Return of the Dapper Men by Jim McCann and Janet Lee
I think it’s safe to say that Return of the Dapper Men is the only book I have (and probably will ever have) with an introduction by Tim Gunn—certainly a dapper man if there ever was one. But the book—despite its dapper men and Gunn’s intro—isn’t just for fans of Project Runway (which I’ve never actually seen myself).
I mentioned that both of these books have a timeless quality to them. In the case of Dapper Men, it’s more than just a figure of speech: the story begins in Anorev, a world where time has stopped. In this land of children and machines, the children just play (underground) and the machines work, and that is all they can remember. The sun never sets and the day never ends, and things just go on exactly as they always have.
But among the clockwork people and the children, there are two who are just a bit different. The boy Ayden and the red-haired robot girl Zoe are friends, and both don’t quite fit in with their own kind. Ayden is despised by some of the children because of all the time he spends above, “up there.” Zoe never speaks, but she seems to have sparks of memory or knowledge that are just coming into focus.
And then something unexpected happens: the old clock tower begins to tick and tock again and sounds its bell, which hasn’t been heard in an eternity, and 314 Dapper Men returned to Anorev, floating down to earth in their striped jackets and green hats and wingtip shoes. Things finally begin to change.
The story is a hard one to describe, but there are some wonderful characters. Ayden is a curious sort, not satisfied with the way things are and asking questions that the other children never ask. Fabre is a robot who wants to fly, and has built up a tall tower in the hopes of reaching the Clockwork Angel out in the bay. The Clockwork Angel herself is a mystery—a huge statue with wings, holding some chimes and bits of clockwork but nobody knows her purpose. Most of the Dapper Men are silent, going about their business, but there is one who talks and acts differently, and he bustles about the town turning everything upside-down, saying things that nobody quite understands.
The artwork of Dapper Men is remarkable. The book is sort of a graphic novel, with panels and dialogue bubbles, but the illustrations look nothing like most comics I’ve seen. Everything is hand-drawn—the panel borders are a little uneven, and you can see see the tell-tale lines that Prismacolor markers make when you color with them. Now, I must say that I didn’t always like the drawing style of the people but I really liked a lot of the clockwork environments. But what really stood out is an odd, almost three-dimensional effect in some of the backgrounds, which I didn’t understand until I finished the book and found “The Making of a Dapper Page,” in which author McCann explain’s Lee’s process. It turns out that she draws the pictures and colors them on paper, then actually cuts out large sections of the background and Mod Podges the paper onto painted boards (or sometimes pages of books). Then the whole thing is scanned in and the lettering is layered in.
It gives the whole book a very non-digital quality that stands out in a world of slick, vectorized images; combined with the oversized format, cloth-edged binding and red ribbon bookmark, it makes for a beautiful picture book that is quite impressive.
Dapper Men is suitable for all ages though younger readers may not quite understand what’s going on or some of the more flowery language used in parts. It’s a very fascinating story about finding your place in the world and making difficult decisions. If you’re looking for a book that truly stands out, Return of the Dapper Men fits the bill.
Disclosure: Archaia Press provided a review copy of this book.