Just something cute for you today. This painting was made by Theodor Grätz, of whom there is virtually no background data for on the web. This little toddler girl approaches what appears to be two orangutans and asks them if they too are people. It is exactly the sort of charming image that would’ve been used on a postcard in the early part of the 20th century, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out it had been at some point. The image required a small amount of clean-up when I found it, but nothing too troublesome.
One thing I love is stories, illustrations, films or what have you where the paradigm of the little girl in distress is turned on its head. These can be taken as feminist parables, or simply as a recognition of the fact that human beings often do not conform to expectations. Ying’s Il Lupo offers up a complete subversion of the familiar ‘little girl lost in the woods’ trope, and it does so in a rather surprising way. I am posting the first two pages here; to read the rest of it (it’s only ten pages long and a quick read), you must go here. Don’t miss this one—I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I did, and Ying really deserves the traffic at her site. Do yourself a favor and read this comic!
* * * Spoiler Alert * * *
It is a relief to know that imaginative cinema is still being produced. This review has been delayed again and again because I wanted it to make a great presentation. But when all is said and done, this film speaks for itself.
Le Tout Nouveau Testament (The Brand New Testament, 2015) takes a comical and disarmingly irreverent look at the effects that a male deity, namely God, has had on humanity. For those paying close attention, this film is a statement for the need to transform Western society into one that embraces a more feminine concept of deity.
Much has been said about the Son of God—referred to as J.C. in this film—but not the Daughter, who serves as the narrator. Her name is Ea (Pili Groyne) and has suffered under the tyranny of her father’s house for 10 years.
She tells us that God lives in Brussels and that he is an asshole—lavishing abuse on his wife, “Goddess”, and Ea. He doesn’t seem to respect her space and just barges in on her whenever he pleases.
The family lives in a house with no entrance or exit. Goddess dares not speak out of turn and does nothing but embroidery and collect baseball cards (totaling 18). Even though J.C. has not returned home since his execution on Earth, Goddess sets a place for him at the dinner table—at God’s right hand, of course.
Everyone in the family has supernatural powers except for God and Ea annoys her father with a little telekinesis at the table. God controls his creation through a computer terminal from his office, forbidding entry by anyone else. Being an impotent figure, he takes delight in causing the beings made in his own image to suffer. He creates a set of rules that seem to conform to Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. The “laws” appear throughout the film as running gags, for example: when a person gets in the tub, the phone will ring; the other line is always faster; a dropped piece of toast always falls buttered side down; a piece of pottery will break only after it has just been cleaned.
Ea sneaks into her father’s office to see what he has been up to. She is horrified to see how cruel he is to human beings.
When she confronts him about this, he realizes she has been in his office and he beats her. She vows revenge and escape and consults her brother about what to do. Unbeknownst to the others, there is a figurine of J.C. that can come to life so Ea can converse with him.
He explains that the idea for the 12 Apostles was father’s simply because he liked hockey. It turned out to be a real mess and so perhaps it would be better to add 6 more to make it 18, Goddess’ favorite number. J.C. tells her how she can escape to Earth, but before she departs, she sneaks into the office again and instructs the computer to give human beings knowledge of the exact time they are going to die and then lock her father out of the system so he can’t change it back. The premise is that God’s only power over people is through their ignorance. If they know too much, they may take matters into their own hands and live the lives they want. And thus Ea has her exodus, tunneling her way to Earth.
Another one of the problems J.C. and Ea wanted to avoid was the way people tend to misrepresent the message thus causing endless disputes. Ea decides this new testament will not mention her at all, but document the wisdom of the 6 apostles she chooses. Ea never learned to write, so the first person she runs into, a dyslexic bum called Victor, is recruited as her scribe.
There are a few amusing scenes showing how this knowledge has wracked havoc on people’s lives. For example, there is the daredevil Kevin, who broadcasts the craziest stunts that manage miraculously not to kill him since he is supposed to live another 62 years. Other scenes show the resentment of children dying before their parents, one spouse before the other or caregivers before their bedridden charges.
Ea’s first disciple is Aurélie, a beautiful woman who never seems to connect with any of the men around her. When she was 7, she had a freak accident in a subway and lost her left arm. She now wears a prosthesis made of silicone. As she tells her story, Ea collects her tears in a vial and explains that she does this in part because she is unable to cry herself. She also informs each of them that they have a special music associated with them and she is able to hear it. Aurélie’s is a piece by Händel and, parenthetically, the musical score throughout the film is quite stunning.
The second is Jean-Claude, an adventurer in his youth who has since squandered his time climbing the corporate ladder. Upon learning his death date, he quit his job and became lured into one last adventure northward by a flock of birds. His music is by Rameau. He is the only one who does not stay with the group but wanders off right away after telling his story.
