Friday, 20 November 2015


One hundred and fifty years ago, Lewis Carroll gave a gift to the world in the form of little book entitled Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

It was a gift that not only transformed the future of literature for children, it gave us all – young and not so young, alike – a legacy of humorous prose and verse, rich in pun and parody, linguistic riddles and logical puzzlements.

Six years later, he gave us another gift: Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. Arguably – for all the staggering originality of Wonderland – the story of Alice’s exploits in the realm beyond the Looking-Glass is even more accomplished.

I describe these books as a gift to the world as indeed they were. But they were a very special gift to the artists and illustrators of the world because, whilst Lewis Carroll creates dialogue that sparkles with wit and fizzes with the unexpected, he seldom describes a scene or a character beyond mere sketchiness. And that is a real gift to an illustrator: the passport for crossing the borders of invention and imagination.

The first beneficiary of this gift was, of course, John Tenniel, and he so significantly rose to the task that he virtually earned the right to be thought of as co-creator of Wonderland and Looking-Glass World. In so doing, however, he left a great many inky fingerprints upon the pages of those books as to seriously intimidate his successors.

Nevertheless, successors there have been – hundreds of them: from the hack to the genius… Some of their names live on and are greatly (and deservedly) admired from Rackham, Robinson and Rountree – via Peake and Dali – to Steadman, Oxenbury and Vernon Lord, to name but a few. And among the very best of the best is the artist whose work I am celebrating here – Angel Dominguez.

Brian Sibley with Angel Dominguez at the launch of 
Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There 

Many of us are familiar with Dominguez’s painstakingly crafted paintings from books such as Diary of a Victorian Mouse, Classic Animal Stories, and Kipling’s Just So Stories and The Jungle Book – all of them overflowing with wonderfully drawn birds and beasts that, like the creatures in all the best bestiaries, are really only humans in fur and feather.

It was in 1996 that Angel Dominguez tackled Lewis Carroll’s first gift and gave us an edition of Wonderland of graphic splendour, abundantly embellished with all sorts of sly little jokes and visual puns and a remarkable sense of the essence of Englishness.

Dominguez has now demonstrated his great love of Lewis Carroll and the characters in the Alice books with his latest illustrations to Carroll’s second gift: Through the Looking-Glass

All the usual suspects are here: the Kings and Queens of the chessboard as well as Hatta and Haigha from Wonderland and those nursery rhymes characters that are reborn in this book as flesh-and-blood characters that immeasurably transcend their modest origins.

And they are joined – in this chequerboard-patterned world – by the book’s author himself, kitted-out in full armour as his Own Invention – the White Knight...

Dominguez justifies challenging Tenniel's original aging, bewhiskered knight by quoting Carroll's first biographer, Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, who reported that his uncle had (in vain) told Tenniel that: "The White Knight must not have whiskers, he must not be made to look old..."

He is not, of course, the first illustrator to knight Lewis Carroll (Ralph Steadman caricatured the author in that role in 1972) but there is a haunting, poetic melancholy about Dominguez' likeness that strikes an entirely different chord; rather than portraying him as a foolish chevalier similar to that depicted in Cervantes' Don Quixote, this is a glimpse of how the Don (or, in this case, the don) saw himself: noble, heroic and, in the true sense of the word, pathetic. 

And the decision to cast the author as surely the most intensely emotional character in either of the Alice books, then inspired another piece of role-playing: "It occurred to me," Dominguez writes in his Afterword, "to portray the Red Knight as myself and to create a bloodless medieval jousting match between author and illustrator."

Alice's exploits– as one might expect from an author who was an amateur conjuror and a lover of theatrical illusion – are filled with translations and transformations and this is something that Dominguez magically conveys in his illustrations showing the White Queen transmogrifying into the Old Sheep and, a few pages on, the egg in the her shop changing into Humpty Dumpty...

