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Alice in Sunderland [Hardcover]

Bryan Talbot
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

May 1 2007
Sunderland! Thirteen hundred years ago it was the greatest center of learning in the whole of Christendom and the very cradle of English consciousness. In the time of Lewis Carroll it was the greatest shipbuilding port in the world. To this city that gave the world the electric light bulb, the stars and stripes, the millennium, the Liberty Ships and the greatest British dragon legend came Carroll in the years preceding his most famous book, Alice in Wonderland, and here are buried the roots of his surreal masterpiece. Enter the famous Edwardian palace of varieties, The Sunderland Empire, for a unique experience: an entertaining and epic meditation on myth, history and storytelling and decide for yourself — does Sunderland really exist?

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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Talbot's freewheeling, metafictional magnum opus is a map of the curious and delightful territory of its cartoonist's mind, starring himself in multiple roles. The starting point is the history of his hometown, the northeast English city of Sunderland, along with his lifelong fascination with the myths and realities behind Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland—potentially dry material, but Talbot pulls out all the stops to keep it entertaining. He veers off on one fascinating tangent after another. The book encompasses dead-on parodies of EC horror comics, British boys' comics and Hergé's Tintin, walk-ons by local heroes like Sidney James, extensive analysis of a couple of William Hogarth prints, a cameo appearance by the Venerable Scott McComics-Expert and even a song-and-dance number, drawing a three-dimensional web of coincidences and connections between all. It's also a showcase for the explosive verve of Talbot's protean illustrative style, with digital collages of multiple media on almost every page: pen-and-ink drawings in a striking variety of styles, photographs, painting, computer modeling, and all manner of found images. The book's only real weakness is its scattered focus, but Talbot is a remarkable raconteur, even if what he's presenting is more a variety show than a story. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass(1872) have had an immeasurable impact on children's literature and, indeed, the entire spectrum of popular entertainment, with Carroll's absurdist wordplay and surreal scenarios inspiring artistic visionaries from Salvador Dali to John Lennon. Of English writers, only Shakespeare is more frequently quoted. Such interesting literary tidbits as those abound in Talbot's lavishly illustrated graphic "entertainment" tracing the historical and cultural influences behind Carroll's masterpieces. The launching pad for Talbot's alternately fanciful and didactic exposition is the Empire Theatre in Sunderland, a former shipping port in northeastern England and a favorite Carroll haunt. Talbot's chosen stage manager-narrator is his own illustrated doppelganger, who takes the Empire stage for an audience of one and proceeds on a breathtaking tour through Sunderland's colorful history. Along with insights into famous battles, bridges, and ghost-infested castles, Talbot provides updates to Carroll's biography via recent information concerning his controversial relationship to the "real" Alice, Alice Liddell (1852-1934). Talbot's talented team of collaborating illustrators weaves a rich tapestry of artistic styles, ranging from superlative pen-and-ink drawing to colorized faux photography. They make a beautiful coffee-table volume of what may come to stand with Martin Gardner's The Annotated Alice(1960; rev. ed., 1990) as an indispensable trove of Wonderland lore. Carl Hays
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Hidden Gem May 14 2008
Format:Hardcover
I stumbled across this randomly and can't believe this gem has been hiding for over a year. It's a heavy, oversized hardcover, and something that could be read many times and enjoyed. Bryan Talbot seems to be quite well known in the UK, and I will definitely look into buying his other books.

The book is full of history, biography, interesting tourism bits about Sunderland and surrounding areas, great artwork and layout, plus subtle humour and the tie-in to Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland.

It's very inventive and refreshing, just at the moment I thought graphic novels were degenerating into vapid repetitiveness.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  22 reviews
40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Will you won't you, will you won't you, will you join the dance? April 24 2007
By E. R. Bird - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
There have been and always will be books that intimidate your average everyday book reviewer. As someone who works primarily with children's literature, this doesn't happen to me all that often. After all, as much as I'd like to be overawed by the latest Junie B. Jones series title, it just ain't gonna happen. But encompassing the whole of literature written with children in mind means sometimes having to deal with books that only just barely touch on my sphere of experience. When I first heard of Bryan Talbot's graphic novel, "Alice in Sunderland," I had no idea what it was. Not really. A glance at the cover gives the reader some hints to the contents, but for your average everyday American the word "Sunderland" means nothing. It's a nonsense word. A play on "Wonderland" obviously, but beyond that we're without reference. Standing at an impressive 328 pages, the book is obviously publisher Dark Horse Comics' most ambitious project to date. Dense, intense, and without comparison, Talbot has constructed the ultimate love letter/tour guide to his home. The fact that it may have also inspired Lewis Carroll's best-known work? Almost a sidenote.

