Little Nemo #7 & 8

For awhile this giant book became just another surface, a substrate, and the life of my kitchen table was carried out on top of it. But then I had to enlist the book in my battle against light pollution. I barricade myself in each night. Between the book and the cardboard it came in, I can block a lot a light out.

But I have to keep going through this book. Ronald Wimberly, Matt Huynh, and Yuko Shimizu await me, deeper in. And though I am often too sleepy at night in my little apartment, I like communing with all these dream snippets.

David Petersen’s Little Nemo page has an old-fashioned, vintagey feeling. I think these might be my favorite, because to me they are new and nostalgic at the same time. Unfortunately, it also seems to mean a racist imagining of Imp (again).

But we meet the Princess in a yellow dress.

Her father, the king, sends mice to pick up Little Nemo and the Princess who are out on a children’s adventure. There is nothing too scary, and Nemo knows he is dreaming. He wants a lullaby to keep him asleep on his journey. He and the Princess are sweet little friends.

Then, on the facing page, Jonathan Tune and Eleanor Doughty (on colors) tell a very different story of a different kind of dream. It’s the same Princess in her yellow dress, but she and Nemo are grown up now and their friendship has fallen on hard times.They are on opposite sides of a war. And through a moment’s haste, a misunderstanding, she is shot.


Little Nemo doesn’t know he’s dreaming, and all the fantastic air ships his mind created turn to dust when he wakes up grieving over the Princess.

In David Petersen’s page, the dream whimsy is contained and defined in clean inking and neat colors.The fantasy is safe for children.  The orderly, carefully described fur of the mice contrasts with the looser inks and water colors of Tune and Doughty’s page. In the war story, the underlying paper is nubbled, the pigment is washed and pooled. The shadows feel contaminating, hard to separate from the bright yellow of the Princess’s dress.

These pages make me want to write a series of novels about these two growing up together, growing hardened, growing apart. Like the Harry Potter novels, the tone would deepen and become more emotionally complex from book to book.




Little Nemo #6: Andrea Tsurumi

January 22, 2016

As soon as I got home from work, I took this daylight photograph of my houseguest Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream laid out on my kitchen table by the window. The way my journal goes with this page has given me outsized pleasure.


Like the best dreams, Andrea Tsurumi makes the mundane surreal and the surreal mundane in her contribution to Locust Moon’s Winsor McCay tribute anthology. She takes a simple play on words and flips it into the most charming, distinctive, and weirdly classic page in the book so far. Two mammaried oddballs guide — or maybe shanghai — Nemo on this adventure in Slumbraland.


We look down on the scene of the department store floor as these three figures wander through and cross paths with an array of breasted feminoids. Bras and department stores do stretch back just about to Winsor McCay’s time a century ago, making this scene both modern and vintage. Tsurumi also strikes a perfect vintage note with her matte pastels (pitched down a step) and her clean noodly lines. Her art reminds me of boomerang formica tabletops:

Tsurumi makes all the bras taupe and telegraphs “fun” by using squiggly lines instead of bright colors. This is how she keeps her whole page locked into a handful of carefully selected hues. The color scheme is distinctive, disciplined, and pleasing–the playful black lines neatly corral each flat shape. The page is full of uncluttered movement as a cheerful, anxiety-inducing tangle swallows up Nemo.


Surrounding this little boy with breasts and bra jokes might seem daffily subversive but it’s also just what happens to little kids obliged to tag along after mothers and older sisters. It’s along the lines of the neighbor woman nursing her baby on the porch on a hot day — no big deal. This is classic childhood stuff, just the usual nibbling at the edges of the adult world that sometimes turns into a Fourth of July dunking booth. It’s a page that’s funny because it’s true, and funnier because a woman made it as a humorous shrug and a roll of the eyes. That authenticity also makes it laugh-out-loud funny when Nemo takes a peek under his nightshirt in the lower right, “waking-up” corner of Tsurumi’s page.




Little Nemo #5: Peter Hoey & Maria Hoey

(Reading Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream; Part Something of Many)

It’s important to have fun with objects, and I am having the most fun I’ve had since I bought a manual typewriter in 2012.

Still Life with Giant Book
Today’s page is a crowd-pleaser, and I never miss a chance to be among a pleased crowd. The bull’s eye look of Peter Hoey & Maria Hoey’s page was already familiar to me because it shows up in a lot of marketing materials for the book. The dream story they tell is serviceable, but the real deal with this page is that it looks good at a glance. It goes down in a big glug. It’s eminently quaffable. Clean black lines. Thick white gutters. Creative paneling decisions that don’t get tangled. Dark teal dominates the page, with pops of muted red. Not too much is said (what a relief some days, huh?) and what is said is in big clear block letters.