By this time, God realizes what Ea has done and, not being competent enough to solve the computer problem, decides to follow her to Earth to get her to fix what she did. His emergence out of a wet and soapy washing machine is very suggestive of a birth scene. Forgetting that he has no powers, he has a miserable time. People beat him up and in his cranky arrogance, he continues making things worse for himself.
The third apostle is Marc who considers himself a sex maniac. His most vivid erotic memory took place when he was 9. He was digging at a beach and this amazing German girl appeared in a turquoise bikini. He never forgot the look she gave him, a combination of interest and disgust. His music is from Purcell and when he learned his death date, he decided to take all his money and spend it all by the time he died. However, he miscalculated and ran out a bit early. Ea tells him he has a beautiful voice and he decides to earn some money by doing voice overs for adult films. Next to him playing the female role is that same German girl, all grown up and they are reunited.
In the deities’ home is the famous da Vinci painting The Last Supper and Goddess begins to notice new figures appearing every time Ea recruits someone new.
The next disciple is François whose calling was to be an assassin. He has killed countless insects and a number of small pets belonging to his cousin. He is married with a son but there is no love there. When he learns his death date, he decides to buy a rifle and start shooting at people. The rationale is that if he misses, it was not their time, if not, he was simply doing God’s will. François’ music is Schubert’s Death and the Maiden—what else?—and Ea comments that this music goes well with the Händel. She does a little matchmaking and tells him to shoot the next girl that comes along.
It turns out to be Aurélie, who is hit in her fake arm and does not even notice that anything has happened. Fascinated by this miracle, François follows her and finds himself falling in love. She eventually accepts him and gets him to give up his murderous ways.
Martine is a woman with a romantic disposition who has been married to a well-to-do man who seems unmoved by her short life expectancy. He leaves on a business trip, letting her deal with this crisis on her own. When she tells her story to Ea, she is told that her music is circus music. They visit the circus and come upon a gorilla in a cage. Martine and the beast form a mysterious emotional connection and she pays for “his” release, allowing him to live in her house.
When God finally tracks down Ea, he demands that she set things right, but she is not intimidated by him anymore. She and Victor escape by walking on the water to cross a canal. Her father is dismayed to learn that he cannot do the same. He is rescued from drowning, but because he has no papers, he is housed with Uzbeki refugees and eventually deported.
The last apostle is a boy named Willy (Romain Gelin). His mother, sensing that he was a sickly boy, gave him injections which severely damaged his liver. By the time Ea meets him, he has only one week left. Out of guilt, his parents tell him they will let him do whatever he wants and he decides he wants to be a girl—perhaps an homage to Ma Vie en Rose. Willy’s music is La Mer by Charles Trenet.
This meeting is a personal revelation for Ea and she explains to Willy how her father made everything miserable for people and that she wants to fix it. The youngsters have a kind of whirlwind romance, sharing fine meals together, dancing etc. Given the few days left to Willy, they decide to treat each day as though it were a month—calling the days of the week January, February, March, etc.
Willy decides he wants to spend his last day at the seaside and is joined by the other characters who show their support by waiting with him.
Meanwhile, with the absence of her husband, Goddess begins to get control over the house again, cleaning and fixing up the place. Going into her husband’s office to vacuum, she unplugs the computer so that when it is plugged in again, the system reboots. She begins to make changes to Earth to suit her taste and Willy is saved from death that day. Ea, observing the various and sudden changes, realizes they are her mother’s doing and looks up in gratitude.
This whole business of adding apostles is symbolic of the main theme of the film: that a corrupt male-dominated world will change or should change into a happier and compassionate female one.
An associate came across an interesting example of performance art called The No Pants Subway Ride. Essentially started as a prank in 2002, it has turned into an international annual event. On a lark, he decided to investigate if any children had participated; after all, it wouldn’t be appropriate to allow kids to participate in this kind of event, would it? Lo and behold, he did find some images of little girls taking part and shared them with me.
The No Pants Subway Ride is staged by Improv Everywhere every January in New York City. It started with only seven guys and has become an international celebration with dozens of cities around the world participating. The idea was that random passengers would board a subway car at separate stops in the middle of winter without pants and behave as though they did not know each other. They would wear appropriate attire for the season such as winter coats, hats, scarves, and gloves, just no pants. There were no pictures taken of the first event, but some video footage was captured. Improv Everywhere produced a video, We Cause Scenes*, about the history of No Pants and there is a summary at the Improv Everywhere website. This year’s event was the 15th anniversary and included 30 cities such as Tokyo and Jerusalem with the Moscow event catching the attention of the police. Cities outside New York began participating in 2008.
Any readers who find dates for these images, that information would be much appreciated. -Ron
*Available through Netflix and other outlets. Sorry, there is no complete video available online.