Then Dominguez adds a new puzzle of his own – the presence in the book of two Alices. As he explains: "One is a blonde like the character from the first book, and there is a brunette one in this book. Alice dreams, as many of us dreamed in our childhoods, to be the other and live adventures."

The book is, as one would expect, full of many such elaborations and extrapolations on Carroll's text – I particularly like the examples of Looking-Glass insectology (the elephant bees here being joined by rhino- and hippo-bees), the anthropomorphised blooms in the Garden of Live Flowers and (in the Humpty Dumpty rescue party), a contingent of Scottish drums drumming painfully on their own heads.

For all these expected – and unexpected – amusements, there is a new sensibility at work in these drawings. Dominguez has caught a quality of the original that is often overlooked. The sunny summer’s day adventures in Wonderland have given way to the misty, autumnal feel of Alice’s second dream, across which falls the lengthening shadow of life’s brevity and the fleeting nature of love.

The fact that these drawings were made as the artist battled with cancer, the effects of a stroke and impact of his mother’s death may explain the terrible darkness that hovers over many of these pictures like the Tweedle Brothers’ monstrous crow – itself depicted as a creature constructed from ancient tribal patterns.

And certainly no artist has ever before dared to grant the Jabberwock safe passage though the Looking-Glass to prey upon the dreaming Alice...

Dominguez has said that he has attempted to approach Carroll’s stories “with emotion”, which, as he rightly says, is "the goal of art." And it is a goal perfectly realised in this handsome volume – or, volumes if you chose the edition in which the suppressed (and once-lost) Wasp in a Wig chapter is also brought to book with an introduction by Carroll scholar Selwyn Goodacre and illustrations by Dominguez that disprove Tenniel's willful assertion that "A wasp in a wig is altogether beyond the appliances of art"!

There are those in our thought-to-be more sophisticated times who have no time for the dream narrative: "What a surprise!" they mock, "It was all just a dream!" Dominguez is wise enough to value the dream. He writes: "Sleeping, dreaming, even having nightmares, it is fantasy that allows us to navigate through life on starship Earth."

Angel Dominguez’ Looking-Glass is, without question, a bold and beautiful aid to navigation as well as ranking among the very finest illustrative interpretations of Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece.

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll with illustrations by Angel Dominguez is published by the wonderful Inky Parrot Press and is available in three editions:

Standard Edition: The book has 160 pages, with double- and single-page illustrations for each chapter and many smaller ones. The book is signed and numbered, casebound in a dust wrapper, page size 310 × 210mm. Typeset in Breughel and printed by Northend Creative Print Solutions on 150 gsm Stow Book White paper. All editions are bound by Ludlow Bookbinders. £86.00.

Special Edition: 52 copies with an additional volume The Wasp in a Wig, with an introduction by Selwyn Goodacre and new illustrations for the cover, endpapers and a double- and single-page illustration. Both volumes are quarter bound in leather and contained in a slipcase. £260.00.

The Exemplary Edition: has the two volumes, plus four giclĂ©e prints of Angel’s paintings, two from the book and two completely new, all signed and numbered, printed by Senecio Press and contained in a solander box. £420.00.

To find details of all the publishing ventures of Inky Parrot Press, click HERE

Thursday, 12 November 2015


John Burningham is one of Britain's individual illustrators producing memorable books for both children and adults...

Among his many much-loved books is the original edition of Ian Fleming's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang...

I met John last year when I interviewed him for a BBC Radio 4 programme celebrating Chitty's 50th birthday...

 You can listen to the programme HERE

Anyway, on the day of the interview, the walls of John's studio were covered in original drawings (along with old  photographs and posters) for his next book: a celebration of that universally adored drink of which Kipling wrote:
"If the aunt of the vicar has never touched liquor, watch out when she finds the champagne." 

Recently published by LockAwe Books, John Burningham's Champagne is a delightful, bubbly brew, made with love and wit and fizzing over with quotes in praise of Champagne  from the famous and infamous, lavishly illustrated with sparkling new illustrations and vintage imagery...