I took a photo from above the page–and even on my phone, with crap lighting, the picture turned out crisp, clear, and legible. So much so that it didn’t seem sporting to include that picture! So here is this one instead.

For scale: Evidence of my ongoing fascination with colorist Jordie Bellaire
In our next installment, we get excited about that business on the right by Andrea Tsurumi.


(Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream is a Winsor McCay tribute anthology by Locust Moon Press, which I am not affiliated with.)


Little Nemo #4: Jeremy A. Bastian

(In which I “review” a book with giant pages, page by page.)

Jeremy Bastian’s contribution to this Little Nemo project is in black and white and full of pleasing details in the wall paper and around the edges of the panels. It’s a few small things done lovingly. Bastian fleshes out the kernel of a dream–“there was a ship that was also a giant shoe… and I think the crew was insect pirates!”


His lettering and word balloons are unassuming, and they go well with Nemo’s boyishness. Nemo isn’t so much boyish as he is kiddish. His curiousity, his exclamations, the way he tips over the lip of the bath tub and into this dream–everything right up to and including his rumpled “Yikes!” when he wakes up in the last panel–everything is endearing. Everything makes us feel a little tender toward him.


If you think about it, you really only have the patience to hear the dreams of people you feel especially tender toward, like little children. “Any dreams last night?” my mom will ask my nieces at the breakfast table. Her eyebrows will be lofted in receptive encouragement and if one of them nods yes, she will start to beam. Not so for me; I have grown too far past that cherubic phase. If I started to tell my mom how I had to haul a casio keyboard up a slippery ladder to find a skein of yarn, her eyes would glaze over faster than you could say “rapid-eye movement.”


I can think of one exception to the general rule that dream-reporting is a children’s game. My friend Gina’s entire family has a way with dreams and the telling of them. She recently texted me in the middle of the workday: “Uncle Ferd had a dream that he tried to google ‘mayonnaise juice’ on the piano.”


(For this series, I’m reading the anthology Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream by Locust Moon Press. It’s a tribute to the newspaper comic strip by Winsor McCay, which came out over one hundred years ago and is still blowing people’s minds)

Little Nemo #3: Jasen Lex

January 8, 2016

I took Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream to bed with me. I was tired, and I know you’re not supposed to take work into bed with you–but I also know you’re supposed to work through the tiredness and try to meet your goals if you really want to be a writer. So I wanted to write about one more Nemo page before I gave up on my to-do list for the day.

Imagine a woman propped up in her four-poster bed, in the sweatshirt she plans to sleep in, wearing coke bottle eyeglasses, legs under a heap of quilts, with only little white Christmas lights for illumination. A giant book lies open on her legs, and requires the full seriousness and length of her thighs to lean against. Her heels are a little bit braced against the mattress, doing their part in supporting the book.

Jason Lex’s page is dark and less paneled than the other two I’ve already written about. It has a lot of greens, browns, and purples. It has textured large three-dimensional surfaces and then cut-aways jammed with flat, cartoony figures. Every word balloon is an exclamation written in hard-to-read gothic lettering. The cutaways are surrounded by a thick white dashed border like ugly white contrast stitching on brown leather shoes from the 1990s. Down at the bottom right, I can see that this page is showing how Nemo has incorporated the storm outside his window into his dream, and he’s imagining that these little creatures are running around possibly inside a dragon, but maybe also in a hill next to a dragon. Nemo doesn’t have any of the bedheady, tumbled-out-of-bed, half-tangled-in-bedclothes-still charm that I’m starting to recognize as a Nemo staple. This Nemo might not even be Nemo. This could be some kid named Kyle.

I’m logey and cross. I want to go to sleep and I’ve committed myself to looking at this joyless page. The best I can do is to identify features and think, “OK, I see what you’re doing with that. OK this is a piece of that cleverness.” There’s no white space. There’s nowhere for my eye to rest. There’s not room for an impression to bloom in my mind.

All the while, there’s this big expanse of the facing page, and I’m forcing myself not to look at it. But it’s there, hogging my field of vision, calling to me. There’s tons of whitespace on that other page and my eye wants to go over there so badly. It’s like I’m a little kid in bed with the mumps and I can stare at dark, unappealing wallpaper, or I can look out at a field covered in fresh snow on a bright, winter day. Maybe there are a few fences and clumps of trees, but mostly it just looks really clean and white and snowy.

