Alice in Sunderland Hardcover – May 1 2007
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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.)
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*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
Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The graphic novel is really about Sunderland itself - the history of the city and the relationship between the place and the people who live there with Carroll (nee Charles Dodgson), and quite a bit about Carroll himself - and how all these people and places relate to the writing, characters and events in _Alice in Wonderland_. The connections and interrelationships are fascinating (from the ancestral home of George Washington, to the inventor of the lightbulb and police box of Doctor Who fame, to well-known artists and performers.) Those who are interested a strict retelling of the story, therefore, will be disappointed.
However, the journey, non-sequitors and history of Carroll and the story are fascinating, as Talbot clears the record of many misconceptions about Carroll (that he was shy and withdrawn except when around children, for example), and the writing of the story itself (that it was created while Carroll was an Oxford Don and influenced by his time there.) These examples are just two of many. On this criterion alone I would give the book 5 stars. The artwork is impressive, Talbot clearly enjoying setting the record straight and taking the reader along on a wholly whimsical and visually stunning journey as he weaves the tale. This, too warrants five stars.
I don't read a lot of graphic novels - but I have no remorse about buying this one. It is a fascinating, true-life tale masterfully illustrated. Recommended.
The story, such as it is, concerns "a guy" (the book begins "Well, there's this guy . . . ") who walks into the Empire Theatre in Sunderland for a performance of ALICE IN SUNDERLAND, only to find himself the only person in the theater. Onstage appears a man in a puffy shirt (think "the pirate shirt" of SEINFELD fame) and the head of a rabbit. The Rabbit Man begins to talk, only to remove his head, revealing a human face (which is, in fact, Bryan Talbot's own). He then proceeds over the next 300 pages to provide an endlessly inventive history of the local area, repeatedly drawing connections to ALICE IN WONDERLAND. The exploration is categoric, embracing prehistoric and ancient history, medieval history, and modern history. He covers local the economy, politics, architecture, and cultural life. By the end of the book you not only feel like you've explored a corner of the world you never even thought about investigating, you feel that you'd love to visit the place. And indeed, you feel like you know it. You also learn a very great deal about Lewis Carroll.
What is astonishing is that Talbot keeps his story fascinating from beginning to end. In actuality this is a one-note symphony, but he so successfully disguises this that you scarcely notice it. Frequently his story approaches the sublime. For instance, at one point he enters the first house in a row of elegant dwellings for Sunderland's economic elite. He searches local records and discovers that it was built by a Quaker merchant named Joshua Wilson. He then spends the next five pages exploring his life and character. He seems to have been a thoroughly likable and admirable individual, a genuinely good, though largely forgotten, man. And then the sublime: " . . . and Joshua, long dead and long forgotten, now lives again in some small way in the mind of you, the reader." The book is filled with magical moments like that.
This is easily one of the most beautiful to look at books that I've ever seen. Talbot is unusual in the world of graphic literature in that he not only writes and pencils his work, but colors it as well. He also employs a hot of graphic techniques in organizing his pages. He uses paintings, drawings, retouched photographs, reproductions, collages, and just about anything else you can think of in creating his pages. I've shown the book to several friends who have been instantly struck by the sheer physical beauty of the pages.
I can't recommend this book strongly enough. It is easily one of the most beautiful books that I own (the only one that might surpass it is the first two volumes in THE ABSOLUTE SANDMAN -- Talbot, by the by, illustrated some of Gaiman's stories). It is also one of the most unique.
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