To Become Somebody: Paula Modersohn-Becker

There is so much more that I have to learn, and then maybe I’ll become someone… –Paula Modershon-Becker in a letter to her husband, Otto Modersohn, 1906

I am becoming somebody—I’m living the most intensely happy period of my life. –Paula Modersohn-Becker in a letter to her sister, Milly Rohland-Becker, 1906

I am beginning a new life now. Don’t interfere with me; just let me be. It is so wonderfully beautiful. I lived the past week in such a state of excitement. I believe I have accomplished something good. –Paula Modersohn-Becker in a letter to her mother, Mathilde Becker, 1906

If a man had written these words, we would get the impression of blind ambition—someone simply wanting to make a name for himself for its own sake. But a closer look at this artist’s life and the emphasis in the letter to her mother, it becomes clear this is about freedom—freedom at a time when women had little leeway to really be themselves and accomplish outside the domain of traditional gender roles.

Born Minna Hermine Paula Becker in Dresden, 1876, she was the third of seven children. She grew up in Bremen and her father insisted she study a profession so she could stand on her own two feet. While training as a teacher there, she took some classes in painting. She loved it and pursued her interest enthusiastically. In 1896, she enrolled in a school of drawing and painting sponsored by Verein der Künstlerinnen und Kunstfreundinnen in Berlin (Union of Women Artists and Friends of Art). It was one of the few options for aspiring women artists because they were not allowed in most art schools. The official justification was that women would be shocked or corrupted by the presence of nude models. She also had a wonderful experience taking classes for 7 months in London in 1892 but became disillusioned by their emphasis on effect rather than form. She was an eager student and diligently honed her skills, carefully assimilating any critique of her drawings. Over 1200 sheets are known to exist, some two-sided.

I live entirely with my eyes now and look at everything with the mind of an artist. –Paula Becker in her diary, 1896

Paula Becker - Standing Child Nude with the Skeleton Drawn In, 1899 (cat. 108)

Paula Becker – Standing Child Nude with the Skeleton Drawn In, 1899 (cat. 108)

Paula Becker - Standing Girl Nude with Her Hands Behind Her Head, c. 1899 (cat. 107)

Paula Becker – Standing Girl Nude with Her Hands Behind Her Head, c. 1899 (cat. 107)

In her eager researches, she saw an exhibition of works from the Worpswede Secessionist colony in 1895. As a result of that exposure, she included Worpswede in her vacation plans in 1897. There she befriended many people including Otto Modersohn, who would become her husband in 1901, and Heinrich Vogeler, who became one of her closest friends.

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Standing Girl in Front of a Goat Shed, 1902 (cat. 27)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Standing Girl in Front of a Goat Shed, 1902 (cat. 27)

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Head of a Blond Girl in Front of a Landscape, 1901 (cat. 14)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Head of a Blond Girl in Front of a Landscape, 1901 (cat. 14)

Although Becker made extensive use of the local landscape and people in her work, many of her ideas about form, composition and texture were not embraced by the group and she had to experiment in seclusion. Becoming acutely aware of the importance of Paris to the art world, she made her first of four visits there in 1900. Initially, she was a sponge, trying to learn all she could from the old masters. But in subsequent visits, she trained a more critical eye on those anointed artists who came before. She was particularly taken by a series of mummy portraits recently excavated in Egypt; they are a kind of life-cast made in one’s youth to preserve that image for eternity after death. In viewing these, she had a breakthrough and this mask-like quality is evident in her work.

I see such a lot and believe that I am getting closer to beauty in my mind. In the last few days I have discovered form and have been thinking much about it. Until now I’ve had no real feeling for the antique…I could never find any thread leading from it to modern art. Now I’ve found it, and that is what I believe is called progress…A great simplicity of form is something marvellous. –Paula Modersohn-Becker in a journal entry, 1903

One of the Worpswede children she painted was her own stepdaughter, Elsbeth.

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Bust of Elsbeth with a Flower in Her Hands in Front of a Landscape, c. 1901 (cat. 15)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Bust of Elsbeth with a Flower in Her Hands in Front of a Landscape, c. 1901 (cat. 15)

In 1905, she was accompanied by her sister, Herma Weinberg, who was a frequent and patient model. She took every opportunity to see the works of masters, such as Gaugin, found in private collections. She had high regard for two living artists, Charles Cottet and Maurice Denis, and made a point of visiting them as well. She alternated between Worpswede and Paris in her short career, gleaning the best of both worlds. In Worpswede, there was seclusion and beauty and a strong Germanic accent while in Paris there was freedom, vitality, the spirit of internationalism and access to the work of great masters. This alternation was reflected in the juxtaposition of Northern elements—an amber necklace, for instance—and those of the South—exotic fruits and flowers.

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Seated Mother with a Child in Her Lap, May/June 1906 (cat. 76)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Seated Mother with a Child in Her Lap, May/June 1906 (cat. 76)

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Zwei kniende Mädchenakte, 1906/07

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Zwei kniende Mädchenakte, 1906/07

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Seated Girl with a Black Hat and a Flower in Her Right Hand, c. 1903 (cat. 32)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Seated Girl with a Black Hat and a Flower in Her Right Hand, c. 1903 (cat. 32)

Modersohn-Becker defies classification in many ways and yet we learn much in the attempt. Living between the formal periods of Impressionism and Expressionism, some say she presages those later developments, boldly forging ahead with no role models. But I believe she expresses a raw feminism that has eluded classification simply because art movements have been interpreted in terms of patriarchal scholarship. An honest analysis of her work reveals that her subject matter is a sincere and passionate expression of the female psyche.

I don’t think a man could have made these paintings. I mean she’s already gone further than so many other artists at that time. She was the first woman to paint herself nude—and on her sixth wedding anniversary, too! –Chantal Joffe in an interview with Greta Kühnast, 2014

…when I was a child, it spooked me. The smile is strange and somewhat insane and then there is this weird intimacy, like the woman is luring you into her secret room…She holds a secret and it is intriguing, but at the same time you don’t really want to know about it because you sense that it could be something horrible. –Daniel Richter in an interview with Tine Colstrup, 2014

There are many parallels to artists who followed and Francesca Woodman comes quickly to my mind when reading accounts of her life. Both women, separated by almost a century and using different means, engaged in obsessive self-exploration and created images of themselves nude. In this respect, Modersohn-Becker is a pioneer, being credited with being the first woman to paint a full-length nude of herself. Some male artists have done this before, but never before a woman. And because her images did not express the kind of idyllic sentimentality of the female body—objects of male artistic and romantic inspiration—she once again shattered conventions, ruffling the feathers of many in the artistic community.

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Self-Portrait as a Standing Nude, Summer 1906 (cat. 68)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Self-Portrait as a Standing Nude, Summer 1906 (cat. 68)

Art historians often lose sight of how acculturated we can be. Many have observed the strange posture of the self-portrait and the unconventional use of fruit. The simple explanation is that Modesohn-Becker was not constrained by the established modes of symbolism. She often used fruits (particularly citrus) and flowers (like poppy and foxglove) and was able to intuit a sensible symbolic meaning. Citrus was relatively exotic at the time and thus gave extra punch to the symbolism that a more mundane fruit would not have. Also, the strange pose was not used tactically to observe some convention of modesty; breasts and pubic area were in plain view. But the positioning was meant to emphasize the mystery of the female body, one hand at the breasts and the other on the belly.

