Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar are two of my favorite cartoonists in the world, in part because of the dizzyingly broad range of subjects they're interested in. Trondheim's work ranges from abstract, conceptual comics to slice-of-life to autobio to children's books to rip-roaring adventure. He automatically becomes one of the best artists in any genre he chooses to work in, and fantasy comics are no exception. He and Sfar didn't just choose to create a lark of a series to affectionately parody fantasy and role-playing tropes in DUNGEON, they wanted to create a genuinely involving story that worked on multiple levels. They wanted the adventure aspects of the story to be simultaneously exciting and silly as they built an entire world, Tolkein-style. As such, they set out a plan to tell the story of the titular dungeon in its glory days (the "Zenith" stories), to tell the story of its origins (the "Early Years" stories) and its downfall ("Twilight")--and planned to write a hundred volumes in each series!
If that plan wasn't ambitious enough, there are also side volumes that tell smaller, funny stories of the main characters ("Parade") and volumes that focus in on particular characters at particular times ("Monstres"). DUNGEON manages to be the rare series that is simultaneously complex and simple to follow, zeroing in on a few characters over time and expanding the cast from there. It's by far my favorite genre-related series of all time, enjoyable on every level. Of course, given the scope of this project (which they may never complete), Sfar & Trondheim have recruited a number of different artists to step in to draw the stories. NBM is reprinting each series two volumes at a time, and DUNGEON MONSTRES 2 is the latest edition. This volume features art by Andreas, known for his Lovecraftian horror stories, and Stephane Blanquet, an artist who specializes in the grotesque.
Both artists are inspired choices. In the first story, "The Great Map", Andreas' horror background is merged with the funny animal character design aa we follow the rabbit warrior Marvin the Red on a quest. The story does get a bit confusing if you haven't read the Twilight stories, so I'd recommend brushing up on those volumes so as to avoid confusion. That said, the
specifics of the quest are less important than Marvin's confusing love life, somehow trying to simultaneously pitch woo to two very different women at the same time. Marvin is one of the best characters in the entire series: a young warrior oblivious to the larger events of the world naively seeking glory. His single-mindedness in the face of total chaos is both exciting and hilarious, as he's both hero and comic relief.
The second story, "The Dark Lord", is drawn by Blanquet. His style is so distinctive that it was impossible to completely subsume within Trondheim's character design. This wound up working out quite nicely, as his monsters were especially gross and the violence especially visceral. This story follows what happened after the downfall of Herbert, the duck hero of Zenith who had become corrupted by power in later years. This story gives us a number of important details as to exactly how Herbert wound up in such a horrible position (he wound up being possessed by a dark entity connected to various objects of power he had collected) and follows him as he cleverly gets out of one near-death experience after another. Following such a haunted character after focusing in on such a naive character like Marvin was an interesting contrast, and I especially like the way that Trondheim & Sfar connected the two stories, telling them from different points of view. Any fan of Trondheim and Sfar should be reading DUNGEON, and any fan of DUNGEON should probably pick up every volume. This volume was an unexpected visual feast that was still entirely within the sensibilities of its writers.