondheim squeezes more emotion out of few simple lines than many other artists do in whole pages of three to four panels. Antagonists are clearly visually defined, as are results of each mis-adventure with a clarity that is impossible to miss. Trondheim’s invention of his own personal shorthand justifies the “doodles in the margin” of which we’ve all been guilty.