Step right up! Step right in! Take off your hats and coats and make yourself at home. A man walks into a theater for a performance unlike any other. Onstage, the rabbit mask-wearing lead performer begins to tell the story. But it's not the story of Alice in Wonderland or even Charles Dodgson, her creator. Rather it's the tale of a place. A little strip of land on the North Eastern side of the island of Britain. A location that has inspired so many heroes, stories, tales, and legends you'd be amazed to hear them all. But Talbot isn't going to concentrate on the biggest folktales of his region. Nothing so straightforward. Instead, the book leaps, glances, references, and side-steps around every possible connection Sunderland might have to the world of Alice. What's more, the very history of Britain itself is tied intricately into Sunderland's tale. At the heart of it all, however, is the story of Lewis Carroll. For every seemingly inconsequential tangent, Talbot continually and continuously ties Alice Liddell, muse to the great author, and Carroll to the land they belonged to. Part historical treatise, part series of Rosicrucian-like connections, Talbot is unafraid to absolutely stuff his book with as much information as humanly possible. The result is a ridiculous and magnificent ode to a too little appreciated region.

It might sound a tedious affair. Constant backing and forthing between the present and the past. History coming alive is meant to be boring, right? So what are we to do when an artist like Talbot bends over backwards, not only to fit everything in, but to violently and continually change his style so as to both retain our attention and show off his prowess? Care to hear Henry V's speech before Harfleur, Act III, Scene I, done in the style of Mad Magazine? A Jabberwocky poem via Tenniel (right down to the unisexual hero?). Bryan Talbot can tell the story of brave Jack Crawford like it was a boys adventure tale then turn around and present some pretty nasty Normans ala Jack Kirby. There's even a bit of D.C. horror, odes to Herge, and a visitation from god-amongst-comic-artists Scott McCloud. Tenniel and Hogarth may get their due praise, but let us too admire what Talbot has seen fit to sneak in here and there artistically.

But I love the little things about this book too. The central plot concerns a single attendee, treated to this magnificent show in the Empire Theater. Of course the performer, the viewer, and even the man giving the walking tour are all various rather handsome versions of Talbot himself. Still, you grow very attached to the man watching. You're touched by his continual love and interest in George Fornby, local boy made good, ukulele phenomenon, and general nice guy. It's history is what it is. Hearing that the current Queen of England is related by blood to Alice Liddell isn't just good fun. Talbot can then turn Her Majesty into the Red Queen and at the same time show the moment Queen Elizabeth unveiled Sunderland's ode to the Great Library of St. Peter's in 1993. No detail is so small that Talbot can't weave it into the text in some fashion.

I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Talbot discuss this book at a conference held by the Lewis Carroll Society of North America. And let me tell you, it takes guts to stand before that kind of assemblage so to present a book on their beloved. From that talk, however, I learned all kinds of secrets about "Sunderland". The amount of Photoshop that has gone into some of these pages looks daunting at the outset. It's even more so when you hear how Talbot meticulously reconstructed some of his photographic scenes. The image of photographers taking pics of Alice at Columbia in her later years? Some of those fellows were lifted out of the original filmed production of "King Kong". That image of the Bayeux Tapestry? It took some wrangling to get to display even the replicated version held in the Reading Museum of Berkshire.

Not that the book is flawless. Sorry folks, but while Talbot may be a genius he is by no means perfect. He tends to bog down on the topics that are of the greatest interest to him and him alone. A walking tour thorough the public art of modern day Sunderland is cool to begin with but can't maintain the book's momentum after a while. Facts about Sunderland's shipbuilding and geography come across as akin to Melville's whaling portions of Moby-Dick. You feel obligated to read through them, but you get no pleasure from doing so. It's also funny to take into account what Talbot didn't include alongside what he did. He fails to speak on whether or not the Cheshire Cat's origins are also Sunderland-based (a notable absence, I feel). He doesn't mention, when discussing the Bayeux Tapestry (England's first graphic novel and compiled by "a single artist") that the creator was widely considered to be a woman. Sometimes watching the unmentioned becomes as fascinating as the mentioned.

