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From A Library: Alice in Sunderland

Alice In Sunderland by Bryan Talbot

How cool is my library? To have Bryan Talbot’s Alice in Sunderland in stock so soon after it is published? And what a book it is – a massive, impressive hardback tome, heavy with knowledge and delight. It just defies easy description – it’s not a graphic novel or a comic book, that’s for sure.

Trying to describe what it is about is a bit tricky – it starts with a man going into the Sunderland Empire, the only man in the audience being told a narrative by another man, who is also talking directly to us as well. The basis of the tale is the research by a Sunderland resident that suggests that the inspiration behind Alice in Wonderland by Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll was not Oxford, as perpetuated by his descendants, but was his time in Sunderland. The evidence is compelling; I for one am convinced by the thesis.

But the book is not just about this. It is also about Sunderland and its history, as well as taking in the history of the UK, the history of comic books in the UK and popular entertainment in the North of England (Sid James acts as a Greek chorus, his ghost haunting the Sunderland Empire as that was where he famously died while on stage). The book is crammed with fascinating vignettes about local life, including the Northern man who invented the light bulb, a notorious woman serial killer, the Venerable Bede and the architectural development of the city.

To do all this, Talbot employs a diverse variety of artistic techniques – from his usual clear pencilwork, to excellent imitations of other comic book styles (such as Herge), to photographs and collages – that greatly enriches the account. The amount of research and effort that has gone into this is amazing and well worth it; Talbot has created a stunning piece of work. It is fascinating, funny, exhaustive, rewarding and superb. And a fitting end to From A Library Week.

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