Curly Head Ballet an Enchanting Summer Read

by L.A. Mood Comics and Games

By Dan Brown

Judging by the sticky weather and thunderstorms we’ve been having in recent days, the time for summer reading is here – even if summer won’t officially arrive for weeks.

If you’re in the mood for a warm-weather read, The Curly Head Ballet by Forest City cartoonist Doug Rogers will scratch that particular itch.

This 33-page, black-and-white tale is an enchanting, wistful look at one little girl who just wants to dance, and was inspired by the city’s Original Kids Theatre.
It’s longer than a traditional kids’ book, but not quite a full graphic novel, yet still packs a (sweet) punch. I enjoyed it on a recent muggy afternoon. It’s one of those books that is as deep as you want it to be.

You may know Rogers for his political cartoons. Following in the footsteps of London Free Press legend Merle Tingley, Rogers skewers politicians at all levels of government.

A recent LondonOntLife online cartoon has Ontario Premier Doug Ford promising, during his announcement to loosen liquor restrictions, “Save just 10,000 pop-up tabs (off beer cans) and get a doctor!”

Rogers also specializes in depicting cartoon cats of various shapes, sizes and hues.

“I think this is the first time I have ever finished anything,” Rogers joked about Curly Head Ballet in a blog post in February. He completed the book this spring.
As with other summer reads, questions like “What happens in this book?” are kind of moot.

It’s more about creating a feeling, a vibe, surrendering to the atmosphere Rogers has conjured.

Natasha, the heroine of the story, goes to Madame De Barge’s studio in order to learn how to dance.

She finds fairies there, and the story follows her as she is mocked (the nymphs call her “NaTRASHa” at one point), then told she must “Lose your head! Throw that stinking thinking away!” before there’s a musical number that ends the story with a whirl of bodies.

It’s not clear what’s “real” in this book, nor does it matter. The point is just to enjoy Rogers’ fluid, expressive drawings. As summer frees us from the cold, Curly Head Ballet is sufficiently entertaining to free you of any hangups to make sense of its narrative.

So naturally I was floundering to think of a comparison for The Curly Head Ballet.
I racked my brain for another artist or property that would help readers understand it without having the new book in their hands.

Then, it struck me. The perfect parallel. And bonus, it’s also a local one.
You may remember how I reviewed another atmospheric graphic novel in this space last summer. I’m talking about DS Barrick’s dreamlike Murgatroyd & Nepenthe.

Although they are both from local creators, Murgatroyd & Nepenthe and The Curly Head Ballet don’t have much in common in terms of content. But I do think they are similar in terms of the vibe they evoke.

“Darling, your head’s in the way! I can’t help you if your head’s in the way,” Madame De Berge scolds Natasha, a line I could very easily see passing between Barrick’s two title protagonists.

Another way to think about it: I don’t know for sure, but these two local creators both seem to have been inspired by Berkeley Breathed after he ended Bloom County and remade the strip in an abstract vein, calling it Outland.

So by all means, spend a day this summer in a field with your back against the grass looking up at the clouds in hopes of spotting familiar shapes.

Or you could check out The Curly Head Ballet instead and let yourself be transported to a theatrical, imaginary place where children and fairies dance side-by-side like you always knew they should.

(A good starting point if you’re new to Doug Rogers is his blog, which can be found at

Dan Brown has covered pop culture for more than 31 years as a journalist and also moderates L.A. Mood’s monthly graphic-novel group.

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