Written by Jim McCann
The first thing you notice about this book is the wondrous art by Janet Lee. It’s not the usual comic style that hits the shelves every month, no, this is something quite different. Much like other visual artists before her, David Mack and Dave McKean pop to mind, she uses a very hands-on approach to every page and she infuses each visual with narrative information as well as swirling emotion. The pages come alive and you’ll be able to spend time slowly looking them over.
Our narrative follows Ayden, a boy, and Zoe, a robot girl, who live in the land of Anorev. Everyone in Anorev is eleven years old and time stands still. Nothing is remember, nothing is passed on. The world has stood still and in this vacuum children play and robots work and nothing means anything because it doesn’t get the time to. It’s a great children’s utopia/dystopia hybrid that makes you question what makes things good or bad. This land has aspects of both and thus ceases to be either. It’s a deep lesson to be thrust into.
The Dapper Men have returned to help fix the world. But they won’t just do it themselves and then wander off because then no lesson would be learned. Instead, one of the sartorial gentlemen, who is given the number 41, finds Ayden and talks with him while the others go about their own business. 41 knows Ayden is special because he’s the only one around questioning things. He is different and special, and through him the world will be made anew, fixed.
McCann is dealing in complex life issues and lessons here but he doesn’t ever truly become didactic. He slips wisdom and knowledge into his words much like the greatest children's literature would. He is teaching a generation of children, through this book, about the world much like previous classics did. The fantastical nature of the lesson brings to mind The Phantom Tollbooth and the endearing heart through amazing imagery can also be considered next to Where The Wild Things Are. Two classics that Return of the Dapper Men could easily stand beside, if not scores of others.
Knowledge implied is a dangerous and unwieldy tool. It can go awry on any number of levels. But knowledge inferred is then in the hands of the new and in the long run that is what is needed. Knowledge in action, not stored away and saved. It must be tinkered with, touched, used, and reused.
There is a great moment towards the end of the book where Ayden and Zoe realise that full potential can only be reached when you push yourself to absolute extremes. No one discovers their greatest ability in the privacy of their own home without any use. The skills don’t manifest themselves unless they need to be used. It is a great lesson and delivered perfectly here. You must dare the world to see what you can do.
In the end, the Dapper Men appear more as parents, or teachers, than deus ex machinas. They don’t sweep in, fix everything, and leave. That doesn’t build sustainability and they know it. Instead, they facilitate growth and help the children explore their questions because asking ten questions leads to more knowledge than knowing one thing.
Ayden learns many lessons and eventually understands the children must become what is lost in the world. They might not replicate it perfectly but they will become each their own approximation of what the world needs. And in that way things can improve and evolve accordingly. Things might be lost, and over time this hurts, but it also heals. Once you know everything ends then you are prepared for anything to end.
Children can learn a lot from this book, but they’ll never feel like they were involved in a lesson. This is the best sort of children’s fiction. It’s fun and it’s completely enveloping and just about any age should enjoy this.
Verdict – Must Read. If there is any child in your life, be they relation, friend, student, then you owe it to yourself to expose that bright absorbent mind to this world and knowledge. They’ll never regret it. This book expands horizons on so many levels and is a joy to read for so many reasons that I can see years of connection being built between any child and this literature. It is exactly the sort of things a growing mind needs to read, as well as adult minds that think they know it all and are stuck in their ways. This is an instant classic in the old school sense of the word. Bring a little dapperness into the world for every boy and girl and things will instantly be better.