Book Beat March 14 2001 (1)

With their avant-garde comic book anthology Raw, editor Francoise Mouly and Pulitzer-winner Art Spiegelman advocated comics for grown-ups. Little Lit, which they bill as a “Raw Junior” book, seeks to reclaim the youngsters, offering a compilation of folk tales rendered by prominent artists from comic books, children’s books and the New Yorker magazine.
Parents may disagree as to how suitable Little Lit is for children. While all the content is G-rated, several hark back to the dark, pre-Disney origins of fairy tales. Dan Clowes offers an unnerving depiction of “Sleeping Beauty’s” forgotten second half, with the Prince’s mother seeking to devour Beauty and her children. Others show no interest in “happily ever after” endings, such as David Mazzuchelli’s impeccable Japanese fable “The Fisherman and the Sea Princess” and Harry Bliss’ richly drawn “The Baker’s Daughter.”
But plenty of Little Lit’s stories are wholesome and cute, especially William Joyce’s delightfully quaint treatment of the Mother Goose rhyme in “Humpty Trouble.” The book features a lively version of “The Gingerbread Man” created by Walt “Pogo” Kelly in 1943, and Spiegelman himself offers the amusing Hasidic parable “Prince Rooster,” about a young royal who’s convinced he’s a barnyard fowl.
Perhaps Little Lit’s most diverting features are the old-fashioned games and brain-teasers, which may prompt you to locate “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” in Bruce McCall’s treatment of Rapunzel, or to find the hidden snakes and eggs in Charles Burns’ monstrous “Spookyland.” Atlantans especially will appreciate “Fairy Tale Road Rage” by Chris Ware, creator of the acclaimed retro comic “Acme Novelty Library.” With the actual board game on the book’s end papers, you construct little cars and gather words to see which player can complete a story first.
Little Lit is by no means short on charm or creativity, and offers a fine introduction to some of the most distinctive talents working in comic books today. If you want to give it to children, make sure that they or their parents have a taste for the unusual. Some young readers may find parts of it a bit creepy — and some will like it all the more for that very reason.