Alice in Sunderland

The most interesting review that I’ve seen of Alice in Sunderland (and there are plenty to choose from) is probably that by Steven Flanagan at Gad, Sir! Comics!. It’s done as a comic in the same sort of style as Alice, and so gives a better idea of what the book is like to read than any of the other reviews. Flanagan, like pretty much every other reviewer, and like me, rates the book (although he has some valid criticisms, one of which Talbot responds to in a comment), and is probably better at articulating why than I’m going to be. But for the record, here’s my take.

Alice in Sunderland is an argument about history, couched as a lecture in a dream. It is, specifically, an argument about the history of Sunderland, or perhaps at a stretch the history of England – to paraphrase Crowded House’s marketing people, according to this book you know more Mackems than you think you do – but in its general form, as a provocation to think about who writes history and what they write and why, it could be applied to just about anywhere. From a stage in the Sunderland Empire, and in another guise (referred to in the text as “the pilgrim”) wandering around Sunderland itself, Talbot narrates, explores, and invigorates the history of the city he has made his home with a fluidity and range of reference that is dizzying, and certainly more than I can decode in one reading. Some individual stories or legends are highlighted, such as the story of Jack Crawford, Hero of Camperdown (and source for the phrase “nailing your colours to the mast”), or the Legend of the Lambton Worm; these are generally presented as traditional panel-driven comics, some with guest art or script by such luminaries of British comics as Leo Baxendale. For the most part, however, Alice is a work of collage, a tremendous mish-mash of many different styles of artwork. The signature look is a black and white line-drawn figure against digitally manipulated photographs of the area being discussed, perhaps with other elements – manuscript pages, older artworks, and so on – overlaid. Such a variety of styles is no doubt intended to reflect the variety of ingredients being thrown into the melting point that is Sunderland’s story, but without pictures, it’s hard to convey how ambitious some of the layout is, nor how playful it can sometimes be.

It’s an approach that allows Talbot to bring many different versions of history, intimate conversations and epic battles and everything in between, convincingly to life in a way that, yes, is not possible in a prose work. Which is not to say the script isn’t important. Throughout the book, Talbot keeps the narration in present tense — that’s one of the things Flanagan expresses reservations about, but on balance I think it works, giving the whole book a panoptic quality, all of its events taking place at the same moment, seen from a god’s perspective. It’s not so much a criticism as an observation to say that the book lacks a strong narrative; it doesn’t do anything so obvious as run through Sunderland’s history from its early days to now, and Talbot is forever freewheeling (or so it seems) off to riff on some seemingly tangential element. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel he’s reaching a bit – to imply that Sunderland University is an older centre of learning than either Oxford or Cambridge because it’s built on the site of an earlier monastery seems a little tenuous, while the explanation of how to “read” pictures, and the repeated justification of comics as a serious medium feels a bit unnecessary in this day and age, particularly when the book itself is the best justification you could ask for. Talbot, for example, links Sunderland to the creation of the Bayeux Tapestry, which he calls “the birth of British comics”; this strikes me as about as useful as some of the claims for Greek or Roman texts as the first science fiction novel.

But looked at another way, the digressions and six-degrees-of-separation revelations are part of the point — you can find interesting facts about anywhere, if you put your mind to it, the book says, and more often than our brains expect everything is connected to everything else. (I have a connection to Alice in Sunderland, as loose as some of the connections made in the book: a couple of the people who contributed photographs of the area are acquaintances.) Moreover, Talbot quite reasonably points out that, thanks to heavy bombing in World War II, much of Sunderland’s history is invisible even to most of its current inhabitants. Perhaps some excess in bringing the history back is forgivable. And if it means the book is best read in small doses, which it is, and that it can get a bit wearying towards the end, which it does, well, those are prices worth paying for the many pleasures Alice in Sunderland offers along its way. It is many things – informative, funny, inventive, argumentative, beautiful – but perhaps above all, as the cover declares, “an entertainment”.

So read it for all those reasons. Of course, I read it because it’s on this year’s shortlist for the British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel, and I want to talk about that a bit if only to see if I can get Jeff VanderMeer frothing. Look at it this way: any description of a book is in part about expectation management. If I enthuse to you about a book enough, I can probably persuade you to read it, but I don’t want to do so if it means raising your expectations beyond what the book can meet, or actively misleading you about what the book contains. Equally, shortlisting a book for an award acts of a description — it says, this book is eligible for this award — and similarly generates expectations. Admittedly this is more true in the case of a juried award, where you can probably assume a degree of intentionality (say, considering Quicksilver to be a science fiction novel; or considering alternate history to be science fiction [or not]) than in a popular-vote award like the BSFA, which exists to reflect the taste of a diverse group; but still, expectations are set. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that because I came to the book the way I did, I couldn’t stop thinking about what Alice in Sunderland is, and is not, instead of just being able to enjoy it as what it is advertised as.

