Harum Scarum

Writer / Artist
Harum Scarum
Harum Scarum review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Fantagraphics Books - 1-56097-288-2
  • Release date: 1996
  • English language release date: 1997
  • UPC: 9781560972884
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no
  • CATEGORIES: Adventure, European, Humour

While most of Lewis Trondheim’s work has eventually trickled through into English, McConey, Lapinot in French, remains woefully unavailable. It’s stunning material throughout, a whimsical series that weaves magic from absurdity, with Trondheim employing his cast in the manner of a theatrical company that he throws into whatever situation or period he fancies.

In this case it’s the Paris of the 1930s. McConey’s neighbour is a journalist who accompanies him to visit a research scientist. On hearing the sounds of struggle they summon a policeman, and within they can find no trace of the scientist, but there is a monster that attacks them. This starting point is bizarre enough, but from there the mismatched trio are captured by terrorists, and then a foreign despot, while all the while attempting to avoid the policeman’s sinister superior. As the wonder of the story is how Trondheim adroitly removes his cast from the dilemmas he’s set them, and the superb character interaction, it’s hardly a spoiler to note that matters escalate until numerous monsters are running around Paris.

It constantly appears as if Trondheim is plotting on the fly, that matters are going to escape his control, but that never occurs. Every facet, no matter how ridiculous it may seem when introduced, is played out to comic effect. At one point confusion is sown over the possibility of time travel, and McConey convinces that his friend’s hat is disguised in plain sight, and is actually a teleportation device. This is material for a daft sequence when introduced, but returns later in another context.

Trondheim’s cartooning is brilliant, yet he arrived at his style through teaching himself to draw and deliberately picked simple representations as more easily depicted. That each character is a different cartoon animal creates an inconsistent world, but was chosen to avoid problems of differentiating between them. For all that he’s a naturally expressive cartoonist who can characterise his cast without words.

Translator and editor Kim Thompson was an early and enthusiastic Trondheim fan, but this and the next volume Fantagraphics issued, The Hoodoodad, sold so poorly that none followed. Those conversant with any major European language are advised to investigate further in French, or German, or Spanish…