Sunday, 23 August 2009

Alice In Sunderland - Bryan Talbot

I had this book on my wish list for a long time before buying it. I was a bit wary. I know the area and the subject matter quite well. The fact that it was constantly referred to as a novel added to that hesitation. But after walking round it for a few years, I finally took the plunge.

There is no doubt that Bryan Talbot is up there with the best. He is an artist of enormous skill and sensitivity. He has a terrific imagination. And this is leavened by a deep interest in the history of the form (some of which we are introduced to in the pages of this book).

What we have, through the graphic artist’s eye, is a history of Sunderland and its connection with Alice Pleasance Liddell and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Offered as a kind of variety performance, hundreds of elements are woven into a deeply satisfying exploration of history, social attitudes, art, and much else besides.

I took great delight in revisiting places and bits of history that I knew from my time on Tyne and Wear and was equally delighted by the way in which the story of both Alices and the Revd Dodgson were given a fresh airing. For this was also a book about myth and the places of myth – how some is positive and has a place in our lives and how some grows out of ignorance.

There is a partisan element to the book that colours some of the facts, but these colours are, for the most part, transparent. And I was also left frustrated by the fact that the medium does not allow for deeper exploration of some of the issues (but this does have to be balanced by the fact that it allows those issues to be presented in a vivid way that will, I hope, inspire people to look at them in greater depth – and there is a bibliography for such folk).

And I found a typo (p277, in case anyone is interested, large panel, bottom right).

Reservations aside, there is no doubt that this is groundbreaking stuff. Bryan Talbot has proven without doubt that graphic books are capable of conveying complex, non-fiction narratives (just as he shown with fiction). For anyone who is chary of the claims that graphic works are not just for kids, I would recommend this book.