The appearance of Alice on the shortlist constitutes an argument that it is a fantasy novel (despite the name, both science fiction and fantasy are eligible for the BSFA’s Awards), which is certainly an interesting way to think about the book, if only because it’s not even clear that it’s fiction. Oh, it’s framed as a story, as I suggested — it opens with a man walking into Sunderland’s Empire Theatre, and ends with Bryan Talbot waking up at the end of a performance of Swan Lake taking place in the same venue, realising that the previous 320-odd pages were all a dream — but for most of the book the frame is irrelevant. What you get is a narrator and a historical lecture; a lecture that often takes the form of a story, and indeed includes sub-stories, but a lecture that we’re told is entirely true (to the best of Talbot’s ability to determine such things). That means that the fictionality of Alice in Sunderland inheres entirely in its frame; it seems to me you might almost as well call Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics fiction; after all, it uses a similar type of narrator in its exploration of how comics work.

But say we accept Alice in Sunderland as fiction; and accept it as a novel, although you could probably argue that it’s better considered as an anthology; and accept that a graphic novel is comparable to a prose novel, although that’s not an unproblematic stance. We’re left with another question: is it fantasy?

Again, technically, yes: as I said, the ending reveals that it’s a dream-story, even if a dream of things that are true. It’s also true that there are occasional moments when, presumably to break up the lecture, Talbot has one or another historical (the White Lady who is meant to haunt the Sunderland Empire; or, from more recent history, Sid James) or contemporary individual (in one of the book’s most interesting sequences, Chaz Brenchley and Colin Wilbourn turn up to explain the genesis of a riverside sculpture park), or even fictional character (mostly from Alice), butt in, somehow, and assume an equal level of reality to Talbot-the-narrator. These are, effectively, moments of fantasy. But even when they add something to the book’s general argument they are also, by and large, intended first as jokes, gimmicks, momentary diversions from the main thrust of the book. Of course, one of the threads that runs through the book, as the title implies, is an investigation of Charles Dodgson’s life, and how wrong the popular portrait of him as a dreaming spires recluse is, and of course Alice in Wonderland is a key text of the surreal and absurd fantastic. Being about something, however, is not actually the same as being something; put another way, although Alice in Sunderland is at times about fantasy and mythology, it is not itself either in more than a trivial sense. Moreover, the fantastic elements are not nearly as central to the book as a whole as is the concern with story more generally, and how story becomes history.

So despite the fact that it’s led me to a good book that would otherwise have taken me longer to get around to reading, I feel a bit mis-led by the shortlisting of Alice in Sunderland. It seems to me that while technically supportable, the implicit description of the book that this shortlisting provides is not a Quicksilver case, is not something that makes us think about what we mean by “fantasy novel”, because Alice in Sunderland is not trying to be either fantasy or a novel. Indeed, to think of it in such a way almost seems to miss the point, to miss what’s good and important about Talbot’s fascinating, if at times frustrating book. Looked at one way, of course, in the end it doesn’t matter, because Alice in Sunderland teaches you how to read it, and even I managed to forget my genre-quibbling ways, which means that most people probably won’t think twice about the issue; and though the detail won’t stay with you (the detail overwhelms), the overall impression will, the passion and the exhilaration of its best moments. But this recommendation does it no favours.

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23 Responses to “Alice in Sunderland”

  1. Jonathan M Says:

    That review you recommend has a lot going for it (and the reviewer is clearly very sharp and erudite) but I really can’t get past how much I hate the format.

    These types of comics really do pose a problem. When I was still running SFDiplomat I’d read one comic and think “wow… this is really intelligent and great… I should write about them more than I do” in which case I’d snag an ARC somewhere and be horribly disappointed.

    The same thing’s true of manga. I read that one about autism and was really quite impressed but then every other book I received seemed to feature young girls with visible underpants fighting monsters.

  2. Jeff VanderMeer Says:

    No frothing, but I don’t think you’d have the same patience or get the same effect in a prose novel or a prose nonfictionish-novel (as would be a better parallel, perhaps). And by patience, I mean you’re right that it becomes an endurance test at times–it’s the price to be paid for this kind of thing. But the graphical nature of it makes it *more* readable than it would be otherwise (and I like it very much).

    Again, it’s such a simple thing–a movie is not a novel is not a comic book/graphic novel is not an ostrich is not an anvil. What you’re saying is you’re surprised to see novel-like effects in a graphic novel. Well, there are also graphic novel-like effects in it. I really think–and I don’t mean you personally; I can’t analyze your mind–that a lot of people have this kind of reaction to a certain kind of graphic novel or a certain kind of TV show (like The Wire) and think they’re paying a compliment to it by saying it’s “a novel” or “like a novel”–i.e., a certain kind of complexity–when what they’re really saying is, “I never thought TV could be this good or complex,” which is another way of saying, “These other art forms aren’t things I expect to be this intelligent or structured.”

    Anyhooo, no frothy.