Ah well. It's a remarkable affair just the same. For those readers willing to dedicate a couple days of their time to reading it through, "Alice in Sunderland" is one of the most rewarding reads. The convergence of graphic novel enthusiasts, Lewis Carroll advocates, and history majors is sweet indeed. An intimidating work in the best possible sense of the term.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best graphic novel of 2007.....so far May 20 2007
By Nicholas Zinn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The book took me by surprise. I was expecting another boring graphic novel, but Alice delivers so much more. I've little to compare it to in the field of graphic storytelling, but the only thing that comes to mind is From Hell. Like From Hell it delves with an enormous amount of information on a subject and this occurance is Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, and Sunderland England and how they all tie together.

Talbolt does this by presenting the facts in a lucid style of a theatrical presentation. Using this device, he jumps around the history of Sunderland(from it's begginings to the theatre he's telling the story and to so much more) and how Carroll may have been influenced by the location when writing the Alice stories.

Yet it isn't just a story about a book for kids, it touches upon so many varied things that it had my head swimming with information so I could only read about fifteen pages a day. His artwork adapts to the element of story that needs it. There are about a hundred smaller stories under this title and he jumps and creates some interesting designs to make this work. Talbot has gone beyond the usual standards of comics and presented a amazing new book.

The only complaint I have is how he overuses a photoshop filter over photographs. If he did this once in a while it would be alright, but it's a technique that is driven into the ground by the end.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Like Nothing Else I've Ever Read Oct. 15 2010
By Timothy P. Young - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This will be brief--part biography of Lewis Carrol, part overview of British history, part political statement, and part love letter to the author's adopted home, Talbot's "entertainment" (officially a graphic novel, but unlike anything else I've seen) uses a variety of art styles, referencing everything from Mad Magazine to Prince Valiant and everything in between, to take us on a circuitous journey through the British city of Sunderland and its environs, as well as separating fact from fiction in the life of Lewis Carrol and the history of his most famous works.

It's occasionally wordy, often surreal, and always mesmerizing. I bought it without knowing anything about it, having just finished The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition, and after needing a few minutes to adjust, was just blown away.

The only reason for dropping a star is that it may appeal mostly to Anglophiles or those obsessed by literary history. It's certainly not for everyone, but it's definitely one of the most intelligent, gripping "entertainments" that I've read in recent memory.

Well done, indeed.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alice special Sept. 10 2010
By Elsie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have always loved "Alice in Wonderland" story and knew that Lewis Carrol had connections with Sunderland, the place of my birth.
From this book I learned so much more about the story, the author, and Sunderland, although I thought I already knew most things about the area.
As a small child I loved to go into the Sunderland Museum, to see the stuffed walrus, who greeted everyone at the door.
Lewis Carrol got inspiration from this walrus for his poem.
From this book one can learn so much fascinating, true History of the North of England, in the easiest most enjoyable way, without realising it.
I thoroughly recommend this book called "Alice in Sunderland"
It is amazing!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Edutainment in graphic novel form! Aug. 12 2008
By zee rose - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I'm a fan of Lewis Carol and Alice in Wonderland from the original books to take off like The Looking Glass Wars. When I first picked this thick graphic novel up from my local library, I thought it was a another charming retelling of the story I love so.

Okay, so that was my fault for assuming so. Alice in Sunderland is not just about Lewis Carol. Its about the links between the works and life of Lewis Carol and his connection to the Sunderland area in England, connecting to other writers and artists such as George Orwell for example. Alright, so it reads like a very pretty history book sometimes but the story telling is wonderful albeit long and often it moves around freely from Lewis Caroll to the Sunderland theatre to the mythic origin of the Jabberwocky story.

The point here with this book is NOT TO LOSE YOUR FOCUS or you will forget all that you have learned. If anything, the book is wonderful to look at and if you're a Lewis Caroll or fan of Britain or Sunderland or you like history and stunning visuals, well this is the book for you.

Plot: What plot? Seriously though, its a history lesson.
Art: A The art shows the range of the creator.
In general: A- Buy it or get it from the library, but its a good read. And you can pretend its not educational if it bothers you so.
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