Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly, editors, It Was a Dark and Silly Night (Little Lit, 2003)

Across the hemisphere our heroes dash in a flying machine of their own design, when down below in the ravaged tulip fields they spot the herbicidal maniacs.

It Was a Dark and Silly Night is both title and theme to this comic book collection of short stories for younger children. Published as a large format hardback, the book seems rather thin, but nevertheless manages to pack in seventeen artists and writers. These include an interesting mixture of talents, some of whom are not usually associated with literature aimed at children, let alone younger readers.

Comprised of twelve stories and printed on high gloss paper using vivid but never glaring colours, the book put me in mind of the British comics of my childhood. The kind of comics which featured characters such as Dennis the Menace, Desperate Dan and the Bash Street Kids. So anyone who is looking for a more American style, full of muscular super people in swimming costumes, should look elsewhere.

Those interested in more slapstick humour, some quite subtle messages and a good variety of image styles may find this title to be just the job. Stories include Patrick McDonnell's charming tale of a Moon who is afraid of the dark, Lemony Snicket and Richard Sala's unique origin for the Yeti, and Neil Gaiman's irreverent Jell-O tag in the cemetery escapade. There are just 47 pages of story, but Little Lit doesn't waste any space. In common with the comic book annuals of old, every available space is crammed with cartoon illustrations, ending with a one page fill-in-the-blanks opportunity to write your own Dark and Silly Night story.

Inevitably, some stories work better than others, and some creators appear to have put in more effort than others. For example, Neil Gaiman's story works on two levels, thus providing some entertainment value to any adult who may be reading it out to a child. The same is also true of Kaz's story about the upside down Boffo family, which ends with a subtle introduction to ironic humour. Then there's the sheer surrealism of Carlos Nine's Alice In Wonderland inspired tale of Billie the mouse, and the toy elephant who loves her.

It Was a Dark and Silly Night is a bright book, in both senses of the word, and large enough to keep the average young reader entertained and quiet for at least an hour.

[Nathan Brazil]