“There comes a time in every woman’s life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne.” 
– Bette Davis

“I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.”
– Lily Bollinger, Owner of Bollinger Champagne from 1941-1971

"The House of Lords is like a glass of champagne that has stood for five days."
– Clement Attlee
The book is full of fascinating facts and amusing anecdotes such as the art of sabrage – opening a bottle of champagne by lopping off the neck of the bottle with a sabre and allowing the froth to clear the broken glass!

Legend has it that Champagne was invented by the Benedictine monk, Dom Perignon, who was cellar master at the Abbey of Hautvillers, and that his first words on tasting the drink were...
"Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!"

A number of John's original drawings are available for sale from Chris Beetles Gallery as are signed copies of the book for £25 – the perfect Christmas gift for every Champagne lover!

“Champagne is one of the elegant extras in Life.”
– Charles Dickens

Thursday, 5 November 2015


These days, November 5th is no longer exclusively what we used to call 'Firework Night' or 'Bonfire Night' since the crackles, bangs and whizzes have been going on nightly now for at least the past two weeks and will doubtless continue for a while to come.

But there was a time in England when tonight would have been one of the most exciting nights of the year, because it was––––

Guy Fawkes Night!

"Who-what Night?" you ask...

The night named after the treasonable activities of Guido (Guy) Fawkes (1570 - 1606), a member of a group of English Roman Catholics who, in 1605, sought to carry out the Gunpowder Plot: a daring and dastardly attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament, kill King James I of England and end Protestant rule.

I recall a time when every English child knew by heart the rhyme...
Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
There was actually more to the rhyme that would have been known to children of an earlier age:
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's mercy he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holla boys, Holla boys, let the bells ring!
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him?
Burn him!
A somewhat gruesome tradition grew up of building bonfires on the top of which an effigy of the traitorous Fawkes would be burned on the night of 5 November.

Children would display their 'Guy' (dressed in old clothes and often sporting a mask) on street corners – or going house to house – begging "A penny for the Guy!", in order to raise funds with which to purchase fireworks for the Big Night!

 Of course, the real Master Fawkes, having been identified, came to a nasty end, but, true to the code of the martyrs (and forgive me for making a traitor into a bit of a hero) he valiantly made his exit, managing to cheat the axeman of the pleasures of drawing and quartering his body – at least according to William Harrison Ainsworth's "historical romance" (how much of each being open to conjecture)  Guy Fawkes or The Gunpowder Treason...

Guy Fawkes now alone remained, and he slowly mounted the scaffold. His foot slipped on the blood-stained boards, and he would have fallen if Topcliffe [the man responsible for torturing Fawkes], who stood near him, had not caught his hand.
A deep silence prevailed as he looked around, and uttered the following words in a clear and distinct voice: "I ask forgiveness of the King and the state for my criminal intention, and trust that my death will wash out my offence."
He then crossed himself and knelt down to pray, after which his cloak and doublet were removed by the executioner's assistant and placed with those of the other conspirators.  He made an effort to mount the ladder, but his stiffened limbs refused their office. "Your courage fails you, sneered Topcliffe," laying his hand upon his shoulder. "My strength does," replied Fawkes, sternly regarding him.  "Help me up the ladder, and you shall see whether I am afraid to die."

Seeing how matters stood, the executioner who stood by leaning upon his chopper, tendered him his blood stained hand, but Fawkes rejected it with disgust, and exerting all his strength, forced himself up the ladder.

As the hangman adjusted the rope, he observed a singular smile illuminate the features of his victim. "You seem happy," he said.  "I am so," replied Fawkes, earnestly, "I see the form of her I loved beckoning me to unfading happiness."

With this, he stretched out his arms and sprang from the ladder. Before his frame was exposed to the executioner's knife life was totally extinct.
On reflection, of course, it does seem rather regrettable that it took such a barbaric event to give the English an excuse to let off a few fireworks once a year!

