Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wonderland by Tommy Kovac and Sonny Liew

Comics, in their modern American form, are so inextricably tied up with licensing that even projects that have no need to hire someone else's intellectual property end up doing so. I could speculate about why this is true, but it is clearly the case.

Take this book: Wonderland, a sidebar story to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which was originally published in 1865 and has been in the public domain since before I was born (and before this book's creators, Tommy Kovac and Sonny Liew, were, as well). There's no reason to pay anyone to use the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts, and so forth -- they're now our common cultural heritage, like Ahab, Hamlet, Roland, and Gilgamesh. But comics are a visual medium: so what happens if you want your versions of these characters to look like the hegemonic animated movie version from your youth?

Well, in that case, then you'll need to pay up. And so Kovac and Liew did -- well, the exact details of the licensing agreement are none of my business, but this book is copyright Disney Enterprises and it was published by Disney Press (after a run as individual comics from SLG). But, except for the details of the character designs, this could have been a non-Disney product -- whether it could have had a higher, or lower profile in the market, or existed at all without Disney backing, though, it's now impossible to say.

Wonderland tells the story of a different girl in that fantastical land: Mary Ann, for whom the White Rabbit originally mistook Alice. She's the Rabbit's housekeeper, but, in the wake of the destruction wrought by "the Alice Monster," the Queen of Hearts is on the warpath (more than usual, even), and Mary Ann and her rabbit employer are soon running away at high speed to keep their heads. The two of them have adventures with all of the characters fans of the movie would expect -- the Cheshire Cat, the Hatter and his tea party -- but also with plenty of non-movie folks, including the Jabberwock and the Queen of Spades, drawn in Liew's version of the Disney style.

Liew's art is deeply charming, and cartoony in the best ways, as usual -- but, with not too much tweaking, it could have avoided the Disney look entirely, so, again, I do have to wonder if that connection was entirely necessary. Well, it may have been commercially necessary, but it clearly wasn't artistically necessary.

Kovac's story is equally charming -- he's not as inventive or distinctive as Carroll, but, then, who is? He makes Wonderland into a engaging and lovely pastiche of Carroll's works -- somewhat thinner and flatter than the original, certainly, but still well worth reading for Alice aficionados. But Liew's lovely watercolor art is the real draw here: I'd love to see him illustrate a new edition of the Alice books, or adapt them directly to comics, using his own designs.

1 comment:

sonnyliew said...

Heya Andrew

Just to clarify: this was always a Disney Publishing project from the get-go. They initiated the idea with SLG, with the idea that some Disney properties could be extended with the help of an edgier brand (SLG). There were other titles in that series - Haunted Mansion and Gargoyles. Me and Tommy were brought in later, with the specific brief of a story happening after the Disney cartoon. We did try to stay faithful to the orginal book too, but the designs had to look to the Disney version to some degree, given how the project was commissioned :)

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