Modersohn-Becker would never be accused of painting pretty pictures—portraying local peasants, including children, in a frank introspective way. This contradicted the propaganda of the National Socialist Party (The Nazis) portraying peasants as beautiful and valued subjects of the state. Thus her work was included in two exhibitions of so-called degenerate (entartet) art in 1933 and 1937.

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Girl in a Red Dress at a Tree Trunk in Front of a Background of a Clouded Sky, c. 1905 (cat. 57)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Girl in a Red Dress at a Tree Trunk in Front of a Background of a Clouded Sky, c. 1905 (cat. 57)

Even the least sentimental paintings of children have their charm and they were subjects in over 300 of the artist’s 734 cataloged paintings. But even here, she manages to avoid the traditional portrayals and brings us the child as a personality with a vivid inner world. “Creating free children will be the most distinguished task of this century,” (Rainer Maria Rilke, 1902) expressed the dominant sentiment of the time. Yet there is an undeniable sweetness when the children are paired with other children, mothers or an animal. The reality of a peasant’s life is hardship and work, little time for the niceties of raising and enjoying one’s children. It was quite usual, especially in large families, for the older siblings to raise the younger. This fact means that in studying children as they really were, which the artist did fastidiously, one comes away understanding that there would be a strong bond and solidarity between siblings and between children and animals in the absence of adult affection. Modersohn-Becker effectively illustrates this phenomenon in her paintings.

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Kneeling and Standing Girls Nude, Poppies in the Background II,  1906 (cat. 73)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Kneeling and Standing Girls Nude, Poppies in the Background II, 1906 (cat. 73)

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Girl in a Birch Forest with a Cat, 1904 (cat. 48)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Girl in a Birch Forest with a Cat, 1904 (cat. 48)

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Girl with Rabbit in Her Arms, 1905 (cat. 58)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Girl with Rabbit in Her Arms, 1905 (cat. 58)

During this period, the “cult of the child” was in its heyday and images were usually idyllic and bereft of character. The portrayal of nude children were either produced as a matter of course or to exemplify ideals of purity or innocence. An examination of Modersohn-Becker’s paintings of children show them naked or wearing the most plain and indistinct clothing. This was her way of washing out any distracting cultural accoutrements and allowing the child to express the artist’s symbolic intent more clearly. Stripped of class and nationality, these images express universal ideas that can have an enduring impact on the art world, despite the artist’s short career.

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Kneeling Girl Nude with a Stork, 1906/07 (cat. 87)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Kneeling Girl Nude with a Stork, 1906/07 (cat. 87)

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Two Girls in White and Blue Dresses, May/June 1906 (cat. 72)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Two Girls in White and Blue Dresses, May/June 1906 (cat. 72)

There was plenty of tension in her marriage with Otto Modersohn. Ironically, with her focus on the mystery of the female body, she failed to satisfy her own desire for children. In addition, Otto himself was just as baffled as his colleagues by Paula’s artistic ideas and was openly critical of her work. During a trial separation, Modersohn-Becker visited Paris for the fourth and final time in1906. This was a time when she really came into her own and expressed some of her most ecstatic feelings about what she was accomplishing. She returned to Worpswede one last time to try once more to have a child. This time she was successful and Mathilde was born in late 1907. Shortly thereafter Paula complained about pain in her legs which was misdiagnosed and she died from an embolism. Most of the work she did in seclusion only became known to her closest friends upon inspection of her estate. Heinrich Vogeler was one of the first and made an effort to document the artist’s output and Rainer Maria Rilke, one of her closest confidants, wrote a requiem for his cherished friend.

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Elsbeth among Fire Lilies, 1907 (cat. 91)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Elsbeth among Fire Lilies, 1907 (cat. 91)

Many women artists have found kinship in this pioneer of feminine artistic expression. Interviews with Rineke Dijkstra and Chantal Joffe bring out many of the parallels and I believe history will bear out the long-term significance of the work of Paula Modersohn-Becker.

Paula Becker - Standing Girl Nude,Turned Left, c. 1898 (cat. 109)

Paula Becker – Standing Girl Nude,Turned Left, c. 1898 (cat. 109)

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Seated Girl Nude, Turned to the Right, 1903 (cat. 35)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Seated Girl Nude, Turned to the Right, 1903 (cat. 35)

This artist came to my attention from an associate who visited the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark during their exhibit of the artist (December 2104–April 2015). Another major exhibition is scheduled for the Spring of 2016 at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. The information for this post is gleaned almost exclusively from the museum’s excellent catalog which can be ordered through artbook.com. Unfortunately, I am told that the museum itself is currently out of stock. Hopefully, there will be a resurgence in interest in this artist and they will see fit to commission a reprint.

Below is a list of the excellent essays and interviews (in English) contained in the catalog:

  • Venus of Worpswede, Tine Colstrup, Curator
  • The great simplicity of form: Paula Modersohn-Becker’s Art in Modernism, Uwe M. Schneede
  • Paula Modersohn-Becker—Pioneer of Modernism: Her life and work as reflected in her self-portraits, Rainer Stamm
  • “It’s good because it’s serious. And peculiar”: An interview with the German painter Daniel Richter, Tine Colstrup
  • Paula Modersohn-Becker: Meaning of Flowers and Fruits, Gisela Götte
  • The cradled cat: Children and Animals in Works by Paula Modersohn-Becker, Verena Borgmann
  • Body of Evidence: Modersohn-Becker’s Reclining Mother-and-Child Nude, Diane Radycki
  • Paula-Modersohn-Beckers Still Lifes: Construction and Poetry, Anne Buschoff
  • “The complexity of every single human being”: Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra on Paula Modersohn-Becker, Hans den Hartog Jager
  • Paula Modersohn-Becker’s Drawings: Absolutely Modern in the Tradition, Anne Röver-Kann
  • “A radical way of seeing”: An interview with the British painter Chantal Joffe, Greta Kühnast
  • Biography, Wolfgang Werner

Random Images: Michel Simonidy

Michel Simonidy (1870–1933) was a painter, draftsman, designer and illustrator.  He was born in Romania and was a portraitist there before moving to Paris.  His paintings were in the style of Art Nouveau.  He produced artwork for a number of posters including this one.

Michel Simonidy - Poster for La Bourboule (1895)

Michel Simonidy – Poster for La Bourboule (1895)

Alice: A Personal View

It was my intent after publishing the Graham Ovenden post to then move on to his other relevant work. However, while considering his book, Illustrators of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” (1972), I was urged to cover a much more comprehensive volume recently published, Illustrating Alice: An international selection of illustrated editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass published by Artists’ Choice Editions in 2013.

I wanted to call this post ‘The Definitive Alice’ but the book itself admonishes its readers from regarding it that way. It is a fair argument because, after all, it only covers illustration despite including a lot of discussion about the stories and their interpretation. And instead of trying to be thorough in covering all views, we get a wonderful spectrum of personal anecdotes and revelations from artists, collectors and other lovers of Alice lore including the more prominent members of Lewis Carroll societies around the world.

