The Return Of The Dapper Men. Jim McCann (writer). Janet Lee (art). Dave Lanphear (letters). Todd Klein (designer). Archaia Comics. Hardcover.
128 pages, Full Color. $24.95.
I got The Return Of The Dapper Men in late November at a time when my life was exploding in chaos and commitments...but I opened it anyway (how could I resist?). The originality and dreamlike beauty of the pages instantly assaulted me and I turned page after page, reading bits here and there and being stunned into silence by such a visually rich and lyrical book sitting in front of me so unexpectedly.
With regret I put it away, knowing I didn't have time to give it the attention it deserved. Some six weeks later I sat down to read it again, but had thought about it numerous times - while working late, while writing other articles, while traveling across country, and while settling down to dream - something about it had rooted in my mind. Suffice to say that by the time I actually sat down to read it, it had a lot to live up to. I'm happy to report that it easily lived up to the expectations.
One part Alice In Wonderland, one part The Wizard of Oz, and one part Dr. Seuss, and with a little bit of sci-fi thrown in it's a wonderfully crafted story that will captivate children and surprise adults. The story of Ayden and Zoe, a young boy and robot girl, best friends and unique in their strange world for who and how they are as much as because they are friends in a place where children and robots segregate themselves from one another. All the children of Anorev live below ground, running free and wild and only using books as things to stand on to reach high shelves, and all robots live above ground working tirelessly but without purpose. In their world that has lost time and with it all history and sense and dreaming, Ayden and Zoe are wrapped up in destiny whether they realize it or not, and help bring about the return of the Dapper Men (all 314 of them):
The Dapper Men can put Ayden and Zoe's world of Anorev back on the path of learning about time, and books, sleeping, and dreaming. And Dapper Man #41 instantly begins to do just that (well, after hunting down a nice warm cup of tea of course).
McCann's tale is like the best of fairytales - inventive and unrestrained in its creativity. Things aren't always quite explained or quite make sense in the same way that any fantasy world takes a bit for granted its own rules. But it all works and McCann manages to create a story that both entertains children (and adults) and that has lovely messages about the need to dream and also the need for purpose. The messages are layered throughout, but are never heavy handed or groan inducing.
As wonderfully inventive and rewarding as McCann's story however, it's obvious that Janet Lee's fascinating visuals are the star here. Completely unique and endlessly surprising, Lee's technique of layering her work in a subtle multimedia combination creates lush and textured landscapes in which her characters and colors pop from the page powerfully. Her work looks both modern in her character design and inventive storytelling but also almost old fashioned with hand drawn panels, hand coloring, uneven hand drawn borders, and her use of literal textures and layers to create great depth. This is not your usual high gloss over-produced comic pages - this looks more like fine art modified slightly and made into comics. It's quite wonderful.
It's also an absolutely perfect fit for McCann's story. In fact, while McCann's story could certainly have been excellent in the hands of another artist, this feels like one of those collaborations that are both perfectly matched with each other and with the material - everything coming together in one explosive moment to create a really exceptional book, and work of art.
My complaints are minor at best. I would have liked a little more clarity either in the story or storytelling in a few places where I felt slightly lost. Perhaps this was McCann and Lee's intention to help put us in the frame of mind of their characters - who are children and robots that have forgotten the purpose of all things up to and including time - but for me, it left me feeling a bit more confused than relatable. Additionally, while Lee has provided some of the most gorgeous visuals I've encountered in comics in...well...it's probably a contender for 'just about ever', there were a few inconsistencies and weaker moments in storytelling or individual panels. Regardless of minor nits, it's an exceptional piece of work and one of the most charming books I've read in a very long time.
Visionary and delightful, I would recommend The Return of The Dapper Men to anyone, it's a clever and beautiful trip to a fantasy world filled with great characters and eventually...a warm cup of tea.
The Return Of The Dapper Men was released by Archaia Comics in November of 2010 and is available in comic book and bookstores everywhere, as well as online.
*FYI – She Has No Head! is actively accepting review copies of “female friendly comics and graphic novels” for future columns on CSBG. Please get in touch via email (using the CSBG “contact us” button above) to discuss.*