Comic books come of age
A new cartoon anthology will please parents as much as children
Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly are quite a couple. Married in 1977, they co-founded the adult comics magazine RAW three years later. After establishing their own successful careers in book and magazine publishing, the pair began editing a truly original sequence of comics for children, the Little Lit series, with contributions from a roster of well known writers and illustrators.
BookPage recently reached the couple at Spiegelman's New York studio to hear about the third Little Lit volume, It Was a Dark and Silly Night . . . , which is being released this month. Art Spiegelman was born in Sweden and later immigrated to the United States. He started out as a designer for Topps Chewing Gum, eventually becoming involved in the underground adult comics scene of the 1960s and '70s. In 1986, he authored and illustrated one of the great works in the field of comics, Maus: A Survivor's Tale. A sequel, Maus: Volume II: And Here My Troubles Began, appeared in 1991. In this extraordinary set of graphic memoirs, Spiegelman recounted the lives of his parents, who survived Auschwitz. Depicting Jews as mice and Germans as cats, the two books won the author a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. Comic books, it seemed, had come of age. Mouly, who arrived in the United States from her native Paris after studying architecture at the Ecole Nationale Superieure de Beaux-Arts, has been art director of The New Yorker for the past decade. The job gives her access to some of the best creative minds working today, many of whom have contributed to the Little Lit series. "An . . . elegant, outsized comics coming-out" is how The New York Times once described Little Lit. Outsized, indeed. Each book in the visually innovative series is big enough to put on the coffee table. The first two eye-catching volumes, Folklore ∧ Fairy Tale Funnies (2000), which was voted one of the best children's books of the year by Publishers Weekly, and Strange Stories for Strange Kids (2001), were both bestsellers. Their success inspired Spiegelman and Mouly to put together a third collection. "People would say, When's another one coming out? It's a great idea,'" Spiegelman says. "Eventually things catalyzed that way."The new book features work by William Joyce, Lemony Snicket, J. Otto Seibold and Neil Gaiman, among others, and each tale in the volume was written in reply to the question "How would you conclude a story beginning with the words It was a dark and silly night?'" The authors all had different takes on the query, making this latest Little Lit installment a diverse, off-beat, roller coaster-ride of a comic that kids (and grown-ups) will love.
How do the editors manage to get such an impressive array of artists and writers in on the project? "At The New Yorker, I'm in touch with artists who have a story to tell," Mouly explains. "When I talk to people about coming up with a cover for the magazine, I need to find the very few people who can actually generate their own content, their own ideas. It makes me look at children's-book artists, because they are among the few narrative artists left."
Many of the stories in Little Lit are the result of a collaboration between writer and illustrator. The teaming up of Neil Gaiman and Gahan Wilson, for instance, produced an unforgettable tale that takes place in a cemetery.
"Children's Book for All Ages" is how the editors have categorized each installment of Little Lit, and it's a perfect description of the series. The best children's books please parents as much as their kids, and thanks to Spiegelman and Mouly and their wonderful team of collaborators Little Lit does just that.