Frank Pé's Little Nemo Review

By | Monday, September 27, 2021 Leave a Comment
Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberlan is often lauded as one of the earliest works of comic art genius. Justifiably, if you asked me. Consequently, any number of creators over the years have paid homage to both McCay and his strip in various ways. The most recent one I've come across is Frank Pé's Little Nemo from Magnetic Press. Pé, if you're not familiar, is a Belgian cartoonist who's been working since the mid-1980s from titles like Spirou. He's a notoriously slow artist, however, and I don't believe much, if any, of his work has been translated into English before this.

Many creators trying to honor McCay try to copy his imagination while maintaining the original strip's basic story structure. This seldom works especially well, regardless of how beautiful the illustrations are. They frequently seem to miss the spirit of McCay's characters. Pé has a slightly different approach, however. While the strips do (mostly) follow the same structure of wild events happening before they're interrupted by Nemo being jolted awake, Pé tweaks the idea by presenting Nemo's adventures as the dreams not of Nemo, but of McCay himself. In some cases, even borrowing somewhat from the idea of McCay's other famous strip, Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend, by having McCay wonder what caused such strange mental wanderings.

The comics here have no continuity whatsoever. The 70-some pages of art were created over several years and for different purposes. About a dozen, in fact, were created very deliberately as stand-alone pieces for different comic festivals. Which means they follow different formats and lengths and rhythms, and focus alternatively on the story or the art. It's almost more of an anthology and detailed sketchbook combined. The pieces range from clever to funny to whimsical to metatextual to just pretty.

And that's really the selling point here. Pé's illustrations are all gorgeous. The stories are a bit scattershot. They all certainly try to pay homage to McCay and his work, but they all do so from slightly different vantage points and in different ways. But the consistent element through all of them is Pé's wonderful art. His linework is natural and fluid, his characters detailed and expressive, his colors vibrant and engaging. Think equal parts Jack Davis, Bill Watterson, and Frank Cho.

I hope Magnetic Press is able to get more of Pé's work translated and into the American market. The brief description I read of Mémoires de l'élan sounds brilliant in addition to being, I'm sure, wonderfully illustrated. While perhaps not the most faithful or cohesive honoring of McCay's Nemo, it is an absolutely stunning book, and a sure hit for fans of the original Slumberland strips.
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