Fata Morgana – Jon Vermilyea

4 out of 5

It is absolutely wrong to compare Jon Vermilyea’s ‘Fata Morgana’ to Little Nemo just because they both feature dreaming little boys, but, heck: Jon Vermilyea’s ‘Fata Morgana’ is like a Slumberland nightmare, funneled through the same insanely imaginative adventurism as McCay’s classic strip, and then chopped and and blended with the kinds of tweaked visuals that John Kricfalusi kicked off back in the day and which have since evolved up through their modern iterations on the better Adult Swim and Cartoon Network selections. Hopefully that indicates something else that ‘Fata’ does share with Nemo, besides that little kid’s dreams: that it is an immediate entrance into a wholly new and engrossing world.

‘Fata’ is an illustrated book, full splash pages, no text, and only – to my eyes – vaguely narrational. A kid slumbers; the ether reaches out to him; he steps into this world of fantasy… and then it’s spread after spread of fiasco frescos with goosh-dripping trees and large, sword-swinging monstrosities, and ooky lava- and slime-infested worlds. Our kid – and a small gaggle of friends he amasses, like clown-suit wearing dog, and a happy pumpkin and some cool jellybean dudes – mostly seems to be having a good time, after a couple of frightful pages – and the it’s time to wave goodbye, and we’re bookended by another page depicting his slumber, dreamtime ending…

Jon’s neon colors are hallucinatorily wondrous; his pillowy, detailed creations are like decayed Max Fleischer works, and the repeated concepts and imagery remind of Jim Woodring. This is all good stuff. I only knock it down a peg because the vague “story,” for better or worse, makes me go hunting for things to thread through from page to page, and that makes me wish there was more of a sense of a journey from start to finish, versus a set of pinups. There is some linearity, which is what damns me to have that wish fester: the aforementioned friends are picked up page by page, and the different happy and sad and frightened moods shown by the boy (and one companion that sticks with him the whole while – a little robot / stone creature) suggest there might be something more to this that I can’t quite suss out…

The flipside is that these details have made ‘Fata Morgana’ something I’ve returned to several times, flipping through it slowly, which increases its value way beyond the standard art book that, unfortunately, ends up sitting on a shelf only until you want to introduce someone else to its greatness.