Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Must Read: Return of the Dapper Men

Janet sketching my daughter.
I'd been meaning to read Return of the Dapper Men for a while now, and I'm glad I finally did. For months I've been reading about it online and I've leafed through it in awe of Janet Lee's amazing art. So, when I heard she was going to be at Florida Supercon this weekend, I said to myself I'd read it before then and have her sign a copy. Well, one thing lead to another and I never found the time. But I walked by her table at Supercon and was again mesmerized by her art. She uses a technique called decoupage, in which she first draws her work, then cuts it out and glues it on to wood panels. It really needs to be seen to be appreciated, and she had the actual wood panels for the sequel on her table! So, it turned into a different event for me as I decided to purchase my first commission from an artist. I guess I could have asked for anything, as later on in the weekend she did some great pieces she tweeted, but for me, I wanted something more personal, so I had her sketch my daughter. I was so floored by the result, that I'm now excited for the next opportunity to get a commission from an artist, but I'm even happier that my first one was such a distinct artist. There's no mistaking who's art this is. And when I showed it to my daughter that night she said, delightedly, "Shayera flying!!"

After I got the sketch, I wanted even more to read the book, so I had my wife get it for me and read it the next morning. I love reading to my daughter, particularly Dr. Seuss. This is not necessarily that, but it is a book I can see reading with my daughter when she gets a little older (she's only 2). It's a story that comes with questions and requires interpretation: a fantastic riddle of a book in a way. But more than that, what Jim McCann and Janet K. Lee have created here is a modern fable that speaks to us all, young and old. Combining elements of Lewis Carroll, Dr. Seuss and other great surreal children's authors, the book gives us the story of a land where time has stopped. There are only children and robots. Our heroes Ayden and Zoe, a human boy and robot girl take us on a journey of discovery as they fix their world with the help of one dapper gentlemen with a hat, umbrella and maybe more questions than answers. By the end, what we have are not so much lessons as they are moments of clarity. The moral of this story is open to interpretation which is what makes it so special. But, as expressed in Janet's beautiful dedication when she signed the book to my daughter, there is one overarching message in the book.

I'm looking forward to the sequel, Time of the Dapper Men. Judging from the art Janet had on her table, it promises to be just as good. I also look forward to seeing more from Janet, maybe some straightforward superhero books in her style. In any case, next time I see her, I'm definitely getting another sketch.

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