As a child, I found time to be a frustrating concept. I suppose all children do until they learn or develop patience, or have patience thrust upon them. It wasn’t until the age of 16, however, that the dichotomy inherent in the passage of time came crashing down on me. I was counting down the days to graduation, eager—no, rabid—to get the hell out of Dodge and start a better life somewhere, anywhere else. Yet, as poised as I was for the future to carry me away, like a runaway locomotive, I was also witnessing firsthand the cruel casualties of time. With each passing day, my beloved grandmother was slipping further and further into the darkness of Alzheimer’s. As I was growing, changing and evolving, she was on the opposite course, and it was horrific. So, as much as I counted on the swift passage of time to take me away, I was also desperate for it to slow down, to stop, to freeze in place, even for one extra moment. It was then that I first learned the value of memories, how they create and define who we are, and the ultimate tragedy of their loss.
I share this bit of personal history with you, because reading 2011 Eisner Award nominee Return of the Dapper Men by Jim McCann and Janet Lee brought up a surprising amount of emotion and personal reflection. A beautiful and evokative graphic novel, Return of the Dapper Men tells the story of Anorev, a storybook setting where time has stopped and life has lost all meaning and purpose. The inhabitants of this world are divided into two groups: the children who inhabit an endless subterranean playground and the robots who build and work on the surface. Bridging the strict segregation of the two worlds are a silent robot girl named Zoe and her devoted human friend Ayden. They are different from everyone else, so naturally they have a greater destiny ahead of them. It isn’t long before their whole world changes…when the Dapper Men return to Anorev.
Jim McCann is perhaps best known for his work at Marvel, writing for New Avengers, Hawkeye and Mockingbird and the Dazzler one-shot from 2010. In Dapper Men, he creates a modern classic, a parable about progress and the inherent fear involved in any sort of change. It’s also a book about tolerance and the strides that can be made when people of diverse backgrounds work together. All of this is told through a surreal, almost dreamlike prose and artistic style that adds a layer of ambiguity, allowing the reader to bring their own experiences and memories to the narrative (just as I did). As a gay man reading a work by another gay man (with an introduction by Tim Gunn no less), the LGBTQ subtext isn’t hard to find. There are those who would very much like Anorev to remain as it is, frozen in time, and just like in real life, sometimes the extremists get the most attention, just because they’re loudest.
Overall, though, the book addresses the wistful notion we’ve all contemplated. Namely, wouldn’t it be nice just to stop time for a bit, keep things the way they are? But time marches on. Children grow up. Things break. People die. Change is inevitable. It’s a heavy subject, but McCann’s lyrical writing and Lee’s gorgeous artwork keep it from getting maudlin, the result being a book that is both moving and whimsical, a story to be revisited throughout the years and shared with others.
Return of the Dapper Men leads the 2011 Eisner Award nominees with five total nominations: Best Publication for Teens, Best Graphic Album–New, Best Writer, Best Artist and Best Publication Design.
Have you read Return of the Dapper Men? If so, please feel free to share your own thoughts about the book. If you haven’t read it, I highly encourage you to do so and join in the discussion.