Isn’t “luring” a rather strange word choice here? Let’s try “coax” or “persuade”. This is from the Retro collection.
The little girl is Virginia Wooden of Baltimore and according to the caption, reasons that the puppy should not be treated any differently from her dollie’s clothes.
From the Bettmann Archive
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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
I was delighted to learn that François Gillet has established his own website and I have updated most of these images for better fidelity. There are also a lot of images I had not seen before—and may have never been published—on his site under the heading of “Childhood”. He offers some interesting background on his experiences working with children and his concerns about being type-cast. Take a look.
I know this does not sound like a flattering title for an artist, but to tell you the truth, this is one of my favorite photographers of all time. I bought one of the artist’s early books—L’album de François Gillet published by Zoom-Paris/Landmark Book Co. (1981)—because I was told it contained some of the most charming images of children. Indeed it did, but the first half contained a number of his still-lifes and I was mesmerized. When I really looked at the images, I recognized the astonishing level of control he must have had over the scene. I just loved the simple sublimeness of a torn loaf of bread, a row of shiny fish or a carefully arranged cornucopia. Viewers should be aware that these effects come from his complete control of the frame and are never retouched. Many younger viewers today initially assume he accomplishes this with some clever use of Photoshop. The first image is a kind of ode to the mysteries of salt and the idea of salt as an artistic medium in its own right.
François Gillet was born in 1949 in France and is now based in Stockholm. His aspiration as a child was to paint, but by his twenties, the compelling way photographs serve as a mirror to nature drew him in. He studied photography at the Arts University College at Bournemouth and graduated in 1971. His work has been published in international magazines and companies from all over the world have commissioned his work for advertising campaigns: Fuji (Japan), Silk-cut (UK), Korean airlines, Brown Brothers Wineries (Australia), Bonne Maman (France) and Orrefors (Sweden). He received a number of awards for his distinctive work from 1979 to 1998 and has exhibited his work in numerous venues since 1984.
When it comes to control, conventional wisdom has it that the challenges to be avoided are children, animals and water. So it is even more remarkable when Gillet became a doting father—of a daughter, Melinda—he would be captivated by her charm and include her in his compositions. Naturally, there are family photos, but this photo is the first time she was a deliberate part of one of his artistic scenes. Instead of proper titles, most accompanying texts are more like descriptions.
When she got older, he shot this more sophisticated version of dressup. This image appeared on the cover of ZOOM (Issue 87, March 1981).
Perhaps the most joyous images of his little girl are from this photo shoot. The more saturated image appears on the cover of ZOOM (Issue 97, April 1982). The only full image I had was this one which was lit differently and so is not nearly as color-saturated.
Gillet is clearly well-versed in formal art and mythic motifs like The Four Seasons.
And he is also knowledgeable about the history of more commercial imagery—whether it be an idyllic image of the joys of car ownership, shooting an ad in the style of Pear’s Soap or observing Charles Dodgson’s (Lewis Carroll) convention of dressing up children in an exotic tableau vivant. This image—part of an ad campaign for Barnängen, a Swedish cosmetics company—appeared on the cover of ZOOM (Issue 61, April 1979) along with an piece featuring the artist.
He also enlisted the participation of a number of neighborhood children for a series of images—with the assistance of Kristina Lannmark—which was published in Le Petit Théatre (1982). There was a European version published by Publicness and a Japanese version produced in a smaller format. The accompanying texts were in French and Japanese. Since the playfulness of the original poetry can be lost in translation, I offer both the original French followed by an English translation.
J’ai une idée!
Si on jouait avec elle à la fête foraine?
On va lui faire les montagnes russes!
— Oh oui! Le tobogan et la grande roue!
— Les radios cars et la traine fantôme!
— Ah dites-donc, devinez ce que je vois?
ne montre pas du doigt!
I’ve got an idea!
How about playing with her at the amusement park?
We can get her to go on the roller coaster!
Oh yes! The slide and the ferris wheel!
The remote-controlled cars and the funhouse!
Hey there, guess what I can see?
Pas question de mettre un pantalon
quand on trouve de si beaux cotillons.
Les Lapons ont des caleçons longs.
Les Indiens ont trois fois rien.
Nous, nous montrons nos jupons,
tout en dentelle,
comme la tour Eiffel,
There’s no way I’ll put on pants
when I’ve got such pretty petticoats.
The Lapplanders have longjohns.
The Indians have absolutely nothing.
But us, we show our petticoats,
made completely of lace,
like an Eiffel tour,
made of lace from Alençon.
