Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pippi Appears in Comics!

Pippi Longstocking is a children’s book character every bit as compelling and important as the classic big three girl heroines Dorothy, Wendy and Alice. Though she came almost half a century later, and was originally published in Sweden, the unmannered little girl with the shocking red pigtails and the desire to be a pirate instantly established herself as a classic and original children’s character when she first saw print in 1945. In all, Pippi’s creator, Astrid Lindgrin, wrote nine books and two short stories worth of Pippi Longstocking adventures, and there have been more than a few movie and television adaptations, but until recently, Pippi’s comic adventures were virtually unknown in the states.

That all changed a few years ago when Drawn & Quarterly publishing’s creative and acquiring director Tom Devlin discovered the comics at the Helsinki Comics Festival a few years ago. The comics are written by Astrid Lindgrin, retelling stories from the first three Pippi books, but it is the art, by Ingrid Vang Nyman, that really makes these books sparkle.

Vang Nyman is the original illustrator of the earliest Pippi Longstocking chapter books, but her work was overshadowed by later Lindgrin collaborators such as Ilon Wikland or Björn Berg. Vang Nyman’s comic work allowed her the opportunity to simplify her line work and at the same time, pop her art through the use of color. The talented artist kept up-to-date on the latest printing techniques and did the color separations for her art herself, creating comics that feel almost contemporary. Vang Nyman is credited with bringing a modernist, “flatness” to children’s illustration and it has been speculated that this was because she had vision in only one eye, having injured the other in an accident as a child.

Though Vang Nyman is being rediscovered today, in her own time she was underappreciated as an artist and late in life dealt with serious depression, which ultimately resulted in the taking of her own life in 1959. The Millesgården Museum in Sweden held a retrospective of her art, including some of her Pippi Longstocking comics pages, last year, which along with this new reprinting of her Pippi Longstocking comics, serves as a partial corrective to her forgotten place in children’s illustration history.

Drawn & Quarterly dedicated itself to reprinting all of Lindgrin and Vang Nyman’s Pippi Longstocking comics in a series of three volumes, to be released annually. So far, the first two, Pippi Moves In and Pippi Fixes Everything are available, with the third volume due out by next year. D&Q has done an exquisite job with the production of the volumes, releasing them as high quality children’s books at $14.95 each. The covers are tough and durable and the pages should resist the pawing of tiny hands eager to see the next page. I can imagine these books becoming the favorites of many children and becoming well worn and well loved with age.

The content of the books may worry some parents concerned with exposing their young children to images that might tweak our modern sensibilities. People sensitive to depictions of tobacco use might be put off by Pippi’s father, Captain Ephraim Longstocking, who is seldom pictured without his pipe. At one point, Captain Longstocking dresses in South Seas attire, as befits a man who has become king of a savage South Seas island nation, but by today’s standards such depictions of indigenous people is not considered politically correct.

These complaints are a far cry from the criticisms brought against the Pippi Longstocking books when they were first published. Children loved Pippi because she was ill-mannered, rude to adults and lived as she wanted. Parents were sometimes outraged by the little girl with super strength who beat up school bullies, evaded the police and openly mocked the need to be educated in schools on such unimportant subjects as math and grammar. However, Pippi Longstocking has oodles of positive qualities for children to learn from. Pippi radiates confidence and optimism, sticks up for her friends, loves animals, fights for the weak and speaks truth to power. Pippi Longstocking is a superhero, but she’s also a very real little girl and that’s why she’s one of the most iconic literary creations of the 20th century.

Your local bookstore would be happy to order Pippi Moves In and Pippi Fixes Everything from Drawn & Quarterly books for you, hopefully just in time for the holidays.

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