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'It Was a Dark and Silly Night...'

Art Spiegelman is best known for his Pulitzer-prize winning graphic novel Maus about the Holocaust. His latest project is a collection offering a different kind of scary story -- one designed to interest children in reading, and the art of storytelling. On Weekend Edition Sunday, NPR's Liane Hansen interviews Spiegelman about It Was a Dark and Silly Night....

Spiegelman says he learned to read from Batman and other comic books. Spiegelman and his wife, Françoise Mouly, approached cartoonists and well-known children's book artists and novelists with the idea for the project. "We wanted to make comics for kids that you could read and re-read."

The result was a series of cartoon stories called Little Lit. The first two were called Folklore and Fairytale Funnies, published in 2000, Strange Stories for Strange Kids, released the following year. The latest, It Was a Dark and Silly Night..., features stories that all begin with the same premise: the book's title.

"We figured if we made everybody start from the same place, if everybody started their story with the phrase 'It was a dark and silly night,' wherever they took it, it would all feel like variations on a theme...

Spiegelman says the book tries to answer the question, "What does it mean to tell a story?" "If everybody starts from the same place and still manages to create a totally different world from everybody else, they have that as a common denominator. It really is somehow about storytelling itself."

The book opens with a section by Martin Hanford, creator of the "Where's Waldo?" series. In the "Waldo" vein, the illustration includes monsters and other creatures -- all characters featured in the rest of the book -- that the reader must find.

One of the stories pairs writer Neil Gaiman, famous for "The Sandman" series, with Gahan Wilson, noted for his cartoons in the New Yorker and Playboy. Their story is about kids who have a birthday party in a graveyard. The noise wakes the dead, who join the party. "A great time is had by both the corpses and the kids before they return home at dawn," Spiegelman says.

The Little Lit series will continue. "We don't know the theme, but we're still going to make comics for kids," Spiegelman says.

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Liane Hansen
Liane Hansen has been the host of NPR's award-winning Weekend Edition Sunday for 20 years. She brings to her position an extensive background in broadcast journalism, including work as a radio producer, reporter, and on-air host at both the local and national level. The program has covered such breaking news stories as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the deaths of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy, Jr., and the Columbia shuttle tragedy. In 2004, Liane was granted an exclusive interview with former weapons inspector David Kay prior to his report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The show also won the James Beard award for best radio program on food for a report on SPAM.