It is natural to ask in what way Gillet’s vision may have been compromised by doing commercial work. In this sense, he is perhaps one of the most fortunate artists. His way of taking what most people would call mundane and helping the viewer see its unnoticed beauty and character is exactly how he approaches commercial projects. Indeed, his point seems to be that nothing in the world is truly banal to an alert eye. And as marketers have come to recognize, he was perhaps ahead of his time in using imagery, not to tell us about a product, but to tell us how to feel about it.
“…so successfully has he blurred any notional fine line between the two categories. For some decades now he has been surreptitiously insinuating the same sublime purity of vision that he brings to his personal work into the usually prosaic commercial world of advertising.” -Ian Talbot (2010)
His methodology is to build a set in three dimensions, careful to pay attention to every detail of the subjects, the background and the organization of empty space. Because of his obsession with rendering detail, he chose the 8×10 large-format camera. He himself has used the word “control” to describe the process, “in an attempt to be in control of every square inch in the frame”. Only when he believes he has reached the highest level of beauteous perfection does he shoot the scene.
“The definition of illusion as something untrue, as the opposite to reality has always repelled me for how can one live without illusions?…For the last few decades I have explored both the real and fantasy worlds; even with my commissioned work…”
“There is a beauty in making the picture exist in reality before recording it. Somehow it becomes the proof of one’s own existence.”
Despite his seemingly perfectionist style, Gillet continues to evolve—another sign of a great artist. Because of his habit of arranging objects in a frame, he already had a knack for noticing and collecting things. His latest project amps up this visual impact in two major ways. He traveled to Australia to take advantage of its other-worldly landscapes and he no longer offers the viewer just a single shot, but arranges them in a series to form a collage and introducing a higher order of composition. You can see some examples of this on a video produced by Henrik Thomé.
Francois Gillet (official website)
Gillet put together a flipbook of a grown-up Melinda which can be seen here. I am told she is now an oriental dancer.
Ernest Christopher Dowson (1867-1900) ranks among the best English poets of the last decade of the 19th century, but he remains little known outside a small circle of amateurs. He belonged to a group of young authors who thought of themselves as “the movement” or “the fin de siècle.” They appreciated “art for art’s sake” and viewed literature as a purely aesthetic activity, devoid of any moral or political message, expressing the inner personality of the author and to be appreciated only for its style. In poetry, they were influenced by French Symbolists, in particular Paul Verlaine for whom verses had to be like an incantation, where the musicality of the words matters more than the ideas that they carry. This view was in opposition to the canons of Victorian literature, where any work had to contain a denunciation of sin or injustice and implicitly call for moral or social reform. Hence this group of young writers earned from their detractors the label of “Decadents”.
Dowson’s poetry has a sparkling character, using repetitions of sounds, as in nursery rhymes: “Violets and leaves of vine / We gather and entwine” (A Coronal), or repeated groups of words, as in songs: “But the spring of the soul, the spring of the soul, / Cometh no more for you or for me. / … / But the flowers of the soul, the flowers of the soul, / For you and for me bloom never again.” (In Spring). It relies also on the contrast obtained by putting together unrelated words: “They are not long, the days of wine and roses” (Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam), “I cried for madder music and for stronger wine” (Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae, the so-called Cynara poem). It contains also many elegant evocations of love and sensuality: “Let’s kiss when kissing pleases / And part when kisses pall” (To His Mistress).
Ernest Dowson contributed to modern culture in quite unexpected ways. He is credited with inventing the word “soccer”, although he spelled it “socca” or “socker” (The Letters of Ernest Dowson, no. 13 and no. 91). Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel Gone with the Wind owes its title to a sentence in Dowson’s Cynara poem: “I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind / Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng”. This novel was adapted into a famous 1939 Hollywood film directed by Victor Fleming, starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.
Ernest Dowson suffered from both bad health and shaky mood. As writes Desmond Flower in his Preface to New Letters from Ernest Dowson: “From his parents he inherited two destructive factors. From his mother a deep sense of depression … which caused her to commit suicide. From his father he inherited tuberculosis from which both of them died.” Indeed his father, whose health declined, died in 1894 of a drug overdose, but many suspected a suicide; then his mother took her own life in 1895. Years later his friend Conal O’Riordan wrote in a letter to Flower (see the Introduction to The Letters of Ernest Dowson): “I recall Ernest showing a photograph of his mother to me and I was moved to tears (being barely twenty-one at the time) by something extraordinarily pathetic in her charming face.” The following photograph taken in 1868 (scanned from The Letters of Ernest Dowson) shows the 9 month old Ernest on his mother’s lap, and one can see the deep sorrow in her eyes:
The legal proceedings for the inheritance of his parents took many years, so Ernest could not get his share of it. Although potentially a rich man, in reality he lived rather poorly and he died at age 32 from tuberculosis and neglect.
