Return of the Dapper Men

Written by Jim McCann
Art by Janet Lee
128 pages, color
Published by Archaia Comics

There’s a certain rhythm and storytelling style to children’s books that I’ve always appreciated; that exploration of the mythic and the feeling that you’re getting a story that will stand the test of time, even if it’s brand new. It’s a feel I kept getting when reading Jim McCann and Janet Lee’s Return of the Dapper Men, with its clockwork people and city where time has stopped. What struck me the most after finishing this book was that McCann and Lee have created a book where style has slightly won out over substance, but that as a reader you’ll be just fine with that.

In terms of basic structure, Return of the Dapper Men is almost a fable about growing up and moving forward, with the city of Anorev where the clocks have stopped and no one ever changes or is curious, save for our two heroes. With the robots living on the surface and the children underneath, it’s a classic setup courtesy McCann. You get the impressive that McCann’s had Return of the Dapper Men mapped out in his head for years, now, and it’s a place that we’re just now getting to visit. But in his telling the story, I couldn’t help but find it interesting that the sections of the book told in a comic book style versus those told as a children’s book felt almost like two entirely different writers had tackled the book.

The sections with dialogue and word balloons are the ones that didn’t quite click for me. It’s not that it’s bad, but rather it feels slightly rushed and very ordinary. There’s a lot of talking back and forth that feels like it’s going nowhere, that in some ways these portions of the book exist because it’s from a comic book publisher and that’s what you expect. It’s very average, and with the exception of the one Dapper Man, none of the characters seem to have their own voice.

It’s the parts with narration that ultimately enchanted and sold the writing of Return of the Dapper Men. It feels lyrical and timeless, almost like it’s a story you heard so many years ago that you can’t remember it on your own, but each sentence brings back those snatches of emotion and idea tangled up in the book. I also think it’s in these sections that the real heavy lifting takes place; not only does the plot move forward, but it fully comes to life and draws you in. When we first hear about how time stops, McCann writes, "Until one day, there was no tock. With no tock, there could be no tick. And all that was left was No." It’s a beautiful string of wordplay, and it’s hard to not feel enchanted with every sentence along those lines. Return of the Dapper Men unfolds when McCann switches over to narration, and at the end of the day it makes the writing of the book a winner.

The art in Return of the Dapper Men, on the other hand, is great from start to finish. I love Janet Lee’s art style, with complex gears one moment and stripped down Dapper Men the next. Her character work is made for this sort of story; every little metallic feather on a robotic bird is carefully crafted, and beautiful doors and wallpaper are constructed to make the buildings as much a part of the story as the characters. And some of the moments are breathtaking, be it an homage to Magritte’s Golconda to a visit to the gearworks; they’re always visually stunning. Lee also kicks the visuals up a notch when it comes to the backgrounds. Using decoupage, she cuts her finished art up so that it can get pasted onto painted boards and papers that serve as the background, and the result is stunning with washes of blues and greens drifting behind the characters. It’s an effect that wouldn’t be quite the same if created on computer, and the extra time spent (there’s an essay in the back of the book explaining the step-by-step process for those interested) is well worth it.

When it’s all said and done, Return of the Dapper Men was a joy to read. There’s something about the way that McCann and Lee tell their story that will charm you; it’s a bit light on plot in places, but ultimately that doesn’t matter. It’s just fun to read from start to finish, and the page advertising the upcoming Time of the Dapper Men is reason to cheer. It’s easy to see why Return of the Dapper Men is one of the hits of the season—this is a book that has heart and invites you to share. Be it more Dapper Men books or something entirely different, if McCann and Lee are collaborating on a project, I’ll buy it with no questions asked.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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