Dick and Jane Are All Grown Up and Baby Sally's Going for the Burn in a Takeoff by Marc Gallant
Times have certainly changed for America's most famous primary-school siblings, thanks to the slightly skewed imagination of a Canadian author-illustrator named Marc Gallant. The result of nine months of work on Gallant's part, More Fun With Dick and Jane (Penguin, $5.95) came out in January. More Fun is not intended for use in grammar schools, unlike its predecessor, which first appeared in 1931. For decades, Dick, Jane and their younger sibling were role models for first and second graders. Then liberal educators pointed out that not everyone was white, blond and Anglo-Saxon and not all women stayed in the kitchen By the early 70s the Dick and Jane series became one more relic of yesteryear. Until now.
Like millions of North Americans, Gallant, 39, grew up on the Dick and Jane books, though he didn't hold them in particularly high esteem. "They were either picking up little colored balls or chasing Spot," says Gallant. "Nothing very interesting ever happened." Five years ago, while working in Paris, Gallant read in the International Herald Tribune that the teacher who had had the idea for the Dick and Jane books had died. After consulting the original publisher's lawyers, Gallant found he could use the names Dick and Jane without paying a fee "It seemed to me that the books were an absolutely wonderful vehicle for satire " he says "And the way to do it was to peek at Dick and Jane's contemporary life-style."
Finding the original characters "pretty colorless," Gallant invented new personalities for them. "I knew I wanted to make Dick kind of nerdy because I never liked him," says Gallant. "I wanted Jane to be relatively independent." In depicting Sally, he got an opportunity to add a little vitality to the family. "As a baby," notes Gallant, "Sally was forever knocking things off the dresser and was very active. So I have her growing up to be the quintessential California yuppie."
Gallant's book is true to the original form, right down to its small size, short passages, red binding, identical typeface and illustrations. But the substance is strictly 1980s. The old racial stereotypes have been broken by the introduction of Sally's black broker as well as by her Asian friend from est. Dick's family has an Apple Macintosh that's user-friendly. The old farm has been destroyed to make way for a pharmaceuticals plant. Jane buys clothes from the L.L. Bean catalog, and when Dick walks the new Spot he is equipped with a pooper-scooper Such expressions as "totally rad, "awesome" and "networking" have become part of the vocabulary.
Gallant was born in North Rustico, a fishing village in Canada's Prince Edward Island where his father was a barber and his mother a nurse. He began painting as a boy. Besides art, maps and geography were his obsessions. He recalls staring at the horizon from the ocean's shore, feeling a sense of the earth's curvature and being aware of a world out there that he wanted to discover.
At 16, Gallant sought out that other world, moving to Montreal to work briefly as a junior illustrator for a department store before becoming a free-lance graphic artist. Then Europe beckoned, and he traveled abroad for two years before returning to Prince Edward Island in 1970. There he became deeply involved in environmental issues. "When I left eight years later, I felt I had done what I could do," says Gallant. "You can only be angry so long." In 1983 he wrote and illustrated The Cow Book asocial satire that tells the story of mankind from a cow's point of view.
A born wanderer, Gallant has been around the world twice, spending winters in a different city each year and returning to his 1885 home in Prince Edward Island every summer. This insatiable wanderlust, he feels, has one drawback that needs a remedy. "It makes it difficult to establish a long-term relationship. I need to find a 20th-century female nomad," says Marc, who has never been married.
Though Gallant has several new book ideas, a further Dick and Jane sequel is not one of them. "We look at Dick and Jane nostalgically, not because of the stories themselves but because they were the books we had during a period of innocence in our lives," he reasons. "They were actually pretty boring." There is, of course, nothing boring about success.
Look. Look. See Marc laugh. See Marc laugh as he cashes his royalty checks.