Now followers of Pigtails in Paint will be interested to learn that Dowson loved and worshipped little girls, and several of his poems center about girl love. He was, to repeat his own words about the lawyer William Clarke Hall (Letters, no. 115), “a charming person & properly a worshipper & devout follower of the most excellent cult of la Fillette.” (“la Fillette” means “the Little Girl” in French; Dowson spent a great deal of his childhood in France, thus he spoke French fluently.)
In 1889, Dowson worked in the family business, a dry dock on the river Thames located in a suburb of London. Once a little girl brought some joy in his tedious management work there (Letters, no. 5): “I have discovered an adorable child here, hailing from one of the three publics that surround us on either side—’which pleases me mightily’ as Pepys would say. It is astonishing how pretty & delicate the children of the proletariate are—when you consider their atrocious after-growth. Of course it is the same in all classes but the contrast is more glaring in Limehouse. This child hath 6 years & is my frequent visitor, especially since she has realised that my desk contains chocolates.”
After office hours he would work as sub-editor and dramatic critic for a moribund journal, The Critic; this position allowed him to get free tickets for any play showing and, as an avid theatre-goer, he took advantage of this opportunity. Thus he could admire child actresses on stage and he expressed his devotion for them in a peculiar way: by throwing chocolates at them. He seems to have corresponded with some of them, maybe with Mabel Vance (Letters, no. 16 and 153), but certainly with “Little Flossie”, a 9-year-old American actress billed as “the American marvel”, to whom he referred in his letters to Arthur Moore as “ma petite Californienne” (Letters, no. 1, 2, 5 and 17).
But his favourite child actress was Minnie Terry. Born in 1882, she belonged to the third generation of the famous Terry family of actors. As a devoted fan, Dowson watched all plays in which she acted, collected her photographs and various souvenirs about her. He nicknamed her “Mignon” (for her role in the play Bootle’s Baby), “la petite” or “la chère petite”. Below is a 1889 photograph of the 7-year-old Minnie, taken for The Theatre, available at the National Portrait Gallery.
The following two photographs, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, show Minnie Terry in the role of Mignon in Bootles’ Baby.
Another one shows Minnie Terry as Mignon, with actor C.W. Garthorne (Charles Warlhouse Grimston) as Captain Lucy, in Bootle’s Baby.
This picture of the two, from the National Portrait Gallery, is probably also from the same play.
Edit: There is an illustrated version of the book on which this play is based available on the Internet Archive site. There was also a silent film released in 1914, in which the “Baby” was played by Margaret O’Meara. – Pip
Dowson wrote in The Critic dated 25 May 1889 a review of the play A White Lie (see Appendix A of Letters), in which he gave a dithyrambic eulogy of her role as Daisy Desmond, praising her perfection and spontaneity—even saying that at a critical moment she saved the play from the false note of some adult actor. Here is a photograph of Minnie Terry as Daisy Desmond, from the National Portrait Gallery.
Finally, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, a picture of Minnie Terry in the play On a Doorstep.
A famous contemporary of Dowson, also an avid theatre-goer, did not share his enthusiasm for Minnie Terry. According to Hugues Lebailly’s article “Charles Dodgson and the Victorian Cult of the Child“, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) noted in his Diaries on Monday 2 July 1888 that he felt “a little disappointed” with Minnie Terry’s ‘Mignon’ in Bootle’s Baby, deploring that she “recite[d] her speeches, not very clearly, without looking at the person addressed”.
In the summer of 1889, an amendment was proposed to the Protection of Children bill that would have banned employing children under 10 years as actors on stage. Charles Dodgson wrote an article entitled “Stage Children” in The Theatre of 2 September 1889, explaining that playing on stage was a way for poor children to earn some money for their family while having fun at the same time. He “went on suggesting a long list of sensible measures that would secure their schooling, as well as their physical and moral health and safety, most of which were taken up in the final version of the amendment passed later that year” (Lebailly). On the other hand, Dowson wrote in The Critic of 17 August 1889 an article entitled “The Cult of the Child”, in which he stated that children under ten have by nature superior acting capacities, while among adult actors such talents are the exception. He cited Minnie Terry’s role in Bootle’s Baby as an example.
To Dowson, Minnie Terry represented the perfect model for the little girl, as he wrote (Letters, no. 68): “I’ve been kissing my hand aimlessly from the window to une petite demoiselle of my acquaintance—also par exemple a Minnie & presque aussi gentille as her prototype. This has temporarily revived me”.
His devotion to little girls was exclusive, it did not extend to teenagers or adult women. In his correspondence, he expressed his fear of girls growing up into adulthood (New Letters, no. D1, Letters, no. 53). In 1889, he tried “experiments” of platonic love with two teenage girls: first Lena, a barmaid, then Bertha van Raalte, the daughter of a tobacconist. But these relations did not last long; Dowson was not really motivated.