Given that a definitive book on Lewis Carroll’s two stories, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871), would require a multi-volume encyclopedia, Illustrating Alice does remarkably well, bringing out many imaginative key points. The Alice stories (and their ethnic adaptations) have been published in over 100 languages and, in proportion to total word count, are more often quoted in published works than the plays of Shakespeare. Illustrating Alice has an interesting organization. First, some discussion of Alice in different countries is offered, then numerous living illustrators were asked to discuss their experiences and views. There is also some discussion of film adaptations. For serious Alice lovers, this book is an important reference and I offer a more detailed outline of the contents of the book at the end of this post.

With respect to offering fresh interpretations of Alice, it should be recognized how challenging it has been to see past Sir John Tenniel’s iconic illustrations in the original books and to fruitfully psychoanalyze Carroll’s original intent.

Lewis Carroll - Alice's Adventures Under Ground (1864)

Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (1864)

Sir John Tenniel - Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871)

Sir John Tenniel – Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871)

Due to copyright rules, new versions of Wonderland could not be produced by other publishers until 1907 (and Looking-Glass until 1946). In the U.K. there were already 30 new editions by the end of 1908. Millicent Sowerby had the distinction of being the first to have her illustrations published. Publishers would gradually compete to produce the most opulent editions. W.H. Walker was the first to include scenes not given in the original Tenniel and Harry Rountree had the record for the most color images published, 92. Two of the most popular editions were by Raphael Tuck: one based on early Mabel Lucie Attwell work in 1910 and then a more innovative approach in 1921 based on the work of A.L. Bowley giving us the first examples of pop-ups and a panorama scene with slots to place each of the supplied cut-out characters.

Arthur Rackham - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1907)

Arthur Rackham – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1907)

During World War II, there was a dearth of publishing because of paper rationing. One notable exception was the work of Mervyn Peake. He produced illustrations for both Alice books which were first published in Sweden in 1946, then in the U.K. in 1954. His images, considered among the best by many experts, were modeled after a neighbor girl named Caroline Lucas who, he believed, had just the right qualities. The high regard for his work is exemplified by a quote from Graham Greene, “You are the first person who has been able to illustrate the book since Tenniel.” This is even more remarkable when one considers that Greene was generally opposed to the idea of illustrating great literature at all. The work has since appeared in many editions while the original art deteriorated from neglect.

Libanus Press was later commissioned by Bloomsbury Publishing to take up the challenge of scanning the original drawings and putting in about 240 hours of computer work to restore them. The results were published in 2001 and shortly thereafter Libanus published them with the title Peake’s Alice in actual size each accompanied by an appropriate quote. One of the first artists to break through the Tenniel paradigm was Ralph Steadman in 1967, with a freer and highly political take on the story. In the 1970s, Alice became a kind of poster child for the Ruralists, symbolizing an appeal to nature. The most notable of those were by Peter Blake and Graham Ovenden—the Ovenden works being bound into a volume with only 10 copies in existence. This incredible range of production is indicative of the fact that illustration seems to be the last art form that can be produced without need of government grants or powerful patronage.

Mervyn Peake - Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1946)

Mervyn Peake – Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1946)

In the early days in France only the images of Tenniel and Arthur Rackham were seen. In 1930, the first native illustrator, Marie Laurencin, was published in a limited edition (790) with six colored lithographs. As Alice was assimilated into other cultures, her character would change. Henry Morin (1935) drew an Alice who seemed ill at ease while André Pécoud (1935) portrayed a more mischievous Alice who took delight in her adventures. Nicole Claveloux’s (1974) work is considered a watershed of modern French illustration offering a non-conformist Alice and a special affinity for the animal characters in the story. Her plate with the flamingos became so iconic that it was the basis of a postage stamp in Czechoslovakia. Jean-Claude Silbermann (2002) gives a highly surreal interpretation while Pat Andrea (2006), a noted artist of erotic women, necessarily makes Alice a young woman.

Marie Laurencin - Alice in Wonderland (1930)

Marie Laurencin – Alice in Wonderland (1930)

The first Alice stories in Italy were adapted by Teodorico Pietrocòla-Rossetti—nephew of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and a friend of Carroll—in 1872. This edition was not well-received. The first book featuring an Italian illustrator, Riccardo Salvadori, came out in 1913. Because there was not an established culture of children’s literature in Italy yet, Salvadori’s work, imitating that of Arthur Rackham, meant that this genre was strongly influenced by the Anglo-Saxon imagination. In 1938, under fascism, Carroll’s Alice books were banned. Any publisher wishing to publish had to follow certain guidelines. Perhaps the most famous version was illustrated by Enrico Mercatali (1938) who introduced an older dark-haired girl consistent with the appearance of local girls. In the 1950s, the blond Alice reappeared, partly as a backlash to fascist rules and partly because of the popularity of Disney’s animated film in 1951. In the 1970s, Gianni Celati (1978) used Alice as a symbol of counter-culture and Antonio D’Agostini (c1975) gave a psychedelic interpretation which fits well with Carroll’s fantastical imagery.

Enrico Mercatali - (Exact title unknown) (1938)

Enrico Mercatali – (Exact title unknown) (1938)

During the publishing of the Alice stories, the United States was generally regarded as an ugly stepchild of Britain and something of a rogue nation when it came to respecting copyright. A print run regarded as unsatisfactory by Carroll was sent to the U.S. in 1865. At least half a dozen companies sold pirated editions between 1892 and 1907 before the official expiration of copyright. They all used the Tenniel illustrations but would hire an illustrator for the cover and maybe a frontispiece. Interestingly, the Thomas Crowell edition in 1893 included the first instance of an Alice in a blue frock which became established as her signature color; all images and merchandise approved by Carroll had required the girl to be in a corn-yellow dress. A few publishers did use original work by American illustrators. Blanche McManus was distinguished as the first in 1899 for her husband’s company and Peter Newell in 1901, whose characters display an amusing array of facial expressions and interactions. M.L. Kirk’s rendition in 1904 is somewhat conventional but uses the correct color for Alice’s dress.

After the copyright expired, the floodgates opened and a number of notable American illustrators had their work published including Bessie Pease Gutmann (1907), a single illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith (1923) and Willy Pogány (1929). Walt Disney was obsessed with the story of Alice for a long time, experimenting with various treatments and designs until finally producing the somewhat unsatisfactory film in 1951. The film’s popularity had a stifling effect on innovation in the following decades. David Hall’s paintings and drawings for Disney in the 1930s did finally see the light of day in 1986 and Mary Blair’s concept art for the original film was the basis for a 2008 book.

Perhaps the first satisfactory book after this stagnant period was published in 1982, illustrated by Barry Moser and intended for adult readers. He may have been a bit gun shy of portraying the now iconic Alice and she appears only in the first and last pages as though the reader were observing things from her point of view. A number of prolific and imaginative artists have worked on Alice since then and are really too numerous to name here. An interesting historical note is that the first comic book, a distinctly American art form, was published in 1929 by George Delacorte whose fortune was later used to fund the statue in Central Park. To date, the only edition to be illustrated by a Canadian, George Walker, was produced in 1988 and may also have the distinction of being the last to be set by hand.