And then my mood tips and teeters on this edge between dilligence and subversiveness. Suddenly I’m a little kid, up too late, but fascinated with something. Suddenly, I’m wooed by the danger of over-stimulating myself, never falling asleep, having mom barge in and yell at me when she sees my light on under the door and it’s so far past my bedtime.

That other page is by Jeremy Bastian and I will stare at it head on and write about it another night.

Sweet dreams.


Little Nemo #2: Farel Dalrymple

In which I sit in my tiny apartment, reading a giant book that is a tribute to a very important cartoonist that I was heretofore not familiar with.

Hello again, we are back with Farel Dalrymple’s two page Slumberland spread. The giant book is propped open on my sturdy laundry hamper, and from above it looks like it is floating in the air. I sit down in the easy chair next to the book and briefly put my feet up on it, just to try that out.

I know from reading Farel’s stories that he knows his way around magical children in situations that are troubling yet imbued with human kindness. With his Winsor McCay entry, he seems to have decided, “It’s ok if this doesn’t make sense” and then loaded a dreamscape with feelings and easter eggs.




Because Imp is now (for better or worse) the Waldo of this book, I looked right away to see if he was there, where he was, and how he was drawn. Ahh, I see, said the blind man, as he picked up his hammer and saw. He’s riding a bird, and when Nemo asks him why he can speak English now, Imp responds, “Maybe you just used to be more racist in your dreams.”

“Maybe you just used to be more racist in your dreams”

Now this makes sense. It makes dream sense. It’s like how last night, I dreamt that I slept with an acquaintance and in the dream he had washboard abs. I woke up laughing because my dream self seemed to celebrate washboard abs a lot more than my waking self. So maybe tonight I will dream about him again, and I’ll say, “Wait, why do you have a normal, middling physique now?” and he will say, “Maybe you just used to be more shallow about male beauty standards in your dreams.”

If there’s anyone who can get to the heart of that real weird dream logic, its Farel Dalrymple. Nemo goes through wardrobe changes in every panel, flies, and doesn’t know who he can trust as dream-reality shifts all around him.


Underneath the pastel candy colors the pages are anxious, and maybe weary. Like underneath all the razmatazz, dream Nemo really just has a plane to catch and a calculus examthat he had forgotten about, for a course he didn’t know he was enrolled in.




Little Nemo #1: Roger Petersen

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.

peterson nemo

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.


Opening Nemo

January 1, 2016

Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream came out in 2014 and I was among the first batch of people to get a copy because I signed up for one through Locust Moon’s crowd-sourcing efforts. I thought it sounded cool.

I will lay before you the extent of my ignorance–I found out who Winsor McCay was only through the press for this Locust Moon tribute anthology. I didn’t know that there was this genius cartoonist hero called Winsor McCay that started this big full-page newspaper comic strip in 1905. The Locust Moon gang rounded up dozens and dozens of contemporary cartoonists to each contribute one McCay-inspired story in this giant-page format. The result is a book that is a giant object.

I’m not always the best with objects. Here’s what happened to this one. I had it sent to my office address instead of home, because I didn’t want it stolen while I was at work. It arrived encased in cardboard. It was a bit cumbersome to haul with my other commuter accoutrement, and my buses are so crowded, and I’m always so vanquished at the end of the workday, that there never seemed to be a good time to lug it home. I forgot about it, and it leaned under my desk for several months.

Then I brought it home and leaned it somewhere in my apartment. Forgot about it for a few months. Then a new neighbor got an overly aggressive porch light that penetrated my blinds at night, and I realized that the Nemo package was a good size to blot out the light, if I propped it up against the window. In the morning I hefted it down and leaned it against the bureau. That’s how art gets treated sometimes!

Today is New Year’s Day, the great day for Generally Getting Your Shit Together. Since it’s a new year and a new me, I decided I was no longer the sort of person who lives quite so much like a Boxcar Child. I propped the package up on the chair and cut it open. Lifted the book out and tore the cellophane away. Then I stopped and cleared off my kitchen table, because I needed most of the surface.

It’s refreshing these days to encounter a physically imposing book. Seeing it dominate my kitchen reminded me of how my mom kept her Audobon Baby Elephant Folio of bird illustrations open on a special wooden stand in the living room, as if it were the family Bible.

So far, I’ve only read Bill Sienkiewicz’s fiery introduction in praise of Winsor McCay, in which he first takes a swipe at the shallow way praise is thrown around these days so that we will know: When Bill Sienkiewicz says Winsor McCay is a genius, he is not saying it like someone might call a sandwich “awesome.” OK. Got it.

More to follow.

Not a tiny apple.