April 12, 2012
(++++) ON BEYOND PICTURES
Scribbles at an Exhibition: “Baby Blues” Scrapbook 29. By Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.
The Lorax Pop-up! By Dr. Seuss. Pop-ups by David A. Carter. Robin Corey Books. $29.99.
Even in a visual medium, pictures are not enough – not enough for the best communicators, anyway. Rick Kirkman’s Baby Blues illustrations continue to get better and better, and the latest collection of the comic strip even features cover art by members of the families of Kirkman and writer Jerry Scott. It’s all pretty cool, and pretty self-referential, and hey, if the creators can’t have fun with their strip as well as making it fun for readers, what’s the point? Scribbles at an Exhibition is full of artistic delights: the three MacPherson kids drawn as Marx Brothers; the detailed scene of utter chaos as dad Darryl explains to mom Wanda that, unfortunately, there is no such thing as a chocolate I.V.; the hilarious-if-you’re-in-on-the-in-joke scene of Hammie looking longingly into the window of a store called “Dill’s Bros. Trébuchets and More” (a tribute to Richard Thompson’s Cul de Sac). But the illustrations work so well precisely because they are drawn in the context of excellent writing. An almost-wordless Sunday strip that deserves to be a classic shows Wanda thinking negative thoughts about herself every time she looks in a mirror or reflective surface: she vacuums and sees herself as a frump with rollers in her hair, eats a salad and sees herself as obese and out of control with food, and so on. Then Darryl calls only “to say I love you” and the harried homemaker pushing the shopping cart suddenly sees herself reflected in a supermarket display case as slim, elegant and beautifully dressed. Scott’s writing really comes through here in strips that play against type and against reader expectations: an extremely touching remembrance of the Twin Towers (built by baby Wren with blocks) on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist murders of 9/11, for example, and a strip in which Hammie actually comforts a disappointed Zoe – who comments that he can be “surprisingly human,” leading to his promise that “it’s temporary.” And then there are strips in which the story line carries the art along: a new toy called “Ick-Baby” with “gross bodily functions”; a “when you say/they must hear” sequence that perfectly captures the disconnect between what parents think they are putting across and what their kids are actually absorbing; and Darryl’s reinterpretation of fairy tales so Hammie will like them – “Pinocchio vs. the Wood Chipper” and “Hansel Ditches Gretel.” And then there are strips in which the melding of writing and comic-strip conventions is just about perfect, such as one in which Wren crawls up and around the panels while Zoe and Hammie argue about who was supposed to wipe the pancake syrup off her hands and knees. It doesn’t get much better than that – or much better than Baby Blues.
And there is really no way to get better than the words-and-pictures combinations of the inimitable Dr. Seuss, whose 1971 book The Lorax was recently expanded and “complexified” into an animated film that opened to mixed reviews but box-office success. In conjunction with the film’s release, the Robin Corey Books division of Random House (itself a division of Bertelsmann AG) has brought out a “complexified” book version of the good doctor’s gentle environmental fable-cum-warning. And darned if The Lorax Pop-up! isn’t wonderful – an intensification of the book’s message, perhaps, but not an attempt to add to it or turn it into more of a clarion call than Dr. Seuss intended it to be. David A. Carter – who has previously created wonderful pop-up versions of Horton Hears a Who and Oh, the Places You’ll Go! – turns The Lorax into eight fold-out, open-up three-dimensional constructions that actually enhance some scenes (you really feel you are in among the truffula trees) and that expand the delights of the book in subtle, involving ways. For these are not mere pop-ups, although the constructions are impressive enough in themselves. Carter incorporates other interactive elements into this book: turning a notched cardboard tab causes Humming-Fish to swim in circles and leap playfully out of the water, pulling a tab unloads the Once-ler’s wagon, and the Lorax’s departure through the smog actually happens, in motion, when one page is turned. The Lorax Pop-up! is much more for parents than for kids: it is costly, parts are fragile, and the type in which the story appears is small. But The Lorax is one Dr. Seuss book that was intended to span the generations (along the lines of The Butter Battle Book), and by helping it do just that, Carter has produced something that is very special indeed.