Bessie Pease Gutmann - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1907)

Bessie Pease Gutmann – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1907)

Camille Rose Garcia - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (2010)

Camille Rose Garcia – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (2010)

U.S. fans and collectors of Lewis Carroll paraphernalia contributed substantially to the scholarship and preservation of the author’s work. Lessing J. Rosenwald donated a handwritten and self-illustrated manuscript of Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures under Ground to the Library of the British Museum in 1948 which can now be viewed in its entirety online.  A copy of ‘The Wasp in a Wig’, a lost chapter to Looking-Glass, was discovered and published in 1972 and Morton Cohen’s biographical research on Carroll is considered to be definitive.

Alice was first introduced to Brazil by Monterio Lobato in the early 1930s using original illustrators (Tenniel and Bowley). He started with an illustration of a fantasy world including Wonderland, Neverland etc. and one from his own stories which translates as “Yellow Woodpecker Ranch”. A number of artists have used collages made from everyday materials to add cultural texture to their work. An example is Helena de Barros (Helenbar) who sewed her own dress and incorporated herself in her images.

Helenbar - A Quadrilha da Lagosta (c2003)

Helenbar – A Quadrilha da Lagosta (c2003)

The popularity of Alice in Japan cannot be understated. In fact, the Alice books and associated merchandise are now so popular that it could be said to be an industry in and of itself. The first Japanese illustrator was Shotaro Kawabata (1908). Kawabata imitated Tenniel somewhat but substituted Japanese everyday articles for Europeans ones. Often these treatments were introduced in magazine form rather than stand-alone books. The benefit seems to be that new artists, both writers and illustrators, have an easier way to become established and recognized.

Tsubakibana “Chinka” Yoshimura (1911) was probably the first to illustrate Alice using strictly Japanese patterns, techniques and composition principles. The early portrayal of Alice had a curious character. Because, in Japanese culture, girls have no real transition from childhood to adulthood, girls were portrayed as very young or very mature. Girl children were expected to act very dependent until a certain age and then suddenly expected to be responsible. The idea of a transitional coming-of-age girl was new and explored seriously only in post-war interpretations. Takashi Saida (1925) was perhaps the first to create a middle class Alice with the right balance of sophistication and uncertainty seen in the English versions. In the 1930s, the rising tide of nationalism and militarism influenced the expression in children’s books and there was a decline in sweet and innocent portrayals until after the war when all constraints on style and interpretation were obliterated. The first expression of Alice as a nymphet was in 1974 by Kuniyoshi Kaneko and many have carried on this theme, exploring Alice’s emerging sexuality.

Takashi Saida - ふしぎなお庭:まりちゃんの夢の国旅行 (1925)

Takashi Saida – ふしぎなお庭:まりちゃんの夢の国旅行 (1925)

Mainland China had a strange ordinance in 1930 which banned Alice on the silly notion that because the animals talked, it put them on the same level as human beings. Also mentioned in the text is the mystery of a strange edition produced in a short run in Inner Mongolia that seems to defy Chinese convention. Writers and artists are not usually credited in Chinese Communist publications. However, this adaptation not only gives this Taiwanese illustrator credit, but seems to be observing a more international form of copyright law.

Shi Huimin - 爱丽丝梦遊奇境 (c2000)

Shi Huimin – 爱丽丝梦遊奇境 (c2000)

In 1879, the first translation of Alice into Russian appeared featuring the art of Tenniel. There was a great deal of enthusiasm for this new literature and a number of editions were produced before the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Under Soviet domination and particularly under Stalin, artists were regarded as engineers of utopian society rather than challengers of societal norms. Carroll’s works were banned outright simply because they emphasized fantasy and nonsense rather than serving a moral purpose—expressing Socialist Realism. Artistic institutions were integrated as government unions so no rogue artist could ever hope to get a commission or be published without state sanction. The principles of Soviet Communism continued to have a hold on the artistic process even after Stalin’s death.

There seemed always to be an attempt to bring a kind of order to chaos, either literally as in Aleksandr Dodon’s (2001) framing of the text with his illustrations or in some metaphorical way, making Alice the arbiter of morality in Wonderland and the Looking-Glass worlds. The fact that both stories take place in a template of game playing (cards and chess) gave Russian artists the comfort of structure and the application of rules. Julia Gukova’s illustrations break through this convention by making Alice more an integral part of Wonderland, undermining her ability to pass judgment on these dream worlds. The Russian truism that there is no absolute truth in narrative is perhaps the unifying theme of work in the region.

V.S. Alfeevsky - Алисa в Стране Чудес (1958)

V.S. Alfeevsky – Алисa в Стране Чудес (1958)

Aleksandr Dodon - Приключения Алисы в Стране Чудес (2001)

Aleksandr Dodon – Приключения Алисы в Стране Чудес (2001)

The first translation of Wonderland into Polish was in 1910 which included images by Tenniel mixed with an anonymous artist. The effect was confusing since the artist made no effort to match Tenniel’s design or style. It had only one edition and was quickly forgotten. Two later translations/illustrations that did have a lasting impact were by Kamil Mackiewicz (1927) and Olga Siemaszko (1955). As a caricaturist, Mackiewicz’s illustrations predictably exaggerated distinguishing traits of its characters.

A 1955 version was written by Antoni Marianowicz adhering to Communist cultural policy; any reference to class distinctions had to be toned down or reinterpreted. The particular genius of this work is that the English cultural references and poems were replaced outright by Polish ones that readers could relate to. And since Marianowicz was a humorist, this version was certainly more humorous than the original. Siemaszko also illustrated a 1969 version and there is a noticeable refinement in her technique. Most later Polish editions used mostly foreign illustrators and so there appears to be no distinctive Polish style. Only after the fall of Communism did native artists start to come to the fore. Ironically, some of the most recent editions again make use of the Tenniel drawings and so the younger generation is likely to have the same visual associations with the Alice books as their grandparents.

Olga Siemaszko - Alicja w Krainie Czarów (1955)

Olga Siemaszko – Alicja w Krainie Czarów (1955)

After discussing illustrations, the book covers film treatments of Alice. The most interesting is an essay by Jan Švankmajer who describes his relationship to Alice and how, in combination with his own childhood, it inspired the production of an independent film. His first foray into Carroll’s world was a 1971 film based on the poem Jabberwocky. He describes it as an imaginative history of his childhood up to the point when he rebelled against his father. The film opens with a child’s voice (his own daughter, Veronika, then aged 9 in the Czech version) quoting from Looking-Glass. Because the censors saw the film as containing political allegories, it was banned in Czecholslovakia and he made an English version in 1973 which traveled the globe. Only in 1989, was the original film finally seen in his home country.

Another film, inspired somewhat by Alice, was Down in the Cellar (Do pivnice, 1983) about a girl sent to the cellar to fetch potatoes and what happens to her there. Although the film was completed, it did not see the light of day for a number of years due again to censorship. Švankmajer emphasizes the importance of the dream imagery in our human development, a trait that has been long neglected because it served “no moral purpose”.

