Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Beautiful Book #25

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. By Lewis Carroll. The Pennyroyal Edition as designed and illustrated by Barry Moser. University of California Press, 1982 and 1983.

Number 25 of 50. When you hit the halfway mark in a project, a celebration is called for. What better celebration than a tribute to Barry Moser and his Pennyroyal Press? Moser, an illustrator, woodcut artist, painter and book designer (among other things) founded The Pennyroyal press in 1970. His Pennyroyal books are made from the ground up using a printing press (managed by typesetter Harold McGrath) and woodcut illustrations created and printed by Moser. In 1982, Moser and McGrath undertook their first large scale project on the press, an illustrated version of Alice that is meticulous in its textual history, stunning in its design, thorough in its concept, and innovative in its pictorial interpretation.

For these books, Moser situates himself in the eyes of Alice. While we do see her and her sister depicted in illustrations that frame the narrative, once she is in Wonderland, the reader sees the  fantastic and frantic sights only as Alice sees them. This positioning heightens the horror and uneasiness of her adventure--of note, the Cheshire Cat is a skeletally thin Sphinx cat. Similarly, in 1983's Through the Looking Glass, the illustrations are all presented as if seen through the mirror's reflection. I could go on an on about the brilliance of these books--the chess problem played out in the illustrations, Moser's choice of accent colours, the faces depicted and who they represent, the layout of text and image on the page, the textual extras in each book--suffice to say, it is no wonder that Alice's Adventures in Wonderland won the American book award in 1983 for the trade edition of the book as published by The University of California Press.

I like to keep these posts short, but I do urge you to read more about Moser, Pennyroyal and the ground-breaking Pennyroyal Caxton Bible here. And please don't stop with Moser's woodcut Pennyroyal books. He has illustrated many other children's books as well. I've included an illustration from his Jump! collection of Brer Rabbit stories and an illustration from his collaboration with Virgina Hamilton on a A Ring of Tricksters below.

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