Comics' second childhood

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Even the artsy-fartsiest of the alternative comics creators — especially them, actually — have great admiration for the children’s book illustrators and kids’ comics artists of days gone by. With the idea well established by now that comics can be made for adults, some cartoonists are trying to resurrect the all-ages comic book.

One attempt to enlist alternative cartoonists to produce kiddie fare, the “Measles” series, flounders when its contributors can’t quite curb their more (ahem) underground tendencies. But Little Lit gets it right. It has the fine production values — and large size — one would expect from its editors, RAW magazine founders Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly, as well as the excellent lineup of artists, 17 in all.

Dan Clowes tells the after “happily ever after” part of the Sleeping Beauty tale. How Things Work author David Macauley offers his first foray into comics, a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk. David Mazzucchelli presents a beautifully rendered legend from Japan, while Spiegelman relates a Hasidic parable. Sprinkled between the stories are activity pages from Charles Burns, J. Otto Seibold and others. The endpapers feature a typical jaw-dropper from Chris Ware — an elaborately designed board game called “Fairy Tale Road Rage.” Nestled lovingly in the center of the book is a story reprinted from a 1943 issue of “Fairy Tale Parade” (price: 10¢) by the much-respected creator of “Pogo,” Walt Kelly.

None of the comics in Little Lit is sugary-sweet pabulum, cleaving more to the earthier nature of the original folk tales, in which evil queens get devoured by serpents and heartless children get turned into owls. But they also never lapse — for long, anyway — into “updated” hipness or irreverent scatology. Little Lit strikes just the right balance between “kids will love it” and “adults can enjoy it too.” A truly all-ages comic book, it’s a beautiful thing.

Sean Bieri is the design director for Metro Times. E-mail him at sbieri@metrotimes.com.

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