Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland #1
Written by Eric Shanower
Illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
Colored by Nelson Daniel
Lettered by Robbie Robbins
Based on the brilliant works of Winsor McCay
Review by Joey Braccino
Little Nemo in Slumberland first debuted in the New York Herald in 1905. The premise was simple: the Princess of Slumberland needed a new playmate, so King Morpheus summoned little Nemo to the kingdom. Each week, cartoonist Winsor McCay created a brand new fantasy dreamscape for Nemo to travel through on his journey to King Morpheus’ palace and the Princess. It took months for Nemo to actually reach the palace, as each strip saw Nemo confront new dangers and creatures and obstacles. McCay wove recognizable elements of dreams into each strip—falling, drowning, running, fantasy, etc.—as he took readers through Nemo’s adventures. The strip saw an extensive run in the Herald between 1905 and 1911, and a few revivals between 1911 and 1926, as well as several other media adaptations.
Nearly a century later, Winsor McCay’s creation returns to the comics medium as Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland from IDW Publishing. This All-New, All-Ages comic from writer Eric Shanower (Image’s Age of Bronze and Marvel’s Oz books) perfectly captures the whimsy and adventure of those classic early 20th century cartoon strips. Shanower “reboots” Little Nemo, opening with the King’s advisors struggling to find a new playmate for the Princess, only to find a boy named James Nemo Summerton. The Princess is excited by the mention of “Nemo” (despite it being the boy’s middle name) and the King summons his emissaries to collect the boy. The rest of the book follows McCay’s structure of Nemo’s (failed) attempts to get to Slumberland. Here, though, our Nemo is actually James—he doesn’t like being called Nemo—and he is begrudgingly dragged by Popcorn and Bon-Bon, the Candy Kid, through various dreamscapes. By the end of the issue, James is more accepting of his quest to Slumberland, but we have to wait until next month for James to make his way into the kingdom.
There is a simplicity and wonder in Shanower’s writing that make’s the story of Little Nemo perfect for all ages. Literally ALL ages. I had a fantastic time reading Little Nemo, enthralled with its sincerity and imagination; I could only imagine what an 8-year old would feel as our protagonist is swept away on a rollercoaster bed by a boy made of candy.
The art from Gabriel Rodriguez (Locke & Key) and Nelson Daniel (Wild Blue Yonder & Judge Dredd) is absolutely stunning and delightfully unlike anything I’ve seen from either. Rodriguez captures the McCay’s Art Nouveau aesthetic brilliantly, providing a visual experience that feels like it came from the early 20th Century. Daniel’s vibrant primary color palette of blues and yellows and reds is also reminiscent of those early cartoon strips. Moreso than the engaging lines and colors, however, its Rodriguez’ brilliant and innovative layouts that really establish the dreamscape setting. The panels themselves become the rollercoaster or the parachute or the forest as Little Nemo travels further and deeper into his dreams. It’s amazing.
Buy. Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland #1 is a wonderful, fanciful comic that is truly an All-Ages adventure. Shanower and Company have an incredibly legacy to build on, and this debut issue proves that they are more than up to the task. Check it!
PS – Check out this crazy 1911 short film in which Winsor McCay convinces his colleagues that he can make his characters move…