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‘The Return of the Dapper Men’ by Jim McCann, art by Janet Lee

Return of The Dapper Men

I loved this comic from the second page, where the art style, colours, language and atmosphere had me falling utterly in love. I liked the whimsy and the sense of motion and posture in the characters as they moved in the world. Sometimes the language seemed a bit inaccessible and awkwardly phrased, but the words were beautiful and fit the art and the emotion of the moment, so it hardly seemed to matter. It carried a feeling of nostalgia and childhood curiosity about it that delighted me, and I do have a deep-seated love for beautiful and unusual vocabulary. At the back of the edition I previewed at Netgalley, there was an extra treat with the description of artistic process, which gave me an added appreciation for the gorgeous art on my second read through.

It was only halfway through the comic that I sat back and frowned to myself. There was a boy and a girl, friends, the main characters. But the boy was active, verbal; when he talked people listened. The girl was a mute robot who was beautiful and most of what we hear of her is from the boy, who interprets her intentions to the world and speaks for her. It sounds a lot worse on paper than it was in the comic itself, which was focused far more on the give and take of dialogues of all kinds, but it felt odd to me. Then the characters the book is named for arrived, and – oh dear a minor spoiler my friends – the only other female characters that are really noticeable to a first-time reader are a mother-figure, a large statue of a woman who is inert, and a young petty girl who is told off by a Dapper Man for being stupid. It really does sound worse written out and all at once there, and is far less obvious in the comic, but it made me feel uncomfortable. A little heartbroken. I had fallen in pure, devoted love with this comic and so the minor let-downs at intervals along the way ate into my joy.
It was beautiful. I want to read it again. Then again. I will stare at the pages and let my eyes drink in the colours and the expressions and art of it. For the moment, I will sigh, and remind myself that it’s not this story that I have problems with, but that some of the parts of it remind me strongly of the broader stereotyped treatment of female characters in comics as a whole genre. I would recommend this to anyone, really, and I’d love to hear any comments from anyone else on the parts I found problematic.