Finally, he decided to attempt Alice (Něco z Alenky ,1988). The filmmaker wanted to emphasize dream imagery but reminds us that dreams are also filled with familiar objects. All the voices, appropriately altered, would be done by the same child actress consistent with the theory that we are all the characters in our dreams. The idea is that Alice is the only live person in the film and there are no intrusions of adults in voice or body. The other characters were constructed from everyday objects from Alice’s world. The Czech studios took no interest in his work, so he got financing from foreign companies and enlisted the support of art institutions to give his work credibility. The filming was done using old discarded cameras and editing equipment and in 1986, the first Czech independent film saw the light of day. Then in 2006, a Japanese publisher asked him to illustrate both Alice books and he leapt at the chance.

“Lewis Carroll’s Alice is one of the basic books of this civilization, one of those we should take with us to a desert island, just in order to survive.” –Jan Švankmajer (2011, translated by David Short)

Jan Švankmajer - Alice (1988)

Jan Švankmajer – Alice (1988)

Another essay discusses how Alice lends itself so well to animation. Considering the fantastical nature of the stories, it seems that only this medium would have any hope of effectively portraying these magical worlds. Kamilla Elliott, in her book Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate (2003), has identified over 50 film and television adaptations. As mentioned before, Walt Disney was obsessed with producing Alice very early on and in the 1920s, he experimented with a combination of live action and animation for Alice in Cartoonland. The 1951 film distinguishes itself by featuring an actual child’s voice—that of Kathryn Beaumont who also did Wendy in Peter Pan—as opposed to young women used in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty.

A number of living artists shared their experiences illustrating Alice and the philosophy behind their approach. Michael Foreman, for example, noticed how few illustrators tried to make Alice look like the original Alice (Liddell). He also made a deliberate effort to distinguish reality (sepia) from dream (color) and insists that the real background for Wonderland must be his native Cornwall. Barry Moser muses how the story is really about loneliness because of how often the words “alone” and “lonely” appear in the text. John Vernon Lord is a stickler and points out that in the actual text, “Mad” is not applied to any particular character but rather all characters in general. Over the years, we have inherited certain assumptions because of past illustrators: the Hatter is mad, the Hatter wears a hat with a price tag on it and that, at the Mad Tea Party, things other than tea are served. Tatiana Ianovskaia observes a lightly etched eroticism implied by the various metaphors of two things being one: most notably, how playing cards are a kind of marriage of two bodies sharing one space. The other artists featured were John Bradley, Chiara Carrer, Emma Chichester Clark, Gavin O’Keefe, DeLoss McGraw, Helen Oxenbury, Ralph Steadman and Justin Todd.

Tatiana Ianovskaia - Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (2005)

Tatiana Ianovskaia – Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (2005)

A short afterword, written by Graham Ovenden, comments on the modern estrangement between adults and children and that we are often deprived of the full potential of illustrators’ talent and imagination because of economic considerations.

Some of the contributors have observed some developments in the evolution of children’s books. First of all, they feel that there is a lack of charming little details. There is an assumption that children’s books should have simple illustrations. There also seems to be no adult market for illustrated books except in France and Russia. And one final observation is that with the onset of the digital age, Illustrating Alice may distinguish itself as the last time we see this kind of compilation in hard copy.

This post is quite timely as this year is the sesquicentennial anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Illustrating Alice was published in a run of 500 for the Standard edition (68 for the Special edition which comes with signed prints) and can be purchased through the Inky Parrot Press. This publisher also sells other Alice volumes including a version where each illustration is from a different artist. For those wanting a more comprehensive analysis of the Alice texts and history should read one the editions referred to as The Annotated Alice.

Illustrating Alice summary of contents:

  • Foreword by Marina Vaizey
  • Alice in different countries: Brazil by Adriana Peliano, China by Richard Newnham, England, 1865–1939 by Selwyn Goodacre, England, 1940 to today by Dennis Hall, France by Michèle Noret, Italy by Caterina Morelli, Japan by Mikiko Chimori, Poland by Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska, Russia by Ella Parry-Davies, United States and Canada by Mark Burnstein
  • Alice in Film: ‘Alice’ by Jan Švankmajer, ‘Animating Alice’ by Karen Lury
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (artists credited above)
  • Alice Through the Looking-Glass (collected illustrations only, organized by chapter
  • Alice: as through a Glass Darkly (afterword) by Graham Ovenden
  • Alphabetical Checklist of English Language Editions from the lists compiled by Selwyn Goodacre and Edward Wakeling
  • Index of Artists of non-English Language Editions and individual paintings

Album Cover Art – Spring 2015 Edition

It’s time to post some girl-related album art again, and let’s start with a couple from Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish.  These are both single covers, and the first is a beautifully illustrated image for a fantastic but melancholy song called Eva (originally from the album Dark Passion Play) about a mistreated little girl who runs away from home.  In the image, we can see the girl is wearing a period costume from late 19th or early 20th century.  She stands on her front lawn at night, carrying only a few meager belongings and looking back at the home she is about to leave, perhaps forever.  It’s a lonely image for a sad song.  Poor Eva.

Artist Unknown - Nightwish - Eva (single cover) (2007)

Artist Unknown – Nightwish – Eva (single cover) (2007)

Oh, and if you’d like to hear the song itself, you can check it out here.  I find it quite moving myself.  And the lyrics are here.

The next image is for the song Ever Dream, which was released before the album it would appear on, Century Child.  In this case, however, the cover art for the single release has little to do with the content of the song.  It’s just a nice romanticized image of a little girl.

Artist Unknown - Nightwish - Ever Dream (single cover)

Artist Unknown – Nightwish – Ever Dream (single cover)

This next cover image is one of my favorites that I’ve encountered over the last several months.  It’s from the band Royal Bliss, and the album is called Waiting Out the Storm.  The cover image artfully references The Wizard of Oz, as well as featuring some really lovely border art that recalls Constructivist poster designs.

Artist Unknown - Royal Bliss - Waiting Out the Storm (cover)

Artist Unknown – Royal Bliss – Waiting Out the Storm (cover)

Artist Unknown - Royal Bliss - Waiting Out the Storm (cover) (detail)

Artist Unknown – Royal Bliss – Waiting Out the Storm (cover) (detail)

The next cover design I’m fairly certain comes from Jugend originally, but I do not know which issue or who the artist is.  I just thought it was a lovely composition.  The band is Tangemeenie and the album is The Gilded Age.  Beyond that I know nothing about it.

Artist Unknown - Tangemeenie - The Gilded Age (cover)

Artist Unknown – Tangemeenie – The Gilded Age (cover)

And here is another stunning album cover design, this time for Wild Child‘s album The Runaround.  A nice use of digital photocollage here.

Artist Unknown - Wild Child - The Runaround (cover) (2013)

Artist Unknown – Wild Child – The Runaround (cover) (2013)

Here are a couple from female singer Tei Shi.  The first cover image—for Tei Shi’s rendition of Beyoncé‘s No Angel—looks to be a simple family snapshot of Tei Shi herself as a child, possibly in a Halloween costume or some sort of ballet outfit.  I love her tutu!  I have never seen one with that color combination before.  The cover itself has no text.

Photographer Unknown - Tei Shi - No Angel (single cover)

Photographer Unknown – Tei Shi – No Angel (single cover)

This second image is for Tei Shi’s single M&Ms and also seems to be a childhood snapshot of the singer herself, this time in a swimsuit and painted face and holding a bunch of balloons.  A birthday party photo perhaps?

