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Lewis Trondheim Discusses “The End of Dungeon”

by  in Comic News Comment
Lewis Trondheim Discusses “The End of Dungeon”

Lewis Trondheim is one of the most prolific cartoonists in the world today, having written and drawn dozens of books at an enviable rate. His work in English is only a fraction of his total output, and yet it includes an impressive range of books for adults and children, in numerous formats, styles and approaches, including the science fiction comedy “Astronauts of the Future,” the autobiographical work “Approximate Continuum Comics” and “Little Nothings,” and historical dramas like “Bourbon Island 1730.” He is a co-founder of L’Association, and for many years he has been the editorial director of Shampooing, an imprint he founded at Delcourt which publishes comics for children.

“Dungeon” — or “Donjon” — is a series co-created by Trondheim and Joann Sfar in 1998. The comedic fantasy has been quite a successful one, leading to various spinoffs and a total of 36 published albums. This week, NBM releases “Dungeon Twilight: Vol. 4, The End of Dungeon,” a collection of two French albums which bring the series to its close. Trondheim was kind enough to speak with CBR News.

Thank you to Terry Nantier of NBM for assisting with the interview and providing the translations.

CBR News: How do you describe the “Dungeon” series to people when they ask?

Lewis Trondheim: C’est une serie de fantasy de 36 albums. On suit, à travers divers personnages et diverses epoques, la naissance, la gloire et la fin d’un donjon. Certains albums sont comiques, d’autres tragiques, comme dans la vie.

It’s a fantasy series in 36 volumes. You follow, through various characters and eras, the birth, glory years and the end of “Dungeon.” Some of the volumes are humorous, others tragic, as in life.

What was the origin of “Dungeon?”

En fait, Joann et moi travaillions dans le même atelier d’auteurs à Paris. Quand j’ai demenage, Joann m’a envoye 2 ou 3 projets de collaboration par an, que je refusais. Jusqu’à ce qu’il me propose le debut de Donjon. Ce quiproquo d’un cretin qui se fait passer pour un barbare m’a seduit.

Actually, Joann and I worked in the same artist studio in Paris. When I moved, Joann sent me two or three projects for collaboration a year, which I refused. Until he proposed the beginning of “Dungeon.” That misidentification of a moron who passes himself off as a barbarian was attractive.

Is fantasy a genre you really enjoy?

Si c’est bien fait, oui. Par exemple, je n’aime pas les films du Seigneur des anneaux parce que dedans, il n’y a que 2 blagues, et à chaque fois, c’est avec le nain qui une fois ne voit pas ce qui se passe et une autre fois veut qu’on le lance. Les personnages manquent de complexite, d’asperites, d’humour…

If it’s well done, yes. For example, I don’t like the “Lord of the Rings” movies because they only have two jokes, and each time it’s the dwarf who either doesn’t see what’s going on or wants to be thrown. The characters lack complexity, edge and humor.

I was curious if you like the genre, or if there was work you were thinking of — either as a model for what you wanted to do or wanted to mock?

Avec Joann, nous voulions creer un monde credible. Et toujours surprendre. Donc parfois, on va être proche de la parodie, et d’autres fois extrêmement sombres et desesperants.

With Joann, we wanted to create a credible world. And to always surprise. So sometimes, we’ll be close to parody and other times very dark and despairing.

Why did you decide to stop drawing “Dungeon Zenith?”

J’en avais dessine 4, Joann 3. Et Joann a decide d’arrêter de dessiner, alors moi aussi.

I drew four, Joann three. And Joann decided to stop drawing, so I did too.

You’ve been working on the series on and off for many years. What has kept your interest about the series after all these years and keeps you coming back?

En realite, il ne s’est rien passe autour de Donjon durant 5 ans. Joann a commence à travailler dans l’audiovisuel et nous ne trouvions plus le temps pour travailler ensemble. Alors j’ai fini par lui demander de prendre au moins 3 jours pour que nous ecrivions ensemble la fin de la meta-histoire.

Fact is, nothing happened on “Dungeon” for five years. Joann started working in audiovisual media and we couldn’t find the time to work together. So I ended up asking him to take at least three days off so we could write together the end of this meta-story.

How do you work? Do you script out your stories or do you begin by drawing?

Nous partions en vacances en famille avec Joann. Comme Joann et moi n’aimons pas les vacances, nous laissions lâchement nos femmes et nos enfants ensemble, on se mettait à une table et on ecrivait 2 albums en parallèle. Dès que l’un de nous avait mis le personnage dans une situation impossible, on refilait les pages à l’autre pour qu’il trouve une solution. C’etait presque une sorte de jeu pour se faire rire ou pour se lancer des defis.

We’d go on family vacation with Joann. As Joann and I don’t like vacation, we’d cravenly leave our wives and children together, we’d sit at a table and write two books simultaneously. As soon as one of us had put the character in an impossible situation, we’d pass it along to the other to find a solution. It was almost a game, for laughs, or to challenge each other.

What is it that you enjoy about collaboration? You’re a very talented cartoonist but you collaborate with many different writers and artists.

J’aime les collaborations par qu’il en ressort toujours quelque chose d’inattendu, que je n’aurais pas trouve seul. Je m’enrichis du talent des autres.

I like collaborations because unexpected things come out of them which I wouldn’t have found by myself. I enrich myself from the talent of others.

