Contrariwise! Breaking rules in Bryan Talbot’s Alice in Sunderland

Authors: Round, J.

Journal: Critical Engagements: A Journal of Criticism and Theory

Volume: 3

Pages: 180-201

ISSN: 1754-0984


This paper will discuss the ways in which Bryan Talbot’s Alice in Sunderland breaks rules of storytelling and medium and how, in so doing, it coheres with the spirit of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It begins by establishing the current position of Carroll and Alice in Wonderland with reference to both cultural capital and interpretative possibilities; paying particular attention to the uses made of Alice in Wonderland thus far in comics, film and visual media (Batman, Matrix, Resident Evil). It summarises the dominant view of Alice in Wonderland as a warped fairytale or nonsense lesson and its author as an introverted genius. It proceeds to discusses the ways in which Alice in Wonderland challenges our perceptions: of logic, reality, children’s literature, social convention and so forth, and concludes that much of its appeal is based around the presence and subversion of rules. The main body of the paper then discusses parallels of content and form between Bryan Talbot’s Alice in Sunderland and Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It notes shared content, including dual meanings, nonsense patterns, etymology, political commentary, and illustrative parallels. It proceeds to discuss the ways in which Talbot’s Alice accords with its source text by breaking the many of the ‘rules’ of the comics medium. These methods include the incorporation of rough sketches and script, use of a varied and disruptive aesthetic, the non-fiction content, narrative reliance on text over image, juxtaposition of incompatible style and content, challenges to comics’ grammar and narrative chronology, and the writing of both narrator and audience into the comic.

It draws links between these elements and corresponding challenges to prose and genre in Carroll’s Alice, reflecting on the role of medium in structuring a text and paying particular attention to the use of theatrical narrative conventions in Talbot’s storytelling. It concludes by summarising the ways in which Talbot’s treatment of Alice both stretches and comments on the boundaries of the comics medium with reference to notions such as co-present time, the writer/reader relationship, and fantasy and the hyperreal.

Source: Manual

Preferred by: Julia Round