Lewis Trondheim is an incredibly prolific cartoonist, pumping out volume after volume of his stylishly goofy comics for kids and adults. He’s also one of the few French creators to get a lot of representation in the United States, with publishers putting out such diverse works as the children’s books A.L.I.E.E.E.N. and Tiny Tyrant, the fantasy riff Dungeon (co-created by Joann Sfar, another French cartoonist who gets some love in the States), and even his autobiographical strip Little Nothings.
Publisher First Second has been one of Trondheim’s biggest supporters, and they continue to do so with their latest release of his Kaput & Zösky. It’s another children’s book (which is just as enjoyable for adults as for the target audience), chronicling the adventures of a pair of aliens who romp around the galaxy trying to conquer whatever planets they come across.
Their exploits make for some incredibly entertaining and funny stories, mostly because they don’t have much of a goal in mind other than causing mayhem and blasting things. In fact, they seem bored by power or riches--preferring, instead, the challenge of dominating a new species.
Invariably, they encounter goofy obstacles to their desires--such as a planet that instantly turns control over to them as soon as they arrive or a society of people that insist on playing games like hopscotch and rock, paper, scissors before answering any of Kaput and Zösky’s questions. It makes for riotously fun tales since the pair are constantly frustrated in their quests to spread destruction.
Trondheim does a great job coming up with stories for our heroes, and recognition should also be given to translator Edward Gauvin. It can’t have been easy to find ways to convey the humor across the language barrier--especially in stories that deal with elements like gambling and politics.
Trondheim also gives the aliens nicely differing personalities rather than just making them an identical pair of crazies. Kaput is more of a force of Freud’s concept of the id, wanting nothing more than to blast anybody he lays eyes on, while Zösky is more of a thinker, trying to come up with a plan of action for taking over each new planet. Yet they remain united in their thirst for wanton violence, so it’s always fun to see them pull out the laser guns and blast away.
While Trondheim is a fine artist, he sticks to writing here, with Eric Cartier providing the art--and he does a great job of it, whether in coming up with diverse alien landscapes or detailing the expressions of our anti-heroes.
Short, round Kaput often seems crazed, with a wide-open, toothy expression and big, round eyes. He often gets a confused, glazed-over look when forced to sit and contemplate strategy or deal with people in a non-violent manner. However, when confronted with the prospect of violence, his face breaks out into a huge, anticipatory grin. In fact, there’s one story in which he gets hit on the head and becomes nice and friendly (a staple in children’s stories; how many cartoons have seen characters reverse their personality traits after cranial trauma?), which leads to some classic comedy of reversed expectations.
On the other hand, the tall, skinny Zösky (who also sports what are either long, rabbit-like ears or a really goofy hat) remains a bit more subdued--though probably only in comparison to his companion. He has simple dots for eyes and a much smaller mouth, which gives him the air of a schemer. But while he looks marginally less psychotic than Kaput, he can still break out his blaster and go crazy with the best of them.
The background art is also exquisite, from the cool space-scapes that we see when the would-be conquerors are cruising around the cosmos looking for planets to attack, to the diverse worlds they end up on. There’s some great variation, with some planets seeming like beach paradises, while others feature crowded cities or lush forests.
The aliens populating these spheres also vary nicely--such as circular blob-like beings, one-eyed lumpy things, giant monsters, and little clam-ish creatures. It’s a great array of weirdness, and Cartier has a flair for fitting in plenty of fun details. At one point, Trondheim’s bird avatar from his diary comics acts as K and Z’s taxi driver.
The book also has a series of interstitial gag strips following a character called “The Cosmonaut.” These are written and illustrated by Trondheim himself, and they detail the wordless adventures of a human space explorer who often has misunderstanding-filled encounters with aliens.
Presented in a grid-like array of panels, often 4-by-4 or 4-by-5, the stories usually show something like, say, the cosmonaut being chased by aliens. However, it turns out they’re just racing to get to a sale of some sort of exotic item! The strips are amusing enough, but they seem pretty lightweight compared to the funny dialog and chaotic wackiness of the main stories.
I definitely give this book a high recommendation for the young and the young-at-heart. I even tested the waters by passing it around to my family members, and they all loved it--including my wife, my dad, and my teenage brother. It looks like a keeper, and one that will entertain most everybody. Pick it up, even if you have to conquer a planet to do so.
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