Dowson showed a rather cynical attitude towards adult women; he seemed to have a purely sexual interest in them, which he likened to debauchery and drinking alcohol (Letters, no. 4, 46, and 68). This shows also in his poetry. For instance, in the Cynara poem, one reads “Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine” and “Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet”. And in the later poem Rondeau, he rejects the “wine-stained lip” of a woman for the “white roses of virginity”. Indeed, it is probable that many of his sexual encounters happened with prostitutes or women he met in bars.
Being fed up with women, he finally confided to Arthur Moore his resolution (Letters, no. 78): “Methinks I will swear off wine & women & weeds & lates hours & confine myself to the writing of the r.o & the cult of Minnie Terry.” (Probably “the r.o” refers to the novel he was writing with Moore). Here are two pictures of Minnie Terry as a kind of romantic pin-up, typical of the Victorian child cult.
However, within a few months, fate would have Dowson giving up his cult of Minnie Terry. In November 1889, he entered a cheap Polish restaurant held by Joseph Foltinowicz, located at 19 Sherwood Street in Soho, at the back of the present Regent Palace Hotel. “I discovered it. It is cheap; the cuisine is fair; I am the whole clientele, and there is a little Polish demoiselle therein (Minnie at 5st 7—not quite that) whom it is a pleasure to sit & look at.” (Letters, no. 73) The “little Polish demoiselle” was Adelaide, the proprietor’s daughter, aged eleven and a half years, whom he nicknamed “Missie” or “Missy”. He would soon fall in love with her and, quite unexpectedly, he would continue to love her as she grew into her teens (cf. the poem Growth). Although she rejected his marriage proposal and eventually married another man in 1897, his feelings for her did not abate. That is how Ernest Dowson became the great poet of love that we now know. This is a very long story that will be told on another occasion.
References and further readings:
- Ernest Dowson et al: The Poems and Prose of Ernest Dowson, with a Memoir by Arthur Symons, Project Gutenberg Ebook.
- Robert Kelsey Rought Thornton and Caroline Dowson (editors): Ernest Dowson Collected Poems, Birmingham University Press, 2003.
- Desmond Flower and Henry Maas (editors): The Letters of Ernest Dowson, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1967.
- Desmond Flower (editor): New Letters from Ernest Dowson, The Whittington Press, 1984.
- Hugues Lebailly: “Charles Dodgson and the Victorian Cult of the Child“, The Carrollian, The Lewis Carroll Journal, no. 4, autumn 1999, pp. 3–31.
- Willem Van den Daele: “Ernest-Christopher Dowson (1867-1900) — a presentation“, 16 June 2000 (mirror page).
- Ernest Christopher Dowson Facebook page.
See also: What’s in a Name? Charles Dodgson
More material on Ernest Dowson in Agapeta.
The late ’70s and early ’80s were a paradoxical time. Crime rates, including violent crime, peaked in the United States, and films had become notably darker and more violent, as well as more sexually daring in some ways. They had even started to address child and adolescent sexuality and child sexual abuse much more directly (and, it should be said, quite often controversially here in the states). Pretty Baby (1978), You Are Not Alone (1978), The Tin Drum (1979), Beau Pere (1981) and Pixote (1981) had all come out in this period. As you’ll note, all but one of these were foreign releases, and the exception, Pretty Baby, had a foreign director.
Meanwhile, the precedent for America’s treatment of these themes had been set by 1976’s Taxi Driver, it seems (ironically, a film about a psychotic man who is unable to process his own attraction to a 13-year-old prostitute–played by a young Jodie Foster—and consequently goes on a violent shooting spree.) This film, perhaps more than any other, I think encapsulates the American mindset with regard to child sexuality. In a very real sense America is Travis Bickle, and it isn’t surprising that Jodie Foster’s character from the film eventually inspired a very real Bicklesque lunatic, John Hinckley, Jr., to make an assassination attempt on President Reagan’s life.
But film wasn’t the only medium in which Europeans explored underage sexuality. There were also a few European comics working in this territory. Of course, they often came with about a metric crap-ton of qualifiers and subterfuge, so as to get around censors. Although comics are really a much better medium for addressing this topic than live-action film (given the fact that no real children need be involved), in some ways it has been even more subject to taboo than film has. This may be because comics had traditionally been thought of as a kids’ medium, which only began to shift after the Underground Comix revolution of the late ’60s. It was also in the late ’70s—1978 to be specific—that Europe gave birth to one of the most outrageous examples of comics dealing with underage sex, Tamburini and Liberatore’s RanXerox.
