Thursday, June 4, 2009

Gateway Drug: IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN

I'm just going to come right out and say it:

IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN is better than WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. Oh sure, that's like saying Casino is better than GoodFellas, right? After all, both books share the same plot - a little boy has an adventurous dream filled with images tapped from his subconscious. But I'm here to tell you that NIGHT KITCHEN works the same material better. I guess WILD THINGS wins the popular vote because it's story and themes are clearer. For kids there's the thrill of being powerful and important, for adults there's the subtext of oncoming puberty. NIGHT KITCHEN isn't quite as straightforward - there's a lot of strange shit about bread dough and giant kitchen utensils going on. I'm not going to pretend I know all of what Sendak is trying to say, but I love the way he says it. And that's because he says it through the magic of comics, yay!





As with all good comics, the typography is a seamless part of the artwork. The story is told through narrative panels, the dialogue spoken in big loud word balloons. Aside from all that, this is Sendak's best illustrated book. He uses a thick black line to render each character to perfection. Not a drop of ink is wasted. The color scheme is warm and earthy with occasional spots of red that leap out and hug your brain. The panel progressions accelerate the action in a way traditional storybook formats cannot. It speeds the reader along with naked little Mikey as he falls, leaps and flies through his kitschy kitchen. And while it may not have the wonderful monsters of WILD THINGS, it has instead three wacky cannibal bakers who put Mickey into a cake. These guy's are probably Sendak's most bizarre creations, which is certainly saying something.






Funny story - I always thought the bakers were supposed to look like Oliver Hardy. I just figured that since Mikey's dream was full of things stored in his subconscious he must have watched Way Out West or something right before bedtime. But get this, it turns out they're actually a trio of HITLERS! In an NPR interview, Sendak says imagery such as the bakers' moustaches and Mickey in the oven came from his preoccupation with the holocaust. Sendak is some kind of dark, fascinating guy. I wish I could sit and talk with this cat but I'd probably be too intimidated and screw it up. Listen to THIS interview and you can hear him explain how he doesn't do book signings anymore because it's too traumatic for children to meet him.








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