Images: Gunpowder Plot by Ron Embleton © Look & Learn, 2007; Execution of Guy Fawkes by George Cruickshank; Cartoon by © Simon Pearsall

Parts of this post first appeared on blogs from a few years ago.

Saturday, 31 October 2015


In only a few years, Halloween in Britain has gone from being a totally American and utterly un-British (and therefore inexplicable) holiday to being up there in the UK marketing and merchandising league with Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s Day.

There was a time when the only glimpse those of us on this side of the Atlantic ever got of the trick-or-treat world of Halloween was in Charles Schulz’ annual Peanuts strips in which Linus vainly waited in the pumpkin patch for the arrival of his own mythical invention, the Great Pumpkin!

Even though our stores are now annually full of Halloween paraphernalia, there is precious little cultural knowledge in Britain about the Catholic feasts of All Hallows (or All Saints) and All Souls celebrated on 1st and 2nd November,  or of the European traditions, superstitions and amusements that preceded them on October 31, known as All Hallows’ Eve – or Hallowe'en…

Those who would like to understand more about the origins and multi-faceted accretions that comprise the dark festival of the turning year can look them up in on-line or on-shelf encyclopedias...

But, if you'll take my advice, you'll, instead, hitch a ride with the mysterious Mr Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud in The Halloween Tree. First published in 1972, this is an autumnal conjuring trick by that literary magician, the late Ray Bradbury, with haunting tombstone-black-and-white illustrations by Joe Mugnaini.

The cadaverous Moundshroud leads a group of youngsters on a frantic time-travelling jaunt through the “deep, dark, long, wild history of Halloween,” beginning within the shadow of the Halloween Tree…
The pumpkins on the Tree were not mere pumpkins. Each had a face sliced in it. Each face was different. Every eye was a stranger eye. Every nose was a weirder nose. Every mouth smiled hideously in some new way.

There must have been a thousand pumpkins on this tree, hung high and on every branch. A thousand smiles. A thousand grimaces. And twice-times-a-thousand glares and winks and blinks and leerings of fresh-cut eyes…

By wing and kite and broomstick they fly on the winds of lost centuries from the darkness of the cave before the discovery of fire, via the rituals of Druid England with its scythe-wielding October God of the Dead, to the gargoyle-encrusted towers of Notre Dame; from the bone-and-mummy-dust tombs of Ancient Egypt through the Grecian Isles to the City of Rome and away to South America and the candles and sugar skeletons of El Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead...

It is a journey that memorably explains how light and darkness, faith and fear have shaped a festival now more widely celebrated than understood…

So, maybe when the little terrors come around knocking our knockers tonight, we should slip a copy of Mr Bradbury's classic into their Trick or Treat bags - then they might know why they were doing what they were doing and, if nothing else, at least it wouldn't rot their teeth!

Re-reading The Halloween Tree is an annual invitation to allow a bony finger to stir and prod among the leaf-mould and mummy-dust of my memories...

I travel back in time thirty-five years...

It is 1980 and, after six years of corresponding with Ray Bradbury, we met for the very first time when I interview him at the offices of his London publishers.

The book that I take with me on that occasion to ask him to inscribe is the first UK edition of The Halloween Tree...

Six years later, I am in Los Angeles and we meet for lunch in a restaurant on Rodeo Drive. Ray is there first and has has a Halloween treat awaiting me.

Under the napkin by my plate is a book...

It is an American edition of the The Halloween Tree with a new, macabre cover design It is inscribed with a golden Halloween Tree drawing by the author, studded with grinning pumpkin lantern stickers!

No wonder this book has always been special to me...

In 2006 came another gift from Ray Bradbury: an e-mail in which he recounted a short history of how the Halloween Tree came to be planted and how it grew and put forth its unique autumnal fruits...
The Halloween Tree came about because I had lunch with [legendary Bugs Bunny animator] Chuck Jones forty years ago; he had just become a new friend.

