Down, down the rabbit hole..
I should state from here on out that I intensely identify with Lewis Caroll's Alice and that I've considered her as a fictional counterpart, most especially Alan Moore's re-imagining of this character in Lost Girls. Last year, while working late night at our student publication's office, I came across a manual for artists which belong to the art section, and it listed Bryan Talbot's Alice in Sunderland as one of the references. I was immediately intrigued because it was an Alice-based graphic novel, and I knew Talbot from his illustrations in The Sandman volume 6. I was able to download a .cbr copy and I only scanned through the pages and realized that it was not a linear narrative structure but more of a historical thesis in sequential art form.
It was only in the Manila International Book Fair that September when I was happy to see a singular hardbound copy of this book. I took it home and began to read. Alice in Sunderland is a challenging visual experience; it's engrossing in many parts but nevertheless an often historical lecture on the origins of Caroll's creation of the Alice/Wonderland lore that could be very trying for one's attention span. The stylistic language and presentation of this book resemble what Alice might have felt when she fell down the rabbit hole, and readers will get to experience the same stressful effect because reading through this is overwhelming at times. One thing I can guarantee is that this piece of work is not bland even when it's confusing. The writing is quite schizophrenic; one moment it's a documentary with an omniscient third-person narrator talking to the audience and the next it's split into anecdotes and flash fiction weaved into several disjointed arcs.
What I can suggest when consuming this book is to take a break every once in a while and don't attempt to read this in one sitting or it will dilute your appreciation for both its form and content. Talbot infused this tapestry of stories with pages and pages of allegory, alliteration and every kind of figurative language that it's often indulgent and verbose for its own good. Nevertheless, one can forgive the book's unreliable narrator, and truly enjoy the scope of Alice in Sunderland as an exceptional work of the imagination. The book also attempts to juxtapose Sunderland's history and the history of comics as influenced by Caroll's Alice legends.
This is not the kind of book a reader should expect emotional pay-off from. Upon finishing it, all that is left is the realization that Alice is Sunderland has better parts than its entirety, but it is nonetheless audacious and thrilling. The visual landscapes and setting are some of the best drawings and illustrations I have encountered. Those alone should be enough to make this book a worthwhile occupation.
* Visually challenging and sensually appealing all at once.