Big Fat Little Lit
The gray envelope announced THE NEW YORKER in its signature font, all oversized and all caps and importantly stylish. What did THE NEW YORKER want with me? Had I ever had the chutzpah to send THE NEW YORKER any of my execrable short stories? Hmmm ... no. Had someone ordered me a gift subscription? Nope. Maybe they meant some other Anne Levy?
Inside was a graphic novel, or rather, an anthology of graphic short stories. I still thought they had the wrong person. Graphic novels are for grown-ups, right?
See, graphic novelists are victims of their own PR. Having kvetched for decades that comics aren't for kids, they send me a collection aimed straight at the cartoon underpants crowd. The connection to The New Yorker: It's edited by husband-wife duo Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly, she being that magazine's art editor.
The collection--culled from three previous Little Lit anthologies--is, of course, literary and brilliant and oh-so-eclectic, and if you know nothing about the genre, it's an easy intro. Fairy tales nestle comfortably next to horror stories and folklore, and my four-year-old easily adapted to the diverse narrative styles and voices: after all, he could see the differences.
The comic world's Big Names are well represented, including Kaz, Jules Feiffer, Patrick McDonnell and my personal fave, Barbara McClintock, looking as classy and lushly detailed as ever. Joining them are such kidlit luminaries as Neil Gaiman and Lemony Snicket, though I'm rarely as thrilled with author/artist collaborations as when it's a singular vision by one person doing both.
The LA Times has also reviewed Big Fat Little Lit (hat tip: Kelly) so I won't repeat details of individual stories. Looking at the big picture, pardon the pun, I was struck by how many were told with forceful moral underpinnings. More than a few protagonists must face the gloomy consequences of their misdeeds and I didn't spot a single story where evil prevailed. Naughtiness, maybe, but not genuine eat-your-family badness.
That's not to say it's all goody-two-shoes fluff. Like the original Grimm's Fairy Tales, many stories venture into nightmare territory, where mothers-in-law try to devour grandchildren, stuffy noses explode with dopplegangers and cute kitties come from alternate worlds, and little that seems comfortable and safe turns out to be so.
I get the distinct impression these are stories written by actual parents who have braved the wild terrain of a child's imagination to chart both its twisted roads and startling flora.