The night before, an animated [Peanuts] film - The Great Pumpkin - had been on TV. My children disliked it so much that they ran over and kicked the TV set, along with me, because the whole idea of the Great Pumpkin supposedly arriving and then not arriving was incorrect to me. It was like shooting Santa Claus on the way down the chimney!

Chuck Jones and I agreed that we didn't like The Great Pumpkin, though we did admire Charlie Schultz, the cartoonist, very much. Then Chuck said, "Why don't we do a really good film on Halloween?" I said, "I think we could. Let me go home and bring something."

So I went home and brought Chuck a large painting of a Halloween Tree that I had painted down in the basement with my daughters a few years before.

Chuck took one look at it and said, "My God, that's the genealogy of the holiday. Will you write a screenplay on this?" I said, "Yes, hire me!" So Chuck Jones and MGM hired me to write a TV script called The Halloween Tree.

Several months down the road, MGM decided to turn its back on animation, so they closed their unit and fired Chuck and me. I had nothing to do then so I took the script and wrote the novel of The Halloween Tree.

Later I wrote a second script for the final animated film, which was done by Hanna-Barbera a few years later, for which I received an Emmy Award for the script.

About three years ago I produced Something Wicked This Way Comes at a theater in Santa Monica and on Halloween night my biographer, Sam Weller, drove me to the play and then home again at around 10:30 at night and on the way, in four different yards we saw that people had placed pumpkins, real ones or papier mache, lit with candles in trees in their front yards.
Now, there are Halloween Trees beginning to appear all over the United States and I realized that with my story and that picture that I painted down in the basement with my daughters more than forty years ago, I've changed the history of Halloween in the entire country.
I've discussed this with the Disney people and suggested that they invite me to Disneyland on Halloween night and put up a tree full of papier mache pumpkins and have me there to turn on the whole thing. They would make themselves and me part of the future history of Halloween because no trees existed forty years ago – they began to appear only after my book and my film.
The Disney people haven't reacted so far because, I believe, the notice is very short. If we don't do it this year I'm hoping that Disney will invite me out next Halloween and initiate the birth of the Halloween Tree and the history of the holiday.
It's been an interesting experience for me and it thrills me to think that 100 years from now there will be Halloween trees all across our world...

Happily, from 2007 onward, Disney have honoured Ray and his Halloween Tree in Disneyland.

And here's what it looks like...

Since last Halloween I've acquired two new reminders of Ray and his Halloween Tree.

The first is this – a signed artist's print by Joe Mugnaini, which I bought last year from the sale of Ray's estate.

I love the stunning design: the sweep of Moundshroud's great bat wings, the cadaverous features, the way in which he powers his way across the inky crosshatched night sky blistered with stars...

Devotees of the book may be surprised to notice that Moundshroud is flying from right to left, when in the published book, he flies in the opposite direction.

Alas, too late now to ask either Joe or Ray why the orientation of the picture was altered, although one answer might be that, in the book, having him fly towards the page-turning made more sense and carried the reader towards the next part of the story...

Well, that, at any rate, is my theory!

Also this year, comes new edition of The Halloween Tree with illustrations by Gris Grimly, best selling illustrator whose previous books have included Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Poe's Tales of Mystery and Madness and another Halloween tale, Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

The somber monochrome text illustrations and the pumpkin-hued colour plates are perhaps (for someone who grew up with the book in its original form) less enthralling than Mugnaini's vibrantly black-and-white visions, but there is no doubt that Grimly's cartoon grotesques will readily capture the imaginations and make new Bradbury fans among today's young readers – and that is something to be greatly celebrated!

Inevitably then tonight, my thoughts will turn to my late, dear friend.

Trick or Treat, Ray?

What do you say?

You can read more about Ray Bradbury and his books in my profile of him The Bradbury Machine.

You will also find many pages of information about the author and his work on the excellent internet site, Bradbury Media.

And, if you haven't heard it already, here's a radio programme I made in 1998 featuring an interview with Ray...

Some parts of this post first appeared on blogs from a few years ago.