If you’ve never seen an original newspaper broadsheet comic, “Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream” might take you by surprise. Measuring at 16×21″, Locust Moon Press’ tribute anthology to Winsor McCay’s signature creation is massive — we’re talking large enough that most bookshelves can’t even fit it on its side. In the end, though, that’s a good thing; the virtual who’s-who-in-comics list of creators have risen to the occasion here, with a Kickstarter-funded massive book that is genuinely worth the price of admission.
With 125 artists alone, it’s near impossible to talk about every contribution to this book. And honestly, that’s not the way it should be read. Open it to a random spot and read a few pages, then put it down. Maybe start from front to back, or back to front, but set yourself a limit on how many you’ll read in a row. Part of what makes the best pieces in “Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream” work is when they’ve channeled McCay’s inventive page layouts, ones that take full advantage of the massive size to spread their proverbial wings.
Take, for example, Peter and Maria Hoey’s contribution. They use a large circular ring of panels in the center to mimic the front-loader washing machine that Nemo’s encountered to set off this particular flight of fancy. Told in a more traditional manner, this probably wouldn’t have registered on the same level. But here, with the ring over a foot in diameter, it dominates the page in a way that’s hard to ignore. Add in some adorable, smooth lines from the Hoeys (and a perfect center panel within the ring of Nemo banging on the front of washer door, with little bubbles trickling out of his mouth) and it’s an early attention-grabber in the book. Marco Rudy page also works well in this regard, funneling the art down to a single point at the bottom; the way all of the images bleed into one another would look good in any format, but in this massive size it becomes that much more powerful, both at its largest and smallest points. Nate Powell’s page is another good example, with the buffeting waves of the ocean knocking down the panels with each strike; it brings to mind a real sense of motion as well as the water’s strength.
At the same time, you don’t necessarily need crazy layouts in order to grab attention. Kate Moody’s page is memorable because of how well she channels McCay by using never-ending, curving bannisters for the characters to ride down. With a slow shift of character appearance built into the story, it’s dreamlike and wondrous — that perfect combination. Moritat’s Chinese dragon is gorgeous, and watching it wind through the panels while other Chinese folklore creatures appear all around is something that you won’t easily shake. Nik Poliwko’s slow shift to being inside a ship in a bottle is also marvelously handled, with the fuzzy, spectral eyes hovering overhead almost unnoticed as you get to marvel in the little details within the ship itself. Yuko Shimizu brings here the same sensibility that fans of her “The Unwritten” covers have appreciated; it’s a large single image, but it’s inventive and entrancing, with Shimizu using multiple Nemos within the illustration to still tell a story.
“Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream” also will introduce you to some artists whose work you might not have experienced before. Maelle Doliveuz’s contribution, for example, is created entirely out of cut out pieces of construction paper. It’s an inventive, breathtaking page that was clearly photographed so that Doliveuz could even shift into three dimensions for extra texture and clarity. Likewise, Jenna Trost’s sculptures are eye catching, something that elevates the story and makes it that much more memorable as her figures tumble through the air.
Some artists bring key elements of their own work into “Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream.” David Petersen of “Mouse Guard” fame involves mice and a goose, for example. Paul Pope has a character wearing very modern and distinctive clothes, something that he’s always been great about paying attention to in his art. P. Craig Russell’s includes a nod to another creator whose work he’s been adapting over the years, even as it still contains the appropriate tone for this title (and drawing in his own intricate, detailed manner). Peter Bagge brings the cast of “Hate” into Slumberland, with Buddy, Stinky and Lisa going through circus funhouse permutations. Michael Allred’s “Madman” characters cross over here too, as does David Mack’s “Kabuki” cast. And of course, Jill Thompson just had to revive the Scary Godmother for a “Little Nemo” story, and it’s a pleasure to see these characters in their painted glory one more time.
There’s also the occasional misfire along these lines, though; while I appreciate everyone bringing their own sense of style to their contributions, a few creators went for a darker take on the character. It doesn’t quite mesh, never feeling quite right for “Little Nemo.” One notable exception, though, is Bill Sienkiewicz’s four page story. It’s long and it’s dark, but at the same time there’s a moment of lightness at the end that suddenly shifts everything back into perspective and locks in the right final emotional beat.
The final contributions to the book, by Jim Rugg, J.H. Williams III, Cliff Chiang and John Cassaday are a great way to close down the anthology. Rugg’s plunge off the page is wonderfully inventive, a great way to startle the reader as they might be growing a little tired. Williams, Chiang and Cassaday go a step further, with each providing their own winding-down/moving-forward narratives. They’re all charming ways to great the dawn, not only for Nemo but also his creator. Add in one final breathtaking image from Charles Vess as an epilogue (to remind us of the wonder available) and we end up with the perfect final moment. “Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream” is a pricy book, but it’s a huge accomplishment to get so many strong contributions in one place, and in such an awe-inspiring format. (It also deliberately matches the size and format of the two “Little Nemo” compilations from Sunday Press Books; why not get those mammoth 16×21″ books as well and make your bookshelves hate you forever?) Kudos to all involved in this book; it’s a worthy homage to McCay and Little Nemo himself.