Photographer Unknown - Tei Shi - M&Ms (single cover)

Photographer Unknown – Tei Shi – M&Ms (single cover)

Now here’s a classic!  This is the cover of the Rolling Stones album It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll, which came out in 1974.  The design is a photocollage where the artist, after completing the collage,  then went and hand-painted over the photos.  I’m guessing the little girls came from photos taken at one of Isadora Duncan’s dance schools.  The costumes are right at any rate, and notice the poses of the girls in the bottom left-hand corner and compare it with this image.  There’s something oddly suggestive about this image, hinting that the Rollings Stones have sex appeal to females of all ages, including little girls.

Artist Unknown - The Rolling Stones - It's Only Rock 'n Roll (cover) (1974)

Artist Unknown – The Rolling Stones – It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (cover) (1974)

Here’s one I’ve been meaning to share for ages and just never quite got to it.  But here it is now.  This is the cover image for The Enchanter Persuaded album by Sinoia Caves (a.k.a. Jeremy Schmidt), an electronica musician.  I quite like this album, especially the songs Through the Valley and Evil Ball.  The photographer is Dewitt Jones, and the photo originally appeared in the April 1976 issue of National Geographic as part of a story on the poet Robert Frost (a big thanks to one of our readers for providing this information!)

Dewitt Jones - Sinoia Caves - The Enchanter Persuaded (cover)

Dewitt Jones – Sinoia Caves – The Enchanter Persuaded (cover)

Dewitt Jones (official site)

Last but not least, here we have the cover for Little Dragon‘s Nabuma Rubberband.  Little Dragon is an electronica band from Sweden.  This is a great cover, very dynamic.

Artist Unknown - Little Dragon - Nabuma Rubberband (cover)

Artist Unknown – Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband (cover)

A Young Moon Goddess and Her Acolytes

Well, I’m finally able to present my second piece here.  I’ve been working on it all month and at last it’s finished!  It’s a fantasy piece, in keeping with my interests: two young warriors have been placed to guard a portal made up of two trees twisted together, when suddenly the portal opens and there floats a youthful goddess of the moon, her hair and clothing billowing in the breeze.

Bear in mind that this is a bad scan done with one of those handheld scanners and I went through hell trying to get the pieces lined up in Photoshop, but this is a reasonable facsimile of the original image.  I will see about getting a better scan early this week, because this scan–and all scans really–are unable to do the b&w art justice.  First, there is distortion of the image here and there, especially the bottom right-hand corner and the full moon.  Further, in order to get a consistent image which would be suitable for printing, I have to push the contrast up, which has a flattening effect.  Thus, you miss out on all the sensuous textures of the original.  The style of this piece is fairly realistic, though with some Art Nouveau touches in the trees and the goddess’s hair and cape.

Anyway, here is “Moon Goddess”–pen & ink on 11 x 14 Bristol board, and it is for sale.  If you’re interested, please contact me via email.

Edit: SOLD – Sorry, but this piece is no longer on the market.  Thank you for your interest!

Pip Starr - Moon Goddess (2015)

Pip Starr – Moon Goddess (2015)

Pip Starr - Moon Goddess (2015) (detail 1)

Pip Starr – Moon Goddess (2015) (detail 1)

Pip Starr - Moon Goddess (2015) (detail 2)

Pip Starr – Moon Goddess (2015) (detail 2)

Naked Power: Alan Moore and Winter Moran

Among aficionados of topnotch comics writing/storytelling there are few writers more famous (or more deserving of that fame) than Alan Moore.  Many of his greatest works (From Hell, A League of Extraordinary Gentleman, V for Vendetta and of course Watchmen) have been adapted to the big screen, some more successfully than others—Moore, true to character, has disavowed them all.  A quirky Brit known in the comics industry as much for his politics (and his hoariness) as for his writing, Moore is a dedicated anarchist and free speech advocate who hasn’t so much invited controversy as kidnapped it at gunpoint and forced it to deal with him.  He’s also clearly a genius.

One of Moore’s most controversial works was the erotic one-shot comic Lost Girls, co-authored and illustrated by his second wife, Melinda Gebbie.  The story took three young girls who were the protagonists of famous children’s fantasy books: Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, and Wendy from Peter Pan, and explored their erotic lives.  Although it deals primarily with these characters as adults, apparently (I confess I haven’t read it), there are scenes from their childhood as well.  The story flirts with dangerous ideas and subverts the notions of innocence that we often associate with these fairy tale characters and with children in general, and consequently some booksellers will not stock it in their store for fear of an obscenity charge, perhaps recalling the rash of police raids on comics shops and bookstores that took place back in the late eighties and early nineties.  It was because of cases like these that the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund formed in 1986, an organization strongly supported by Yours Truly.  (Note: The CBLDF always accepts donations, so if you feel like giving to a good cause that—like us—is on the front line in the war for freedom of speech, I recommend giving to the CBLDF!)

Less controversial (but no less provocative) was the Miracleman series, a new take on a much older character, Marvelman—indeed, in the earliest appearances of the revitalized character, he was still called Marvelman, but when the rights passed over to Eclipse Comics, the name was changed to Miracleman to avoid copyright conflicts, and many of the original issues were retrofitted with the new name and identity in republications.  Moore’s run on the series coincided with the longest and most successful era for the revamped superhero, and as you would expect from Moore, the story was much darker and more violent—way more violent—than the character’s ’50s and ’60s incarnation and deals with his origins and eventual rise to godlike power and status on Earth.  This run was eventually collected into four graphic novels, all of which I highly recommend if you can get your hands on them—unfortunately, original editions of the books are going for a pretty penny on Amazon these days.

But, I digress.  Not only was the writing on the series fascinating and challenging, the artwork in it was consistently gorgeous, done by the likes of Alan Davis, Rick Veitch, Gary Leach and my absolute favorite artist on the series, John Totleben, whose inking is superb on so many levels.  Good inking is really the key to creating good comics art; if the inking is poor, then even the best of colorists often can’t save it.  But fortunately, Totleben is one of the best, despite being partially blind.

The story of Miracleman as conceived by Moore is one that starts with a traditional origin story but then quickly flies off into the darker and more complex corners of superhero mythology.  Moore is a master at exploring the psychological motivations—good, bad and ugly—of people who routinely put on strange costumes and fight crime and/or who have superpowers.  Among superheroes, Marvelman/Miracleman is one of the most powerful, a British analogue to Captain Marvel, who was himself Marvel’s answer to Superman.  In Moore’s vision, this demigod, not content with simply catching criminals, decides to rearrange Earth to his own liking, often with spectacularly surreal results, and to set himself up as benevolent supreme ruler of the planet.  Initially this is received well by civilization because many of Earth’s biggest problems are solved by Miracleman and his equally superpowered wife, but soon the facade begins to crack.

The Golden Age era, covered by the fourth collection, was finished, but not by Moore.  His successor was perhaps the only person the equal of Moore’s particular brand of creativity and intellect, Neil Gaiman.  Grant Morrison also did some writing on the series, making it the only comics series I’m aware of that all three members of what I call the Holy Trinity of British Comics Writers—Moore, Gaiman and Morrison–worked on, though there are probably some comics fans out there who can prove me wrong.  At any rate, although never completed, Gaiman had promised to present his hero in three different eras.  With the Golden Age complete, the second era, the Silver Age, was begun by Gaiman but was never completed.  It begins to show the erosion of Miracleman’s created utopia, and also focuses more on the the characters at the peripheral and how they are impacted by their new reality.  The final arc, the Dark Age, would’ve seen the complete destruction of Miracleman’s paradise and perhaps the downfall of the character himself.  Alas, we will probably never know.

