Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Mischievians, by William Joyce

Just in time for the holidays, William Joyce returns with a delightful new picture book. 

We here at The Jade Sphinx do not hide our admiration for the animator, illustrator, author William Joyce (born 1957) one of the great talents of our age.  We think that he is, in many ways, a modern-day Winsor McCay (1867-1934), an artist-showman with a distinct genius for entertaining children of all ages.  For some time he has been involved in the creation of a series of books centered on what he calls The Guardians of Childhood – creating a cosmology that explains the origins of beloved figures from childhood folklore from Santa Claus to the Man in the Moon.  (And we will review his latest prose novel in the series, The Sandman and the War of Dreams.)

His latest picture book, The Mischievians, however, is not part of the Guardian series, and is something of a palate cleanser for those following the series.  It is also completely unlike his earlier picture books, in that it is not a narrative story but, rather, a playful notebook/encyclopedia on Mischievians – the little gremlins responsible for missing socks, hanging boogers, bellybutton lint and a host of other social ills.

The book was Compiled with illuminations by Dr. Maximilian Fortisque Robinson Zooper, MD, PdD, LOL, OMD, QED, & Golly Gee.  Done while snapping his fingers in the air.  Just kidding.  Mayb  (the final e is stolen by a sneaky Mischievian).  So, we know already that we are in the realm of Joyce at his most raucous and, perhaps, his most naughty. 

The book details questions asked of Zooper by two children eager to know more about the forces at work that create smells, lose socks and enable embarrassing situations for us all.  And Zooper responds, outlining the various types of Mischievians with full-color illustrations.

The illustrations are quite wonderful, some done in Joyce’s customary luminescent Golden Age of American Illustration style, while many of the paintings of the Mischievians are completely alien to his other, published work.  These drawings, with all of their febrile energy and boundary-pushing intensity, owe more to Ed “Big Daddy” Roth (1932-2001), famed hot rod and bubblegum card illustrator.  But Joyce’s revamped sense of design is evident everywhere in the book, from the purposely faded and heavily-used cover (looking like a much-thumbed schoolbook) to the constant little hands of Mischievians everywhere, taking the very letters from the page.  Once again Joyce demonstrates that book design (and books themselves) are not static enterprises, but sources of both fun and motion.

Here’s a sample of the delights found in The Mischievians:

Dr. Zooper, you know when you look in the mirror and see a booger dangling out of your nose and you know it’s been there maybe all day and everybody has probably seen it?  Did a Mischievian do that?

Yes!  This mischievous duty is performed by Danglers.  A small group of Danglers live in your nose.  Their only job is to lure the nervous Booger out of the nostril.  (Boogers are notoriously shy.)  Once out, Booger discover that they love to see and be seen.  When the Booger is visible, the Danglers return to their hideout in your nose.  Never by embarrassed by a Booger that is dangling.  A dangling Booger is a happy Booger.

Do I have to leave the Booger dangling?

That’s between you and your Booger.

Here is William Joyce as you’ve never seen him before.  A hoot from start to finish, The Mischievians is good, old-fashioned mischievous fun.  Recommended for all children, and for the young at heart.

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