I have already mentioned how these explorations often used subterfuge to get around the censors, and RanXerox is the perfect example, for, although certain female protagonists of the series—including one of the main characters, Lubna—claimed to be 18 years old, it is visibly obvious that they are in fact much younger. Not that there aren’t extremely tiny, nearly flat-chested 18-year-olds in real life, but what are the odds that two of them would be friends? What’s clear here is that Stefano Tamburini and Gaetano “Tanino” Liberatore were conspiring to pull a fast one over on their readership, and for the most part they succeeded.
RanXerox got it’s start in a small Italian publication called Cannibale in 1978, but it really didn’t become well-known until the American sci-fi and erotica magazine Heavy Metal picked it up in June of 1983. Right from the get-go the series was controversial, not only because of its blatant sexual transgression and graphic violence but also because its original title, Rank Xerox, was a dead rip-off of a very real business entity. Eventually the title was shortened to RanXerox of course, but again, this was just a sly way to get around what was actually intended by its creators.
The story is set sometime in the future and revolves around RanXerox himself, an ultra-violent, snub-nosed musclebound cyborg constructed from parts of a copier machine (hence the name) and his precocious drug addicted girlfriend, the aforementioned Lubna. RanXerox is a Punk Age monster, a force of unchecked violence and rage, yet he is often mistreated by his young girlfriend, the only person he loves. She is therefore the only one who can actually tame his violent tendencies, though mostly she exploits his talents to clear obstacles from her own path. Richard Corben, another Heavy Metal alumnus, says it best:
RanXerox is a punk, futuristic Frankenstein monster, and with the under-aged Lubna, they are a bizarre Beauty and the Beast. This artist and writer team have turned a dark mirror to the depths of our Id and we see reflected the base part of ourselves that would take what it wants with no compromise, no apology – and woe to the person who would cross us. But it is all done with a black, wry, satirical sense of humor.
But why has Corben suggested that Lubna is underage? After all, by the third page in the very first story arc in HM we are told that Lubna has recently turned 18. One at first wonders why it was necessary to make this fact known so soon. But the creators didn’t stop there; there are references to both Lubna’s age and the age of her friend Martine (who sleeps with Ranx after Lubna is separated from him for a time) throughout. It’s possible the creators were overcompensating for their own insecurities about the youthful appearance of these characters, but it’s more likely some editor or publisher insisted on it. Ironically, the constant references to the girls’ ages only serves to draw attention to the fact that physically they are nowhere near 18, and appear to be more in the neighborhood of 12 or 13, which was obviously Tamburini’s intended age for them.
But their youth isn’t simply gratuitous. The point was to show a future based on projections of the social and criminal trends of the time, a future in which ever-younger kids fell prey to the corrupting lure of the drugs, casual sex and general misanthropy that dominated youth culture in the late ’70s. To reinforce this point, an even younger girl—a child no older than 3 or 4—is often seen on the street corner that Lubna and her friends haunt; she wears outfits that expose her tiny undeveloped breasts and makes obnoxious comments to Lubna and others. She’s a little Lubna in training, another sign of the growing inverse relationship between the age and worldliness of the characters in the RanXerox universe.
The story begins with Lubna on the prowl for another fix of “plasma” in her home city of Rome, Italy, as she begins to feel the ache of withdrawal. They eventually wind up in the home of the wealthy, psychic (and psychotic) painter Rainier, who gets her high and then tricks her into shutting down her robotic lover and protector. Afterwards, he and his compatriot dump Ranx’s inanimate body near the Colosseum and kidnap Lubna for purposes unknown.
As it turns out, Rainier has plans for both Ranx and Lubna, using the former (after tampering with Ranx’s head) to kill an entire club full of people, though the real target is an art critic Rainier despises who happens to be at the club at the time. But there’s a notable scene just before the massacre where a small girl offers a rose for sale to Ranx, only to be met with a particularly brutal response from the still-malfunctioning robot, whose impulse control has been compromised. It’s scenes like these that earned RanXerox its notoriety.
It’s eventually revealed that Rainier has the notion to use Lubna as part of an art piece to be titled Cadaver of a Young Drug Addict. But of course, Ranx comes smashing into his apartment and breaks his neck, even though Lubna isn’t there. It’s striking that the first major villain of the initial story arc is a pretentious modern artist who makes ridiculous amounts of money off his meaningless art, and Liberatore, a mere comics artist in many people’s eyes, no doubt relished seeing Rainier meet his end at the hands of his and Tamburini’s creation.
With Lubna now missing and Ranx still hunting for her, he temporarily hooks up with Lubna’s friend Martine, who appears to be about the same age as Lubna. They have sex at Martine’s place, and the girl, a student of Bioelectronics, at last repairs his busted brain. It’s noteworthy that in some reprints of these stories this scene was heavily censored. Particularly bothersome to the censors was the appearance of Ranx’s penis. Their tryst is interrupted by the sudden intrusion of Martine’s insanely jealous and abusive boyfriend outside her door, but Ranx makes short work of him with a single well-placed punch . . . through the door.
