Following on from my gush about L’Association a couple of posts ago I just finished reading the latest in what will hopefully be a long line of translations of the 'Donjon' (that’s ‘Dungeon’ to monolingual folk like myself) series. Instead of reviewing the latest book I’ll attempt to explain ‘Donjon’.
If creators Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar (anyone who’s been reading my blog for a while will know of my deep love for those two creators) actually carry out their plan for ‘Donjon’ then it’ll be the biggest comic ever written. ‘Dunjon’ is a dungeons and dragons fantasy story. As it happens I’m not that big a fan of the genre, but what Sfar and Trondheim (henceforth known as S&T) have done is to parody it whilst playing it totally straight, a pretty difficult trick to pull off yet seemingly effortless for them, the review on amazon put’s it very nicely, ‘the parody actually reinforces the adventure’, to my mind it refreshes the cliched aspects of the genre (Jeff Smith also managed this with 'Bone', although in an different way, which I suppose proves that there’s no such thing as a bad genre just bad creators). The dialogue is funny, the characters play against type at the right moments (Marvin the dragon is a great character) and the quests are nicely ridiculous. All well and good, except S&T are not just fine genre practitioners, they are also experimental comic formalists (Trondheim’s first comic featured only three panels repeated through out several pages) and this extends to ‘Donjon’. So here’s how they have a bit of fun with ‘Donjon’.
(Coeur de Canard) ‘Duck Heart’ was the first in the ongoing series ‘Zenith’ (featuring Marvin) where we are introduced to the Dungeon it’s keeper and all the strange creatures it holds (if you’re thinking ‘Trapdoor’ then it’s not a bad starting point) ‘Duck Heart’ is in the fairly well known European comic format (like Tintin and Asterix, 48 full colour A4-ish pages). Zenith concerns the Dungeon at it’s peak. After ‘Zenith’ vol. 2 S&T started another ‘Donjon’ series ‘Crepuscule’ showing the end of the Dungeon. A couple of books later to keep a sense of balance we get the ‘Potron-Minet’ which shows, you guessed it, the beginning of the dungeon. The numbering of Zenith starts at ‘1’, ‘Crepuscule’l starts at 101 (there’ll be 99 of them too) and ‘Potron-Minet’ starts at ‘-99’ with one series ending to lead into the next, a little bit of maths should tell you that S&T intend ‘Donjon’ to be at least 297 (if my maths is any good!)volumes. Except I didn’t mention the ‘Monstres’ series which features the adventures of various supporting characters from Dunjon either did I? Well there’s already been a fair few of them. Oh, yes, there’s the ‘Parade’ series featuring funny stories about Marvin and DUCK, there’s been a few of those too. This kind of insane work load requires a degree of dedication that boggles the mind, so it’s no surprise that S&T have roped in help. S&T both write all the ‘Donjon’ stories with Trondheim producing the artwork for the ‘Zenith’ and ‘Parade’ series, Sfar art for ‘Downfall’, the excellent Christophe Blain (with a style quite similar to Sfar’s) provides art for ‘Early Years’ and various artists work on the individual ‘Monstres’ series.
With the sheer volume of work will the ‘Donjon’ story ever be told in it’s entirety? A quick look at the bibliographic section on Trondheim’s website shows far better than I could explain just how incredibly prolific the man is, he seems to be able to turn out a 48 page album every 2 months amongst other things. Sfar manages to match Trondheim in terms of speed and quality so between the 2 of them and their friends anything’s possible. But maybe it’s all a big joke, maybe they don’t care whether they do all the ‘Donjon’ stories or run out of steam part way through. Maybe the epic size and strange numbering system is just another parody of the nature of the genre. Who knows? And who cares. NBM have published three volumes of ‘Dungeon’ (although each book features two of the original volumes so six have actually been translated) and they’re are charming, witty, smart, lovely to look at and great fun to read, I don’t care how many books are eventually published (and translated) I just want to get as many as possible.