I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little worried about “Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland” #1. Windsor McCay’s “Little Nemo in Slumberland” broadsheets were real works of genius, inventive works of art nouveau transformed into comics. So did we really need a modern version of the comic? But then I saw the creative team — Eric Shanower and Gabriel Rodriguez — and I was intrigued enough to want to buy the comic rather than avoid it. As it turned out, that was the right decision.
Shanower sets “Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland” some time after the original “Little Nemo” comics; the Princess of Slumberland wants a new playmate, but none since Nemo have been a worthy companion. When one of the new possible friends for the Princess is named James Nemo Summerton, though, the Princess chooses him… and so our adventure begins for Jimmy.
Shanower gives us a slightly resistant main character in the form of Jimmy, and that’s a good thing. It would have been far too easy to have the new protagonist just gleefully skip into Slumberland and start his adventures with the Princess, after all. And from his annoyance at everyone calling him by his middle name Nemo, to discovering that he’s going to have to play with a girl, Jimmy is definitely pushing back hard at first. Shanower shows his skill at writing younger characters here, though; with each new trip into Slumberland, we get to see Jimmy’s defenses slowly wear down, until near the end he’s getting genuinely frustrated that he still hasn’t managed to cross the main gates (which would mean that he wouldn’t have to keep going through the problematic journey on his next visit). In spite of himself, Jimmy’s wanting to see what happens next. That’s exactly how the character should grow; I suspect that before long the idea of playing with a girl will no longer be an issue, either.
More importantly, though, is how well Shanower and Rodriguez channel the visual flights of fancy in “Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland” #1. McCay’s creation was visually full of amazing and beautiful sights, and the duo make sure we get there here as well. At first they start small, with moments like Jimmy’s bed suddenly extending off into infinity being the first sign that he’s no longer in the waking world. With each new trip, though, things get more fantastic. I love how when the bed turns into a sled, Rodriguez tilts the bottom of the panel so that the bed is literally sliding across the page. You get a great sense of motion even before it starts jumping over ramps and zooming through loop-de-loops, and as it careens back and forth you are almost hanging onto the comic as tightly as Jimmy hangs onto the bed. From there every new journey has something visually appealing; something as simple as Jimmy inflating and flying up into the air looks great, thanks in part to how sweet Rodriguez manages to draw it. This could have looked eerie or dangerous, but it’s that essence of fun that comes across in the art that makes sure that “Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland” #1 has just the right emotion.
Rodriguez is good at the little details, too. The city of Slumberland is amazing, with gorgeous fine lines drawing every little detail in an amazing two-page spread, for example. Just as much care is taken to create the locks of Jimmy’s hair, the bites taken out of a stone bridge, or the pattern on a quilt. It’s no wonder this book is shipping every other month; the amount of time needed to draw something this great is understandable.
“Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland” #1 is a bona fide hit, and I love the idea of new readers discovering the joys and wonders in this comic that is as much homage as it is striking out with new stories and characters. Will I be back for a second issue? You betcha. McCay would be proud of what Shanower and Rodriguez have done here.