Later, as Martine is changing the battery in Ranx’s back, a group of street thugs make a particularly conspicuous comment about her age, with one of them mistaking her for a 12-year-old and another correcting him. Later the group plans to gang rape the girl, with one of them commenting, “I bet she’s got an ass on her as tender as a filet.” Ranx, of course, doesn’t go for that.
After several violent episodes and a lot of traveling around the city, Ranx eventually finds that Lubna is being held prisoner by a wealthy, leather mask-wearing man named Volare and goes after her, only to be captured by Volare, who intends to use the robot to stage a Fred Astaire routine as part of a retrospective on the famous dancing actor. His speech to Ranx amusingly references Heavy Metal, the very magazine the story is running in. It seems Tamburini was doing meta before meta was cool. Meanwhile, Lubna is watching a cartoon with a bird character who proclaims, “Goddamn it!” A quite prescient observation when one considers the popularity of shows like Family Guy, South Park and American Dad today. (Remember, this series was published in the early ’80s.) Here it’s just another sign of the decadence and social decline of the future.
By now Lubna has bought into Volare’s promises of wealth and fame and blatantly manipulates Ranx by appealing to his love for her (not to mention giving him a hand-job) as they fly to New York in Volare’s private plane!
Ranx agrees to this as long as Lubna can stay with him, but Lubna betrays her robot mate by remaining with Volare while Ranx is training, ostensibly so as not to distract him but more likely because she is attracted to Volare’s wealth and power.
After 24 hours, which is all Ranx’s electronic brain needs to memorize Astaire’s entire song-and-dance oeuvre, Ranx and Lubna are at last reunited, with Lubna ironically behaving very much like a child. Observant readers will note that she is listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run.
In the final issue of the first story arc, Lubna seems to have age-regressed not only behaviorally but even physically. She may be attracted to Volare, though more than likely it’s just the drugs talking. While Ranx is performing in the show, she attempts to seduce her abductor in a scene that is likely to send shudders down the spines of anti-abuse and anti-human trafficking advocates everywhere.
While Ranx is performing, Lubna attempts to seduce Volare; unfortunately for her, Ranx notices. He stops the show and smashes his way to Volare’s balcony box. Violence ensues. The object of his hatred is destroyed, yet Ranx is profoundly affected by this last and worst of Lubna’s many betrayals and, atypically for him, stands up to her abuse in a humorously inappropriate way that symbolically acknowledges her true age: he gives her a bare behind spanking.
For something so controversial, RanXerox has had its influence on other creators, most notably manifest in a surreal French fantasy film called La Cité des enfants perdus (The City of Lost Children), directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, which really deserves its own article on Pigtails in Paint. The physical resemblance of One and Miette to Ranx and Lubna cannot be overstated.
RanXerox is a role that was made for Ron Perlman, if it could ever be filmed. Of course, it can’t. Indeed, the environment is such today that even a comics magazine like Heavy Metal likely wouldn’t dare repeat it. It’s a concept whose time has gone. Or has it? There have been sexually precocious minors in comics since RanXerox‘s time, though, to my knowledge, rarely without some built-in moral consequence, where bad things befall the child and/or the adult involved with them, or they are clearly the product of sexual abuse. Yet, in its way, RanXerox may be the most moral story of all of these, for I imagine few people can read it without being repulsed by the characters’ behavior somewhere down the line. These are not people we would likely ever want to meet, and that may be Tamburini’s point. When you imagine a future filled with these blatantly immoral folks, you can see that Ranx and Lubna’s world is a true dystopia, one created not by government oppression but by gradual desensitization and moral erosion of the populace.
Tamburini might’ve believed this was where we were headed as a society. Of course, he was wrong. Reality never follows so straight a path. As for Tamburini himself, only three short years after the first run of RanXerox in Heavy Metal (1986) his lifeless body was discovered in his apartment in Rome. He had apparently died from a heroin overdose. He was 30 years old at the time of death.
In addition to the HM runs, this series has been collected into books (three major volumes) and translated into several languages. Here is the cover for one of them, RanXerox 2: Happy Birthday, Lubna.
And a cover for the Spanish comics magazine El Víbora (The Viper), featuring Ranx, Lubna, Martine, the toddler girl from the street corner (who Lubna sometimes babysits and whose name I do not know), and another girl I don’t recognize.
An unidentified image of Lubna working on Ranx:
You can read the entire first story arc and a handful of the other RanXerox issues (as well as most of the early issues of Heavy Metal) at this site. The first story arc runs from issue v07 #04 (July 1983) through issue v07 #09 (December 1983); there’s also a great interview with Liberatore in that December ’83 issue.