At what point did you decide to expand the series with “The Early Years” and “Twilight” — not to mention “Parade” and “Monstres”?

AU debut, je dessinais seul Donjon. Il n’etait pas question d’autres series. Puis Joann s’est senti frustre et il m’a propose de dessiner les personnages dans le futur. Et pour me moquer de lui, je lui ai repondu qu’il faudrait aussi faire une serie dans le passe. Et voilà… Aucun plan premedite. Desole.

In the beginning, I was drawing “Dungeon” alone. There wasn’t any question of other series. Then Joann felt frustrated and proposed drawing the characters in the future. Then, to make fun of him, I answered, we should also do one in the past. So, there — no premeditated plan. Sorry.

The “Zenith” books start at 1, and the other two series at -99 and 101. Do you really plan to produce 300 or so volumes? Did you ever plan to?

Non, c’est surtout pour situer les albums les uns par rapport aux autres sur une forme d’echelle temporelle. 36 albums en 15 ans, c’est dejà pas mal.

No. It’s just to situate the books ones vis a vis the others in a kind of temporal scale. 36 graphic novels in 15 years ain’t bad.

The new book from NBM, “Dungeon Twilight: The End of Dungeon” collects the volumes “Haut Septentrion” and “La Fin du Donjon.” What can Dungeon fans expect from the volume?

Ils auront des reponses à toute la meta-histoire que nous avons monte avec l’entite noire et les objets du destin. Et cela clôt l’aventure Donjon.

They will get answers to the whole meta-story which we constructed with the black entity and the objects of destiny. And that closes the “Dungeon” adventure.

Is this really the last Dungeon volume ever?

Pour l’instant, oui. Je ne vois pas comment Joann pourrait avoir envie d’y revenir. il aime trop avoir de nouveaux jouets.

For now, yes. I don’t see how Joann could want to come back to it. He loves having new toys too much.

I’m a big fan of “Astronauts of the Future” (“Les cosmonautes du futur”). Is there a chance we’ll see you and Manu Larcenet collaborate again?

Je ne pense pas. Même si j’avais une idee pour un autre volume, Manu avait tout de même un peu de mal à n’être que dessinateur sur le projet. Ce que je comprends, etant moi-même très refractaire à l’idee de devoir juste dessiner un album d’après le scenario d’un autre.

I don’t think so. Even if I had an idea for another volume, Manu did have a problem with only being the artist on the project. Which I get, since I myself am rather reticent at the idea of just drawing someone else’s script.

You’re the founder and director of the Shampooing imprint at Delcourt. Could you talk about what you feel is the importance and value of crafting work for younger readers?

Je n’aime pas l’idee de faire des albums specifiquement pour de jeunes lecteurs. J’aime qu’il y ait plusieurs niveaux de lecture et que les adultes puissent aussi y prendre plaisir. Faire des albums pour enfants en les prenant pour des idiots et en faisant une histoire dejà vue ou simpliste m’ecoeure. Enfant, j’aimais lire des histoires dont je ne comprenais pas tout. Et je les relisais encore et encore…

I don’t like the idea of making comics specifically for young readers. I like there to be various levels of reading and that adults can also get some pleasure in it. It’s disheartening doing comics for kids treating them like idiots doing a story already seen or that’s simplistic. As a kid, I liked reading stories I wouldn’t completely understand. And I would read them over and over.

You were obviously a fan of funny animal comics and I’m just curious what it is about them that you loved — and continue to love.

Vous savez, j’ai choisi ce style parce que je suis paresseux et, à la base, incapable de dessiner autre chose. Faire des humains avec des trous de nez, 5 doigts et plein de plis dans les oreilles, c’est trop complique.

You know, I chose this style because I’m lazy, and basically, unable to do anything else. Doing humans with nose holes, five fingers and plenty of creases in the ears, too complicated.

When you started your autobiographical comics, how did you decide what kind of animal you would be?

Je voulais me dessiner en chat, mais physiquement, ça ne me ressemblait pas. J’ai donc opte pour une sorte de cacatoès. Mais je ne dessine pas très bien, donc mes personnages sont à la fois animaliers ET minimalistes. On voit vaguement qu’il y a des oiseaux, des chats, des chiens, mais difficile de dire exactement la race.

I wanted to draw myself as a cat, but physically, it didn’t look like me. So I went for a kind of cockatoo. But I don’t draw well, so my characters are both funny animal and minimalist. You can vaguely see there are birds, cats, dogs, but it’s difficult to tell exactly the race.

You’re a very prolific creator, but a number of your books have not been published in the United States, sadly. Is there one project that you’re especially fond of and that hasn’t come out here in North America?

Je suis un peu desole que Ralph Azham n’ai pas ete publie au delà du tome 1. L’editeur/traducteur, Kim Thompson, etait formidable et il est malheureusement mort d’un cancer juste après la sortie du premier volume. Le 7e sort en novembre en France et termine la première epoque de cette serie.

I’m a bit sorry “Ralph Azham” was not published beyond volume 1. The editor/translator, Kim Thompson, was fantastic and he unfortunately died of cancer right after the publication of the first volume. The seventh is coming out in November which ends the first epoch of the series.

What are you working on now?

Une serie de SF avec 8 co-scenaristes et 8 dessinateurs, pour 8 albums!

An SF series with eight co-writers and eight artists, for eight graphic novels!

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