Hey there everyone. Been a while. Read any good comics lately?
As some of you may know, in our real lives we here at I&N are educators (“What’s that?!” you ask, “A comic critiquing website doesn’t pay the bills?!” I know. I’m as surprised as you.) Well this new school year has hit this particular educator like a ton of bricks. (Seriously, if you know any teachers, give them a hug. Or maybe a flask.)
The sad result? You haven’t heard much from me lately. (How do you go on?) But there were two recent titles that I couldn’t let go by without comment and still consider myself a comics scholar, aesthete and general know-it-all. To wit:
Demon #1 (self-published): Award-winning cartoonist Jason Shiga’s (Empire State, Meanwhile) latest features a determined young man with a never-say-die attitude…towards dying. Without giving too much away, the story reads like a gleefully demented version of Groundhog’s Day. Shiga delivers his devilishly black humor with impeccable comic pacing. Originally presented as a daily, serialized webcomic, the story benefits from the more traditional comic book format, as it displays Shiga’s mastery of the page turn for comedic effect. The simplicity of the setting (most of the story takes place in the same room) lends a certain claustrophobia, as events slowly grow ever more surreal. The art, while pleasingly cartoony, has a schematic quality in both style and layout, that brings to mind the ironically understated work of Jason or Chris Ware. This matter-of-fact presentation, given the bleak subject matter, only heightens the awful, laugh-out-loud moments. And of those, there are quite a few. Because, while suicide may not be painless, in Shiga’s manic, twisted hands, it is hilarious.
Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland #1 (IDW): Winsor McCay is one of the greatest artists (not just cartoonists) of the 20th century. His work has inspired everyone from Walt Disney to Maurice Sendak. His seminal achievement is arguably Little Nemo in Slumberland. In newspapers across the country, McCay presented a weekly art nouveau tableau of fantasy, in which Nemo’s dream world came breathtakingly to life. Never had such a wild imagination been rendered with such precise, consummate draftsmanship. At the very dawn of comics McCay set a bar for the medium that has never been surpassed. Eric Shanower and Gabriel Rodriguez attempting to revisit this masterwork is then, the most quietly audacious move of the year.
Of the two, Mr. Rodriguez has by far the more difficult task. How does an artist, even one as talented as Rodriguez, interpret the work of the most gifted fabulist ever to hold a pencil, without seeming slavish or paling by comparison? Happily, he seems up to the challenge. While obviously owing much to McCay’s work, Rodriguez introduces a more modern cinematic flair to the proceedings (McCay, for instance, nearly always kept his main characters in mid-range shots, almost never employing close-ups) that may have been influenced by the gorgeous, but structurally flawed, animated movie adaptation of 1989. While nothing can ever quite compare to the original, the artwork here is playful, precise, and candy-colored (hues skillfully provided by Nelson Daniel. McCay, of course, colored the originals.) In other words, it is everything Little Nemo should be. Well, almost. If there is a quibble, it’s that, other than a couple of pages (8 and 9) he doesn’t attempt the kind of innovative panel designs that were so integral to the original. Ah well, room to stretch in future issues.
As for Mr. Shanower’s part, he does a fine job of providing just enough of McCay’s greatest hits for Rodriguez to exploit, while establishing a rhythm that stays true to the original and simultaneously taking advantage of the comic book format. Not a small feat. His best decision however, may have been to not set this in McCay’s world of 1905, nor to try to update the original character for our time. In a small but wise step, he introduces a new Nemo, establishing a fresh start and allowing himself some latitude with the character’s development. It also may make him more relatable to young readers. Because at the end of the day, that’s the point. Shanower and Rodriguez have created that all-too-rare thing: an excellent comic book for children. And if this book introduces the unparalleled wonder of McCay’s masterpiece to a new generation, then that alone is cause for celebration.
Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland #1
For more about Demon visit www.shigabooks.com
Issues 1 & 2 of Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland are on the shelves now. Grab them while you can!
Yours in Comics,