Written by Lemony Snicket, J. Otto Seibold, Vivian Walsh, Tony Millionaire, Neil Gaiman, William Joyce, Basil Wolverton, Joost Swarte, Carlos Nine, Kaz, Barbara McClintock, Patrick McDonnell and R. Sikoryak
Illustrated by Martin Handford, Richard Sala, J. Otto Seibold, Vivian Walsh, Tony Millionaire, Gahan Wilson, William Joyce, Basil Wolverton, Joost Swarte, Carlos Nine, Kaz, Barbara McClintock, Patrick McDonnell and R. Sikoryak
Cover by Art Spiegelman; Edited by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly
Published by RAW Junior/Harper Collins
This and last week’s reviews aren’t exactly responses to Chris’ call for papers, but his article did get me thinking about some older comics that I loved. So while I get caught up on some current reading, here’s another edited version of a review I originally did for Comic World News.
My almost-two-year-old son made it very difficult for me to finish reading “It Was a Dark and Silly Night…” He kept pulling it out of my hands so that he could look at the endpapers by Where’s Waldo creator Martin Handford. The fact that this irritated me a little because I was enjoying the book is a testament, I think. Although 34 years apart in age, we both were able to enjoy the same book…even if on slightly different levels.
“It Was a Dark and Silly Night…” is the brainchild of Art Spiegelman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Maus, and his wife Françoise Mouly, the art editor of The New Yorker magazine. It’s the third in their best-selling Little Lit series of anthologies that are supposedly for youngsters, but are really — if this volume is typical — for anyone who enjoys a good story.
The premise is that Spiegelman and Mouly asked well-known novelists like Lemony Snicket and Neil Gaiman, cartoonists like Tony Millionaire and Patrick McDonnell, and children’s book artists like J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh to tell a story beginning with the words, well… you know. The result is a whimsical, entertaining anthology of stories (and games) by an A-list group of the most creative people on the planet.
Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events) teamed up with Richard Sala (Evil Eye, Delphine) to tell a wonderful story about a girl who sees a Yeti through her window. Though her parents tell her that Yetis don’t exist, she insists that she’d “prefer to find out for herself.” And she does.
J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh (Olive, the Other Reindeer) present a tale about two penguins who find a couple of bags of gold and decide to celebrate with a road trip from Antarctica to California. A very silly bet is involved. Also a fox.
Tony Millionaire, creator of the award-winning Sock Monkey, gives us a game in which the panels of his wordless, one-page story are mixed up and we have to re-order them so that they make sense. It’s the sort of thing you’d find in Highlights for Kids, but don’t knock that magazine. You know you liked it.
Rolie Polie Olie creator William Joyce offers a yarn reminiscent of comic strips like Tin Tin and Little Nemo’s Adventures in Slumberland. In The Adventures of Art Aimesworth: Crime Fighting Boy Buckaroo, Art is a whiz kid who, along with his little sister Ethel and best pal Spaulding Littlefeet, manages to harness the Silly atom and use the power to defeat an army of marauding florists. Holland is saved, or at least all of its tulips are, and Fendund Klookalookadook III, King of all Holland, provides a suitable reward.
Neil Gaiman is best known for spooky stuff like The Sandman and American Gods, but he’s also built himself a nice little reputation as a children’s author with books like The Day I Swapped My Dad for 2 Goldfish, The Wolves in the Walls and Coraline. Gahan Wilson is also known for rather adult work since his cartoons have been regular features in magazines like Playboy and The New Yorker. However, he’s also a prolific author of children’s books. It only seems natural that the two of them would team up to create a story about some kids who want to throw a really cool party, but can’t find a locale thanks to their uptight parents who are afraid of a little Jell-O tag. Then one of the kids spies a graveyard. The party’s on, but some unexpected party crashers make things even more interesting.
According to his bio in the book, the legendary cartoonist Basil Wolverton died in 1978. That makes it a little confusing as to how Spiegelman and Mouly approached him with their “Dark and Silly Night” idea — unless this thing has been in the works for a loooong time. But his story is so entertaining that I can’t help but disregard that nagging feeling that maybe somebody cheated a little with the stated “rules” of the anthology. Wolverton had a gift for rhyme. From the moment his hero Jumpin’ Jupiter headed for the void and asked his old boid Floyd to take care of their planetoid, you know you’re in good hands. Jumpin’ Jupiter has to save the weepy people of Dweep from the depressing laws of their gloomy High Oof.
Next up is a truly surreal tale by Dutch cartoonist Joost Swarte. Surreal can be silly — and this is — but this one had such a European flavor to it that it didn’t meld especially well with the rest of the anthology. It features a boy who literally loses his head and has to have it sewn back on after he tries to retrieve his grandmother’s keys. Along the way, a guy tries to rescue another guy from drowning by jumping after him into the ocean. Both get in trouble until a passing ship rescues them from the cold water and promises them it’ll be warmer when they get to Barbados. Seriously.
Carlos Nine is an Argentinean illustrator and comic book creator who gives us a story within a story. While serving tea to her rabbit friend, a fox tries to lull him to sleep with a story about a mouse and the elephant that loves her and nearly kills her with his tears.
Children’s book illustrator Barbara McClintock provides another Highlight-esque game. It’s one of those where there are two similar pictures and you have to find the differences. The pictures are of bears frolicking on a dark and silly night. I found eleven out of the twelve differences. Good game.
Patrick McDonnell, creator of the very popular Mutts comic strip, tells the story of a dark and silly night in which the moon refused to rise because it was afraid of the dark.
Lastly, cartoonist R. Sikoryak gives us a fun Mad-Libs type story in which we’re encouraged to personalize the narrative with our own nouns, adjectives, verbs and a proper name or two. It was the only game I didn’t take the time to play because it involves getting another piece of paper so as not to ruin your book. But Mad-Libs are fun and the cartoon that goes along with it is neat. The story you help make up is being told simultaneously by an elderly ghost to his ghostly grandchild and by an alien mother to her alien child.
And lest we forget, there are the Martin Handford endpapers inside the front and back covers that my son was so fascinated by. Unfortunately, they’re larger than my scanner and I didn’t want to just show details, so you’ll have to take my word that they’re busy pieces of art depicting the same crowded street scene at two different times of day. The front endpaper depicts a dark and silly night, while the back one shows us a bright and silly morning. Waldo is there (sort of) for you to find amongst the crowd, but so are characters from all the other stories and games in the book. Or, if you’re like my son, you can just point at the cool monsters and make roaring sounds. Either way, you’re in for a lot of fun.
And that goes for the rest of the book as well.