Little Lit: Folklore
& Fairy Tale Funnies

Art Speigelman &
Francoise Mouly, editors
(HarperCollins, 2000)

American artist Art Speigelman has devoted his life to making his beloved art form of graphic novels respectable for adults. He succeeded spectacularly when Maus, his gut-wrenching Holocaust family memoir in cartoon-strip format, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992. Now Speigelman, along with his wife Francoise Mouly (art editor for New Yorker magazine), brings his sophisticated, intelligent approach to "comic books" (as pioneered in his own Raw Magazine) to audiences of all ages in his latest project cleverly marketed with the slogan: "Comics -- they're not just for grown-ups anymore!"

Little Lit: Folklore and Fairy Tale Funnies gathers twelve stories, four puzzle games and even a storytelling boardgame (by Chris Ware -- complete with instructions and all the pieces to punch out). For this anthology, Speigelman invited stellar talents to create original graphic material (plus a classic Walt Kelly reprint) which fondly pokes often ironic fun at familiar and not so familiar traditional tales of the sort which used to be adapted in Classics Illustrated -- a series which took itself quite seriously back in the 1960s.

The innovative cartoonists and children's book artists included in this endeavor are Speigelman himself, Barbara McClintock, Daniel Clowes, William Joyce, David MacAuley, Harry Bliss, Charles Burns, Kaz, Bruce McCall, Lorenzo Mattoti, Walt Kelly, David Mazzucchelli, Ever Muelen, Charles Ponti, J. Otto Seibold, Joost Swarte and Chris Ware. The result of this collection of titanic talents is a delightful volume for children and the young at heart of all ages.

Each offering is rendered in a distinctive, visually fascinating style, standouts being Speigelman's charming Hasidic parable "Prince Rooster," Claude Ponti's entirely visual, whimsical comic strip "The Enchanted Pumpkin," William Joyce's unique version of "Humpty Dumpty," David MacAuley's amusingly warped "Jack and His Mom and the Beanstalk," Daniel Clowes' creepy but satisfying true ending to "The Sleeping Beauty," David Mazzucchelli's striking and poignant rendering of a traditional Japanese tale "The Fisherman and the Princess," Charles Burns' intricate, black-and-white, complex visual puzzle "Spookyland" and Barbara McClintock's witty anthropomorphic animal character version of "The Princess and the Pea."

Whether the stories (or puzzles) derive from old favorites or are new discoveries with meanings that can range from the profound to the silly -- or whether or not they reflect such original sources as the Sunday funnies and "all in color for a dime" comic books, the entirety of Little Lit is worthwhile. This colorful, eye-catching, dazzling imagination-stimulating collection deserves a place in every household to serve as a continually satisfying treat for readers of all ages -- a treasure to be savored over and over again!

[ by Amy Harlib ]

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