Little Lit: It Was A Dark And Silly Night
Edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly
Raw Junior / Little Lit
(Big cover image for a BIG book!)
In recent weeks I’ve reviewed the entire line of Toon Books releases and enjoyed them greatly, but a recent bookshop find means I can go a little bit further back to read and review one of the books that Spiegelman and Mouly produced with the Raw Junior/ Little Lit series of beautiful oversized anthology graphic novels a few years back.
These Little Lit books are things of considerable beauty, 13 inches by 9 inches plus solid hardbacks designed to be an event to read. The very act of sitting down with them and reading is an exaggeration of the familiar pleasure of reading, turning each huge page is an act of literary joy in itself, regardless of the content. I’d actually argue it’s worth the price of admission just for the sheer physicality of the book and the gorgeous Art Spiegelman cover above. And once inside, you’ll notice the top notch production values, the beautiful design work on the endpapers and the double page spread on the contents page. It’s all deliberately been designed to impress, to make this more an objectified literary device than a simple children’s book.
(William Joyce’s Little Nemo-esque tale; The Adventures Of Art Aimesworth. Perfectly scaled up art to fit the page.)
Of course, once past the initial wow factor of the design, the content has a lot to live up to. With contributions from a who’s who of the alt-comics scene the content always had vast potential. The list of writers and artists includes Richard Sala, Lemony Snicket, Tony Millionaire, Neil Gaiman, Gahan Wilson, William Joyce, Basil Wolverton, Joost Swarte, Kaz, Patrick McDonnell, R. Sikoryak and Carlos Nine. Guaranteed to elicit a wow. Even those who may not be known to us comic folk, names such as Martin Handford (Where’s Wally) and Barbara McClintock (three times NYT best illustrated book winner) are stars in the mainstream children’s market. It’s a stellar cast, but does it live up to the billing? Does it even live up to the packaging? Yes and No.
(Richard Sala’s gorgeous technicolour artwork gracing a Lemony Snicket story.)
Each story takes as it’s start point the line “It Was A Dark And Silly Night”. But after that each story flies off into many different directions. The big surprise is that those you expect to most of deliver some of the weakest tales. Neil Gaiman and Gahan Wilson’s party in a graveyard story is just too obvious, too expected, and Joost Swarte’s strip is a disappointment (and I never thought I’d be able to write that about Swarte). Kaz’s work, so ahead of the curve for what seems like decades, suddenly looks like some kind of wacky Nickelodeon cartoon – which is such a shock.
Of course, even though a few disappoint, there are many more that hit the mark; Richard Sala, cruelly overlooked in most great artist lists, comes up with a some incredibly pretty technicolour artwork from Lemony Snicket’s simple enough tale of a Somewhat Intelligent, Largely Laconic Yeti. William Joyce, better known to us parents as the creator of the Rolie Polie Olie and George Shrinks animated series delivers an incredible Little Nemo-esque tale making every possible use of the huge pages with a subtle colour scheme and spiritedly funny story of saving the world from Warrior Florists with Silly Rays. Likewise Patrick McDonnell, creator of the ever wonderful Mutts, fills out the oversized page with a gentle tale of the moon being coaxed out into the darkness by the animals looking to bathe in the moonlight. Simple story, delightful art as you would expect from McDonnell, just a damn sight bigger than usual.
(Patrick McDonnell’s tale of a painfully shy moon and the animals that want him up in the sky from It Was A Dark And Silly Night.)
But even with the ups and downs you would expect from an anthology, the end result is a fantastic book, an event book, something so wonderfully substantial that you cannot help but enjoy it from every angle. Sitting there, reading through the tales with a child, turning each page slowly, savouring the artwork and stories is a pure delight. The entire Little Lit series works along similar lines and I’d suggest that they’d make superb presents for any child. Giving the gift of reading is a wonderful thing. Giving the gift of reading when it looks and feel this good is even better.
Richard Bruton delights in often being silly on dark nights