McCann's & Lee's "The Return of the Dapper Men"

Make way for the Dapper Men. At the Diamond Retailer Summit today, Archaia announced a new original graphic novel from "Avengers: The Reunion" writer Jim McCann and newcomer artist Janet Lee called "The Return of the Dapper Men."

Described as a fairy tale by McCann, "The Return of the Dapper Men" takes place in a land called Anorev, a world between time, where only children live and have played so long that it has almost become work. "It's my version of a fairy tale," McCann told CBR News. "It is completely drawn upon both Janet's art and everybody that influenced me growing up and that I still read today. 'Where the Wild Things Are' turning into a movie right now has me looking back at my own childhood and wondering what fairy tales there are today. It's what I would tell as a fairy tale. It's a world of ambiguity. That's one of the really important things that Janet and I have talked about. It's a world where kids and machines co-exist, but you never know and it's not really addressed as to which came first. Did the kids come from robots or did the adults go away? What's going on? Some of those questions are answered and some are left up to the reader."

Although this is not McCann's first outing into the world of comic writing, this will be his first original graphic novel not based in the world of capes. "It's a new experience for me to peel back and write from a completely different place," said McCann. "It's a different prose style for me. It's coming from a very dreamlike place and it's where I get to escape to when the world of superheroes or rent just starts getting too overwhelming."

McCann's fairy tale is based on the artwork of old friend and gallery artist Janet Lee, a newcomer to the graphic novel community. Friends and neighbors in Nashville, Lee and McCann originally moved to the same neighborhood to try to get on the show "Trading Spaces" together. "Jim and I have known each other for a really long time," said Lee. "He's been a friend forever and it's been encouraging. I've done a lot of gallery artwork for several years now and this past time around late last year, he came up and ended up looking at several of my pieces and had a great idea for a graphic novel based on them. I was with it from the very beginning. It was inspired by some of the artwork I've already done, but Jim has really taken it to a new level."

Lee's most recent project, an Alice in Wonderland version of the alphabet, is currently being shopped to publishers, but this will be her first foray into comics. "This is my first time doing sequentials, although I've been a huge fan for years," Lee said. "I think in some ways, it's really good because no one really told me there was a way you had to do it and Archaia has been really generous about encouraging me to keep with my own style - I do a lot of collage work - they're completely open to incorporating my style into the look of the book. It's a little challenging because I tend to think of everything as individual units or individual pieces, but it makes sense for me. I tend to do things in sequence for gallery shows, I tend to do things that reference each other and this is an extension of that."

According to McCann, the graphic novel will feature panels that are actually full pieces of art created by Lee shrunk down to fit the page. "Janet being a visual artist and coming from a gallery background, I'm really excited to see how this book is coming together," he says. "If there are multiple panels on a page, every panel is its own painting. She's not working on a traditional art board. She's doing a painting for every single panel on every page. It will hopefully be a very unique look to this book. That's why I'm approaching the writing style in a different way as well."

For McCann, the concept came organically after viewing three specific works by Lee. In October 2008, McCann took a trip to visit Lee and saw a piece that piqued his imagination. "I saw this one huge painting in her house that she had just finished. It hadn't shown anywhere and it was titled 'Raining Men.' It was very Victorian looking with these men in bowler hats and pinstripe suits and they looked all very similar. There was something that stuck with me."

Later on, during Christmas of that same year, McCann visited Lee again, viewing two more pieces that helped him develop the world of "Dapper Men." "Janet was working on Christmas ornaments and bookmarks and 'Raining Men.' There was a Christmas ornament and a small print she had done. They were completely different. One was a steampunk kid profile shot - there was something that grabbed me about him. Then there was a really cool paper doll with hinges style that she does - she was a robot girl. For some reason in my imagination, all three of these characters occupied the same world."

With the spark of Lee's pieces, McCann wrote a paragraph that would eventually become the basis for "The Return of the Dapper Men." The characters of The Dapper Men based on "Raining Men"; the character of Ayden, the only boy to still ask questions, on the steampunk profile shot; and Zoe, the robot girl, on the paper doll.

Although McCann's imagination is what sparked the story, Lee is the one that brings it to life with her artwork, but with "The Return of the Dapper Men" encompassing so many genres and styles, how is Lee going to handle it? "It's funny, it all is a natural fit in an odd way," Lee said. "Steampunk tends to be fairly anachronistic, it's steeped in that historical style. I was already doing a lot of that in my artwork. Jim is so great at describing it and since it's based on a lot of things I was already going, it just makes sense when he communicates an idea. A lot of my work has always been very narrative. I always build stories into what I was doing for gallery shows, so it's really just an extension of that."

Jim McCann noted that he is very excited to be working with Archaia. "I've had a great respect for Archaia for years," said McCann. "David Petersen was one of the first creators I met who was working outside of Marvel when I went to my first Wizard World in Chicago five years ago. It's been incredible to watch his creation - 'Mouse Guard' - take off and be so loved and his successes with it are well-deserved.  He has been such a great influence and sounding board through this process as well as a friend in all of this, I have to thank him.  And the Archaia gang is amazing- Stephen Christy I have known since he was at Marvel, Mel Caylo was one of the first industry people I met back in his Wizard days, and Mark Smylie's dedication to Archaia over the years has been something I have witnessed with a lot of admiration.  So I really would like to thank all of those guys and say that it's wonderful to be working next to them!  They are all honorary 'Dapper Men.'"

While Lee's biggest challenge currently is fitting all her work onto a scanner large enough to accommodate it ("I tend to work fairly large and I have to bring it down to a size that fits my scanner. I got a fairly big one, but it's not big enough sometimes."), she is very excited about the prospect of the graphic novel. "I've been wanting to do a graphic novel forever and now I finally get to do one," she says. "Also, the story that Jim and I have been talking about for months now is actually going to be out there, it's all going to be done, and I'm going to be able to look back and see it. That thrills me to no end."

But how does McCann feel about straying from the comfort of the Marvel U into uncharted territory? "It's terrifying.," he said. "It's terrifying in that it's liberating. I don't have to worry about character continuity, but at the same time, those are characters that have 60 years of history, so you can look at seminal runs in their history. This history starts with Janet and me for this piece. We're building an entire world. I haven't had a chance to skydive and I would love to, but I think so far this is the closest to what that feels like. I really hope the parachute opens."

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