Joel Nakamura turns his post-Pop, swirling mix of psychedelia to the myths, legends, and cultural mainstays of the Southwest in Go West!, a new book for children published by Leaf Storm Press next month. There’s no narrative — just the simple command that, once upon a time, was used to encourage Easterners bent on following their dreams to a land far away and full of promise. “Go West!,” Nakamura writes, “where the birds run fast and time runs slow.” Nakamura infuses every page with rainbow hues and a host of animal figures — some real, such as New Mexico’s omnipresent prairie dogs, and some imaginary, like the iconic jackalope — as well as animated objects including coffee pots with legs and mugs with smiling faces because, as you’ll discover, the West is “where the cocoa steams all year round.”
Wolves, coyotes, roadrunners, cowgirls, cacti, mesas, smoke signals, and chile peppers all make an appearance, lending the book the flavor that is at once contemporary, historic, and mythic. It’s a delight for adults as well as children. The author’s full-page illustrations, handpainted using cactus spines, capture the spirit of the land, and he fills each composition with small details that make a second read more enriching than the first. What Nakamura presents is, perhaps, not the reality of life in the West as it is, but a dream that lives in the American consciousness. It’s a fanciful revisioning of old tropes and breathes new life into tired subjects. Cowgirls, after all, don’t really have rocket boots that blast them into the stratosphere, but wouldn’t it be cool if they did?