2015 is the Year of the Big Anniversary, it seems. They just keep coming. Here’s another one for you: this year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. It was published in London by Macmillan & Co on 26 November 1865 with 42 illustrations by John Tenniel. This is key, because immediately the words and the pictures formed a symbiotic relationship which informed everything to do with Alice from that day hence, influencing how other illustrators, film-makers, producers etc visualised and presented and re-presented Alice to this day.
No where is this better demonstrated than at a new exhibition which opened this week at the Cartoon Museum: Alice in Cartoonland.
As it happens, Charles Dodgson (i.e. Carroll) fancied himself as something of an illustrator and despite being turned down by various journals (“not up to the mark”), had plans to illustrate Alice himself. Fortunately, friends – including John Ruskin – persuaded him to engage a professional, and John Tenniel got the gig. The dream ticket, as they say, for there was none better.
Aside from the man himself, dozens of cartoonists and illustrators who have sat on Tenniel’s shoulder this past 150 years are represented here. E.H.Shepard, David Low, Carl Giles, Steve Bell, Wally Fawkes (TROG), Ralph Steadman, Martin Rowson are just some who caught my eye. Steadman, in particular, stands out. At least three of his pieces from his award-winning Alice book from the early 1970s are featured here. For Alice’s situations and scrapes lend themselves as metaphors to a thousand situations for political satirists. Cartoonists love it, not least because it gives them an opportunity to acknowledge Tenniel by reproducing his showy mark!
The appeal of Alice is universal, hence this exhibition has much more of an international flavour than most previous Cartoon Museum shows, quintessentially British. Items from both Disney (1951) and Hanna-barbera (1966) studios typify American contributions, though there are others too from non-English countries such as Czechoslovakia. I particularly liked the trans-Atlantic colour cover illustrations for the New Yorker by Irish-born cartoonist Kenneth Mahood.
Alice in Cartoonland at the Cartoon Museum runs from 15 July to 1 November. Entry is included in the museum’s standard admission of £7.