“…and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”
I used the quote above, from the first paragraph of Lewis Carroll’s classic and newly popular story, as a preface to the “Dead Tree Edition” of my webcomic, ArgonZark! when it was published in 1997. I felt it was a perfect summation of the appeal of comics and graphic stories, as well as illustrated books in general.
Though hardly a graphic story in its initial form, the original appeal of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (which every proper Victorian child knows is the actual name of the book, emphasis on “adventures”) was deeply intertwined with the beautiful pen and ink drawings of Sir John Tenniel that graced the first printed editions (top two images above), along with the follow-up Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. (The story was first illustrated in manuscript form by Charles Dodson, AKA Lewis Carroll, himself.)
Those two stories area often mashed together in film, theater and comics adaptations, mixing characters and episodes from the separate stories with abandon. Granted, they are not the most linear or coherent of storylines (grin), but there is a general confusion even about which characters are from which story, and, though I haven’t seen it yet, it looks like Tim Butron’s new action/adventure version (emphasis on “action”) is taking the same license.
Part of the confusion arises from the fact that subsequent editions often presented both stories in one volume and publishers assigned their own illustrators to illustrate both at the same time.
There is a long list of illustrators who have taken on illustrating the two stories over time, but few have risen to the challenge of stepping into Tenniel’s large shoes (even after eating their slice of “Eat Me” currant-labeled cake).
Even noted illustrators of the stature and ability of Jesse Willcox Smith have bowed to Tenniel as the master of Alice illustrations by basically reinterpreting his illustrations in their own. Others, like Maria Kirk, Harry Rountree, Bessie Pease Gutmann, Charles Robinson, A.E. Jackson and Willy Pogany created their own visual interpretation, sometimes beautifully illustrated, but none have the weight and force to shine without being lost in Tenniel’s glare.
Mervyn Peake did a set of excellent illustrations that were so idiosyncratic as to stand on their own, but lack the charm and enduring appeal of Tenniel’s pen and ink Wonderland.
Only one other illustrator, to my mind, created a series of illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that can hold their place at the tea party with Tenniel — the great British illustrator Author Rackham (above, bottom two images).
Rackham has given us a different Wonderland, still simultaneously dark and bright, stylized and grounded in reality, and rendered with undeniable visual charm.
My old pal Doc Ozone has graced us with a nice set of images of Rackham’s Alice Illustrations.
There are inexpensive editions of the Alice books with Tenniel’s beautiful illustrations in which the quality of the images is quite high: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass (Modern Library Classics) and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (Barnes & Noble Classics Trade Paper).
Unfortunately, the print versions of Rackham’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are out of print, though you can still find them used. (Amazon is muddying the waters now by listing Kindle eBooks in the same searches with real books in an attempt to push the Kindle, so it looks at first glance like there are more editions than exist physically.)
There are several sources for other Alice Illustrators.
In addition to the wonderfully extensive list of Illustrators of Alice, with links, on LewisCarroll.org, there is a terrific resource on Alice Illustrators, A-Z by Lauren Harman, in which she posts example images by each illustrator.
Also, there is a good series of llustrations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Artists other then Tenniel, with scans from has own collection by Dave Neal, and a sampling of various Alice illustrators on From Smiler, with Love.
The lists are long, and there are a number of great illustrators on them, plus you could spend considerable time looking through the work of John Tenniel and Arthur Rackham alone, so I’ll issue my customary Time Sink Warning, and point out that you could be down this particular rabbit hole longer than you intend.