Alice in Sunderland
Bryan Talbot’s Alice in Sunderland isn’t read so much as succumbed to. It’s a happening more than a graphic novel.
Talbot draws himself visiting the Empire in gorgeously detailed pen-and-ink, where he views himself on stage narrating a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the theatre, at which point the book explodes into a colorful collage of every kind of image and graphic. Bits of everything are woven into this phantasmagoria — quotations, the geography of the North East of England, the history of the region, art, culture, literature, most especially Alice in Wonderland. Talbot makes a case for the imaginative classic having many more ties to the region than is commonly acknowledged.
The pictures and text blend without the usual panel borders or page grids, creating an immersive experience for the readers as we wander through Talbot’s train of consciousness. Elsewhere, formal panel arrangements contain the most boundary-crossing material, when Talbot’s selves argue with each other or ghosts elaborate on legends. Then there are the dragons and the Jabberwock.
The book is incredibly wide-ranging, from prehistory to modern art to metaphysics. Some sections are more interesting than others, but each reader’s choices will differ as to which is which. Like the weather, if you don’t like one page, just wait a bit, and it’ll change. It’s a great book to dip into and sample various sections, or to return to at different times with different interests. Reading through all at once is not recommended, because there’s just too much to take in, including a justification of comics as a medium featuring guest-prophet Scott McCloud.
Nearly impossible to describe, it must be experienced.
Sample pages can be found at the official website. Steve Flanagan created an extensive review of the book in similar multimedia style, while Sean Kleefeld compliments Talbot’s storytelling in his review. Paul Gravett provides an overview of Talbot’s career and an interview with him.