Every so often, some part of my comic collecting gives me an event that just burns through all the dross of life and gives me a shining moment to grasp and makes me realise that I was so fortunate to be part of that.
One such night was Thursday, the 6th of August 2015, when my good lady wife and I were able to join the Scottish Cartoonists Society for their monthly get together. Little did I know what treats were in store for me there. I was already quite excited as I was getting to meet Stephen White (aka Stref), the driving force and artist behind the adaptation of Peter Pan as a graphic novel and published by Birlinn Limited. And when young David Wallace drew me a picture of Hypnocat, the character that he has created, it was beginning to shape up to be a great night.
But what I got to see that night just blew me away. Stref had not only brought some books to sell, but he had also brought his original artwork for us all to pore over. And then we got to chatting. And I found that I had met the most knowledgeable person that I have ever met when it comes to discussing J M Barrie. If I may say so, Stref seemed delighted to find someone that had links to Kirriemuir and could pick up on some of his references. And you will find a lovely review by Jeremy Briggs over on Down The Tubes.
Before I go on, I have to say that I have read the book and find it very faithful to what I knew of the original story. But I never knew that the original story did not feature Captain Hook as the villain of the piece. The original villain was actually Peter Pan as the original title had been The Boy Who Hated Mothers. Now the book that Stref has lovingly created would not have been out of place if it had been published concurrently with The Little White Bird, which was J M Barrie’s original book that featured Peter Pan. Do I say this as the book feels archaic? I can emphatically say no to that. Stref’s inks looks like he was channeling Aubrey Beardsley and Fin Cramb’s palette of colours looks like Winsor McCay had taken over. So you can imagine my delight when Stref told me that the reference work for Fin had been Little Nemo In Slumberland! Stref’s adaptation is a book that I am happy to call beautiful as the art is just page after page of solace for the eyes.
The simple truth is that if you collect any kind of book or you have a Peter Pan fan in your life, you need to buy this book for them or yourself. I don’t often say need about books. I want them all, but you need to have this book. It is just so beautiful and it is so enriching for your mind, soul and sight. As you can see, even Stref agrees that you need this book.
Now that I have sold you on the need to buy this book, I want to go back to the night we had. Looking at the pages in their original glory was a feeling that I have been priviledged to experience a few times, but to have the artist there to pick his brains was an added boost to one of the activities I enjoy most in this life. As I tore my eyes away from the pages, I noticed that there were notes on each of the page covers. Stref explained that these were notes to Fin about some of the Easter Eggs that he had hidden in each page. Some were quite well hidden, some were respectful nods to the life of J M Barrie and others were markers to celebrate the time of year. I won’t mention them all as you will enjoy finding some of them by yourself.
A good example that is missed because it is so obvious is that the Wendy House that is built by the Lost Boys for Wendy is a copy of the wash house that J M Barrie used to put on his plays to entertain his family. This wash house can still be visited if you go to the J M Barrie museum in Kirriemuir. I will leave you to find the poppy as I am sure you can guess which day that was drawn on.
Another Easter egg that I will mention is when Peter meets the Indians and Tiger Lily insists his life is spared as he saved her from the pirates. Now if you take a look at the background, you will notice a waterfall. Now unless you have visited J M Barrie’s hometown, it looks just like any other stepped waterfall. However, if you have any knowledge of Kirriemuir, then you will know that this is the Gairie waterfall that is at the back of Kirrie Den (for those that do not know Kirrie Den is the name of a public park that has been popular with generations of Kirrie folk)
When the books started to sell, Stref personalised each book and my wife and I got a lovely little inscription. I was more than happy with that, but god bless Eli Winter, the heart of the Scottish Cartoonists Society, as she ensured that no matter how tipsy Stref got, he was going to put a sketch in my sketch book. Now considering that Stref was at least two sheets to the wind by this time, I didn’t want to bug him, but Eli was adamant that he would do a sketch. So Stref bowed to the inevitable and asked what I wanted. I said that I would like J M Barrie as we had discussed him so much.
Stref’s recall facilities must have been strained by now, so he had trouble focussing on his phone to get the picture he wanted. But then, I got to see why this book is as beautiful as it is. J M Barrie appeared in the bottom right corner of the page. Then Hook appeared Athena like from behind Barrie. Pan formed as a proud and insolent youth to the left of Hook along with and a cohort of fairies. They were then supported by the crocodile whose clock had run down, but was still hungry to taste the rest of Hook.
As you can see, this is a beautiful piece and one that I will enjoy for the rest of my life. Alas, shortly after this, we had to depart and so missed the dubious delights of what the rest of the night brought. All I can say is that some of the pictures had me smiling that weekend.