One of the more ingenious characters Moore devised for Miracleman was Winter Moran, the daughter of Michael Moran and Avril Lear, Miracleman and Miraclewoman respectively, and as soon as she’s born she proves to be not only a worthy successor but someone who might soon rival her father and mother.  Immediately upon being born she speaks perfect English and is able to fly.  Not long after that, she leaves Earth altogether for a few years.  When she returns she is four years old, still as naked as the day she was born but much, much wiser, having explored the galaxy and encountered many alien races, one of whom she married, as we will soon learn.  But that’s not the only shocking thing she did while away from Home System: she also has sex (albeit in an artificial body).  In a funny scene in Miracleman Book Three: Olympus, when Winter reveals she’s had sex, her father, who is perhaps the most powerful being on Earth at this point, reveals he is a typically worrisome parent, and for all his intelligence and prudence, he has no idea how to handle his super-precocious four-year-old daughter.

John Totleben - Miracleman - Book Three: Olympus (pg 116, pls 2-4)

John Totleben – Miracleman – Book Three: Olympus (pg 116, pls 2-4)

As the scene progresses, we see that Winter is dissatisfied with her father’s “redecorations” of Earth, and this is likely intended to foreshadow Winter’s eventual rise and challenge to her father’s supremacy.  Winter, it seems, is being set up as the eventual villain of the Dark Age.  But for now she is simply a super-powered, super-intelligent 4-year-old girl who, like Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen, has transcended the need for clothing.  We are aware that she has no particular attachment to human notions of modesty or conventional morality; it is perhaps a short leap from there to the understanding growing in Winter’s consciousness that humanity are as ants to her, or simply toys for her to play with as she pleases.  Or destroy.  Notice Totleben’s delicate Art Nouveau-infused work on Winter’s hair and the background designs here.

John Totleben - Miracleman - Book Three: Olympus (pg 116, pl 5)

John Totleben – Miracleman – Book Three: Olympus (pg 116, pl 5)

Soon Winter is an active participant in her new world.  But what does she do?  She makes it easier and more comfortable for women to give birth to a new strain of genetically modified super-babies like herself.  Hmm, why is Winter so interested in bringing more of such children into the world?  Is she perhaps creating her own army of super-children for an eventual takeover of Earth?  Notice Winter teaching the super-babies how to fly.

John Totleben - Miracleman - Book Three: Olympus (pg 117, pl 1)

John Totleben – Miracleman – Book Three: Olympus (pg 117, pl 1)

In Book Four: The Golden Age, after Neil Gaiman took over writing the series, Winter takes a backseat to another little blond super-baby, Mist, who, like Winter, tends to float around naked.  But Winter does make a prominent appearance in a peculiar way—she is the heroine of her own children’s book (which, incidentally, is being read to Mist and to her normal, non-superpowered half-brother by their mother).  The book is called Winter’s Tale and details what happened during those first few years when she traveled and explored the galaxy on her own.  The comic cleverly presents the pages of the book as part of the storyline, with occasional interjection panels where Mist, her brother and their mom discuss the book.  Here is the first page of Winter’s Tale:

Mark Buckingham; Sam Parsons - Miracleman - Book 4: The Golden Age (pg 94)

Mark Buckingham; Sam Parsons – Miracleman – Book 4: The Golden Age (pg 94)

Perhaps one of the more interesting parts of the story deals with Winter’s meeting with the Lantiman of Sauk, who immediately asks Winter to marry him, which she does.  The context is important here—let’s remember that this is being revealed through a children’s book that exists in Miracleman’s reality, and that it is being read to two children at the same time the reader is experiencing it, one a miracle baby herself, the other not.  The Lantiman reveals forthwith that Winter is simply the newest in his collection of child-brides, and the reader understands that we are now looking at an alien pedophile, and that he is presented positively in the fictional book.

Oddly enough, Winter and the Lantiman never have physical sex.  This fact is not presented in the story, but we know it’s true because the writer points out that Winter is looking for the Qys system–she has not yet met the Qys, the hyper-advanced species that introduced her to sex, at least by Winter’s account in Olympus.  It makes sense that the Lantiman’s relationship with his child-brides is not a sexual one in any conventional sense, given that it is not bound by species, and also owing to his gigantic size, which would make sex with Winter (and presumably most or all of his child-brides) nearly impossible anyway.

So, what is this love the Lantiman has for young girls of every species that compels him to marry them if it isn’t sexual?  I reckon it is something akin to the feelings many of Pigtails’ readers feel—it is not conventionally sexual in itself, but it recognizes the holistic beauty of children, which includes their sexuality.  It is the timeless fascination that little girls hold for some adult males like myself, the recognition that they are a kind of ideal human.  Not that I would ever want to marry a little girl, but for me this blog is analogous to the Lantiman of Sauk’s marriages; it is born out of something that transcends mere beauty or sexuality or any other such physically rooted concept.

And in that light, Winter, who is herself a transcendent version of the little girl—a little girl who is near to achieving her perfect potential—is a natural fit for the Lantiman.  Unlike child-brides in traditional cultures, the Lantiman does not seek to control Winter.  Indeed, he gives her an entire planet, a world for her to play with and control.  He is apparently not interested in her merely as a physical form (though the notion that he also finds little girls physically beautiful is not excluded here); he is interested in her as a little girl who is fully able to express her every desire because of her godlike abilities.  Hence, the Lantiman’s feeling that Winter was the best bride he ever had.  Notice that when Winter is ready to leave him, he does not stop her from going.  Granted, the account is being filtered through Neil Gaiman (as the proxy writer of the children’s book) for the children of the Miracleman universe, so we may not be getting an accurate account of what actually happened between Winter and the Lantiman.

Mark Buckingham; Sam Parsons - Miracleman - Book 4: The Golden Age (pg 100)

Mark Buckingham; Sam Parsons – Miracleman – Book 4: The Golden Age (pg 100)

And now, I have something really special for you.  This is the first actual illustration of mine I’ve featured on this site, and it is my interpretation of Winter Moran.  This piece is 11″ × 14″ pen & ink on Bristol board, done mostly in pointillism (I was going for Virgil Finlay-esque), frameable, signed by me on the front and back, and it is for sale.  If you’re interested, you can contact me off the board and we will arrange something.  Meantime, I hope you enjoy it!  This is the first of what will likely be a series of pieces I plan to post here with little girls as the common theme, most of which will be offered for sale.

Edit: SOLD – Sorry, but this piece is no longer on the market.  Thank you for your interest!

