Beautiful Books: Journey to Plunderland

March 31, 2015

BookThug recently launched one of their new spring titles, Alice in Plunderland by Steve McCaffery. The name of the book probably seems familiar and you would be right--McCaffery has taken the Lewis Carroll classic, Alice in Wonderland, and "plundered" it. In the rough-and-tumble world of Plunderland, where theft, drugs, and gangs hold sway, and nary a tea party is to be found, the Cheshire Cat is a junky from the UK; the King and Queen hold court over the land of Cocaine; even Alice's adventures are transformed in her quest for a fix. If asked what Wonderland looks like, everyone could probably do a decent job of describing a Mad Hatter tea party; but what does Plunderland look like? Publisher Jay MillAr and artist Clelia Scala provide some insight below.

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BookThug recently launched one of their new spring titles, Alice in Plunderland by Steve McCaffery. The name of the book probably seems familiar and you would be right--McCaffery has taken the Lewis Carroll classic, Alice in Wonderland, and "plundered" it. In the rough-and-tumble world of Plunderland, where theft, drugs, and gangs hold sway, and nary a tea party is to be found, the Cheshire Cat is a junky from the UK; the King and Queen hold court over the land of Cocaine; even Alice's adventures are transformed in her quest for a fix. If asked what Wonderland looks like, everyone could probably do a decent job of describing a Mad Hatter tea party; but what does Plunderland look like? Publisher Jay MillAr and artist Clelia Scala provide some insight below.

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When we accepted Alice in Plunderland by Steve McCaffery for publication, we knew immediately that it had to be illustrated, just as Lewis Carroll’s original book had been. Because we had worked with her in the past on Stephen Cain’s I Can Say Interpellation, Clelia Scala’s name came immediately to mind, and we were more than pleased that she agreed to take on the project. At first we had been thinking of only a few illustrations, but because of the nature of McCaffery’s transmutation of Carroll’s text, Clelia realized that each illustration of the original needed a transmutation of its own, and took it upon herself to make this happen. And then we decided to print the illustrations in full colour, which is what truly brings the world of Plunderland to life. And as we began to lay out the book we were delightfully surprised to discover that 2014 marks the 150th anniversary of the original publication of Alice in Wonderland!

I will conclude by confessing to a certain joyous pleasure in typesetting the book: As I worked from an illustrated edition of the original book, I placed each of Clelia’s illustrations into McCaffery’s text exactly where it should be, and the palimpsest of the original narrative grew ever more apparent. I am quite certain that McCaffery’s Alice in Plunderland would not be the beautiful book that it is without Clelia’s wonderful and clever collages to accompany it. We asked Clelia if she could tell us a little about her collage work for Alice in Plunderland, and here is what she had to say:

 

The 42 collages in Alice in Plunderland are translations of John Tenniel’s 42 illustrations for the 1865 edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Steve McCaffery’s re-imagining of Alice maintains Lewis Carroll’s rhythms, sentence by sentence; my collages were intended to compliment McCaffrey’s approach to the text.

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Tenniel’s Alice illustrations are iconic. When we think of Alice, we think of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, blue-frocked girl, rather than the waifish brunette, Alice Liddell, who was Carroll’s model for Alice.We all know without looking at the book exactly what Tenniel’s caterpillar looks like. I wanted Tenniel’s illustrations to be on readers’ minds when they looked at my collages, yet the collages also hadto illustrate McCaffery’s text. Each collage needed to refer to Tenniel’s work while telling a new story.

I kept Alice, the interloper and observer of Plunderland, as Tenniel’s Alice and tried to somewhat maintain Tenniel’s composition for each image. When making each collage, I first enlarged the corresponding Tenniel illustration as a guide and then very roughly sketched out my changes, often simply placing in my drawing the name of the object I needed to seek out. For example, when Alice meets the King and Queen of Cocaine, the central figures are in the same position as they are in Tenniel’s illustration, and instead of a garden trellis there is a guillotine.

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Although the collages refer to Tenniel’s compositions, I also made room for play, often expanding the picture beyond the boundaries of the original and making sure that the image referred to McCaffery’s text. The caterpillar, for instance, still sits on top of his mushroom, but his body is that of a man’s, a field of mushrooms stretches out on each side, and the background is a photo transfer of Toronto, where Plunderland is set.

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Plunderland is hellish - a seedy world filled with addicts, filth, treachery and violence. As soon as I read the text, I thought of Gustave Doré’s engravings for The Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost. When possible, I incorporated images from those texts. The Cheshire junkie sits in one of Doré’s suicide trees, the gryphon’s body is Lucifer’s, Old Father William is stuck in Inferno. Although I often sought out specific images for collages, ideas for collages were often sparked by my browsings among19th-century Punch and Puck magazines, vintage scientific illustrations, advertisements from Saturday Evening Posts from the 1950s, old cartoons and many other sources.

 

 

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Thank you to Jay MillAr and Clelia Scala for sharing the story and art behind Alice in Plunderland with us!


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