January 2, 2016
My first glance at Roger Petersen’s page made me realize that going in blind might have been a mistake. Too late now!
On this page, Nemo’s dream friends Flip and Imp are looking for him high and low in a domed library that’s on the moon… where it’s snowing.
The storyline is clever, I eventually see. The art goes straight to the “Love it — LOVE IT” part of my brain, stroking all those primitive receptors that are the reason people put bold black and white designs in babies’ cribs.
But what I really see and notice and think about first is the fact that Imp is a gross caricature of a dark-skinned “Native” and says things like “UG UN RUGGLE!” instead of speaking English.
I know, I know–different time, 105 years ago, part and parcel with the culture Winsor McCay lived in. And I registered pretty quickly that Peterson wrote “after McCay” after his own name in the lower right hand corner, as if to say, “not my idea.”
Still, it’s like when you’re meeting your boyfriend’s dad for the first time, and your boyfriend’s talked him up a lot, and you really want to like him — and then the guy almost immediately tells a racist joke.
So my thoughts caromed around the inside of my head in the uncomfortable pinball path of a white person of 2016 who doesn’t want to be a racist asshole. And who thinks the Washington Redskins are way overdue for a name change.
I mentally sputtered, “Well-what-hey-now-I-I-I would REALLY like to know what Ron Wimberly thinks about this!” Then I remembered that Ron Wimberly has a page coming up in the book, so maybe I will find out what he thinks then. I calmed down a little.
All the while, Petersen’s art went to work on another part of my brain. The page is magical–the moonscape, the falling snow, the mystery of the domed building among the craters, the contrast of white and black, the thick lines, the convex and concave lines of the building, the bindings of rows and rows of books that are each are drawn a little differently from others but repeat along a curve in an almost-pattern.
And then there is Imp, a beautiful assemblage of shapes and lines. He bounces and scampers from panel to panel, always compositionally important and always drawing the eye. I just don’t want to see him this way again. Maybe this sensitivity is just part of what separates McCay-adoring journeyman cartoonists from a McCay-agnostic comicbook-eater like me.