Pip Starr - Winter Moran (2015)

Pip Starr – Winter Moran (2015)

Now That’s True Blood: Morrigan Tales

I was a major collector of horror and dark fantasy comics in the early to late nineties, including an award-winning comics anthology called Taboo.  Edited by comics Renaissance Man Stephen R. Bissette, it was published sporadically.  This is because it was devoted to quality work and was never shorter than one hundred pages, so it took time to put together.  To give you an idea of the level of talent featured, the writing of Neil Gaiman, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Alan Moore and Mark Askwith and the art of Moebius, Charles Burns, S. Clay Wilson, Spain Rodriquez, Michael Zulli and Eddie Campbell all appear in a single issue, in this case issue #4.  Also in this issue is a strange little fantasy piece penned by Elaine Lee and illustrated by one of the very best fantasy artists of that or any time, the incomparable Charles Vess.

Vess has illustrated everything from mainstream comics series like The Amazing Spider-Man, Thor and Conan the Barbarian, to Neil Gaiman’s Alex, Mythopoeic and World Fantasy Award-winning fantasy miniseries Stardust (on which the film of the same name is based), to several books written by Charles de Lint, to an assortment of children’s books, including another book authored by Gaiman, Blueberry Girl (which, incidentally, was written for Gaiman’s goddaughter, the daughter of his good friend, singer Tori Amos).  I even possess an edition of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream that was illustrated by Vess.

The following piece, subtitled The Elemental, was originally the first installment of what was to be a much longer series by Lee and Vess, of which only a handful were ever completed.  The reasons for this are long and complicated, but it had a lot to do with timing, both in terms of the creators and of the comics industry itself, which experienced a major crisis in the late eighties and throughout the nineties.

What makes this piece special is not simply that it tackled some forbidden territory in a medium traditionally dominated by male adolescent and young adult fans of musclebound heroes and big-breasted beauties, it did it in a deeply symbolic and original way.  The central protagonist is a young child who must forge an identity for herself in a world saturated by old magic she doesn’t understand but must come to terms with.  The fact that she is nude through the entirety of the story was bad enough, but what really bothered readers who first encountered it in its first publication in 1982 was the mention of a normal bodily process the girl experiences at the story’s beginning: menstruation.  As Vess explains in the intro to the piece:

” ‘A young girl exhibiting a perfectly natural biological function caused more comment and protest than all the killings, rapes, and general brutality that its companion story, Sabre, showed as a matter of course,’ Charles recalls.  ‘For months afterwards oblique references to the story appeared in the letter columns of various comics magazines…from then on, we were “persona non grata” [at Eclipse].’ “

I think this demonstrates something fundamentally wrong with America’s attitudes about youth sexuality, particularly female youth sexuality.  Murder, torture and pain are acceptable to show—the more outrageous the better, in some people’s minds.  Women with abnormally huge tits are fine too, but something as normal as a young girl experiencing menstruation is too much reality for these same people.  Go figure.  The story also addresses budding sexuality, although more obliquely.  So here is Morrigan Tales.

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (1)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (1)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (2)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (2)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (3)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (3)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (4)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (4)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (5)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (5)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (6)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (6)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (7)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (7)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (8)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (8)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (9)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (9)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (10)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (10)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (11)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (11)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (12)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (12)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (13)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (13)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (14)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (14)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (15)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (15)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (16)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (16)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (17)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (17)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (18)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (18)

Green Man Press (Charles Vess Official Site)

Sulamith Wülfing: Allegories and Transformations

Another recurring theme throughout Sulamith Wülfing’s art is transformation.  Many of her figures are in the midst of change of some sort, often in a symbolic way.  Thus, her ‘young girls as budding flowers’ allegory applies here.  There is, at any rate, an element of the fantastic in most of her work.

Before I post the actual artwork, here is a photo of Wülfing as a young child, taken by (I believe) an uncle.  Certainly a relative of some sort.  I’m not going to label this one as it is already labeled with all the pertinent information: the photographer’s name is at the bottom right and the subject’s name and the date of the photo are at bottom left.

Sulamith Wülfing – Autumn Storm

Sulamith Wülfing – Blue Flower

Sulamith Wülfing – Circle Rounds

Sulamith Wülfing – Circle Rounds (detail)

Sulamith Wülfing – Easter Candles (1952)

Sulamith Wülfing – Everything Sleeps with the Little Flower

Here’s another of my favorite Wülfing pieces. I love the detailing on the boat’s prow and its reflection in the water. Simple a fantastic illustration!

Sulamith Wülfing – In the Boat (1941)

Sulamith Wülfing – Night is Like a Quiet Sea

Sulamith Wülfing – Night is Like a Quiet Sea (detail)

Butterflies and moths, being transformative creatures themselves, frequently make an appearance in her art.

Sulamith Wülfing – Nocturnal Butterflies

Sulamith Wülfing – The Circle (1938)

Sulamith Wülfing – The Circle (detail) (1938)

Sulamith Wülfing – Transformation

Sulamith Wülfing (title unknown) (1)

Sulamith Wülfing (title unknown) (2) (1932)

Wikipedia: Sulamith Wülfing

John Austen: The Semiotics of Parental Grief

One thing I discussed fairly often at the original Pigtails was the semiotics and aesthetics of art; that will be no different here.  Thus, I wanted to point out something interesting in John Austen’s artistic interpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but first we need a little literary and historical context here.  With the exception of Hamlet himself (he is around 30) the ages of the characters are never specifically given.  However, the practices of the day should be kept in mind.  Peasants may have married whenever it was convenient for them, but royalty and nobility would’ve been expected to marry very young, and often their marriages were arranged in childhood.  This was particularly true of females.  Both Hamlet and Ophelia were nobles, Hamlet a full-fledged prince and Ophelia the daughter of the king’s adviser.  Given these facts, it is almost certain that Ophelia is an adolescent, or at most a young woman in her early twenties.  Any older than this and she would’ve been married off already, if not to Hamlet then to another noble.

What I’d like you to pay attention to in the following two drawings is the age that Ophelia appears to be in both.  In the first, while she is alive, she is clearly a young lady approaching adulthood, and so she appears in most of Austen’s drawings of her.  In the second her dead body appears to have reverted to that of a child’s.  Why is this?  Well, it is Austen’s clever way of looking at Ophelia through the eyes of a (surrogate) parent.  As the daughter of the king’s chamberlain, we can be sure that Ophelia grew up in the kingdom, and we know that Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude, adored her almost as she would her own flesh-and-blood daughter.  It is Gertrude who finds Ophelia’s body and announces her death in what some consider one of the most heartbreaking scenes and speeches in the whole of Shakespeare’s oeuvre.  This scene is what Austen captures in the second drawing.

Again, notice how young Ophelia appears to be in this image.  Also, note that she is nude, giving her an additional mien of vulnerability and innocence, reinforcing the concept of Gertrude’s view of her as a beloved child, and we the viewer are therefore meant to feel more acutely the grief being expressed here, as that of a mother for a lost daughter.

Austen is another of my favorite illustrators.  I know, I know—I have so many favorite illustrators that I almost don’t need to mention this point anymore.  What can I say?  I love this stuff and I just gotta broadcast it!  Anyway, Austen began his career mimicking Aubrey Beardsley to some extent (personally I like Austen’s stuff far more than I like Beardsley’s), but as his career unfolded he embraced an array of styles and media to better compliment the works he was illustrating.  He fits snugly in the Golden Age era of illustration and was an absolute master of his craft.

John Austen – Hamlet (1922) (1)

John Austen – Hamlet (1922) (2)

JVJ Publishing: John Austen

Wikipedia: John Austen