    Jeff

  3. Tony Keen Says:

    I pretty much agree. I think Alice is a wonderful work, if sometimes a bit disorganized – it reads like a long conversation with Talbot, where he’ll suddenly say “Ah, that reminds me of this!” But only very tenuously is it a work of fiction, sf, or fantasy.

    I don’t agree with some of the criticism that would seek to exclude it simply because of the nature of the medium in which it is produced. But nor do I agree that it should be given consideration simply because it’s a comic, and comics are considered part of the SF/F world, which I think is what has happened here. Arguments on eligibility should engage with the content of the book, and I don’t think many of them have.

    So, though I love the work, I suspect that when it comes to ranking it in the awards, it will come last, simply because it’s not an SF/F novel.

  4. Abigail Says:

    I haven’t watched The Wire myself, Jeff, but my understanding is that when people call it a television novel they’re being descriptive rather than (exclusively) complimentary – the show is structured like a novel.

    I think one of the reasons reviewers, and I include myself in this group, tend to use the critical tools and criteria of novels when judging TV and comics is that the critical tools for judging those media are underdeveloped. Which, in turn, is because of the perception that these media are inferior and of little or no artistic significance. I’ve more than once come across bafflement, occasionally shading into resentment, at my choice to treat television in a serious, analytical manner.

    There aren’t, to the best of my knowledge, critical languages dedicated to television or comics (and if there were they would probably be similar, as the two media share more characteristics than either does with prose fiction), and it’s going to take a larger mass of critics willing and able to take both seriously to develop them.

  5. Niall Says:

    Jonathan: part of the problem I find in writing about comics is exactly the point Abigail’s just made — the lack of a critical language. Or, at least, a lack of familiarity with the relevant critical language. There are studies of comics, but ways of talking about the comic-specific virtues of comics don’t seem to have yet made it out to the wider world. I mostly end up wanting access to a scanner.

    Jeff: no frothing? Aw. I thought for sure that talking about a book and awards in the same post would do it. [g]

    But the graphical nature of it makes it *more* readable than it would be otherwise

    I agree — see my third paragraph. I was actually trying, in the first part of the post, not to talk about it as a novel, because I don’t think it is one. The second part of the post talks about it as a novel because that’s what putting it on a ‘best novel’ shortlist invites.

    That said, I’m not entirely sure I’d be comfortable with Alice in Sunderland being up for a “graphic novel” award next to, say, The Arrival, or Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together. I think it would still seem like the odd one out to me because of its emphasis on factual content.

    Tony:

    nor do I agree that it should be given consideration simply because it’s a comic, and comics are considered part of the SF/F world, which I think is what has happened here.

    I am vaguely hoping someone who nominated it will come along and explain why they did so.

  6. James Says:

    Tony, I think that it is wrong to say that comics are just simply considered part of the SF/F world. Its hard to know what Genre superhero fiction is, other than a whole genre on its own – as so many devices can be used, but Military and Western comics are not SF/F.

    Comics is a media, that’s all, its not a genre.

    There is a good cross over among SF/F readers and Comic Readers, I am not sure why exactly, perhaps there is a similar form of escapism being yearned for, that straight lit just doesn’t offer.

    Jonathon M, what format do you hate – comics?
    I think that you are right, that its not so good an introduction to a media, when you get one good story and then a dud, but then that’s all things books, movies and comics. I think its just like books, some authours capture it right, others are just not for me.

    James

  7. Tony Keen Says:

    James,

    I absolutely agree – comics is a medium, not a genre, and there are comics that are not SF/F.

    What I was trying to say is that, nevertheless, people often act as if comics are part of the SF/F world simply because of the medium. I think this is due to the overlaps of the fandoms, with both belonging to what Roz Kaveney would probably call the ‘geek aesthetic’, and to the fact that many comics creators began writing SF/F. So, for instance, there have bee plenty of comics reviewed in Matrix that don’t have SF/F content. Something like Battler Briton or Loveless would not get reviewed in Matrix if it was a film or tv series. And I think that attitude has been an influential factor in Alice in Sunderland getting on the BSFA shortlist.

  8. Alex Ingram Says:

    It’s an interesting problem really. Clearly for a lot of folk in the BSFA Alice In Sunderland is the best book they’ve read and they want it to win an award. So they look at the options and this is where it fits. Now, maybe, an award is meaningless – I certainly wonder how the displays of this in various bookshops look. However, as a bookseller I was used to seeing SF shortlists including books I couldn’t sell and Alice is one shops surely can on the back of this, so from a commercial standpoint I’m very happy.

    Still, hard as I try I can’t see it as a truly SF or Fantasy work, there are definitely elements and I think if we’re all mad keen on co-opting Winterson and co. we should not overlook those who work in slightly different mediums but with a similar attitude. I suppose the place to look at for an example of how to deal with this problem would be Japan, where I think from memory only one manga (domu) has won the Japanese equivalent of the Nebula. I don’t know how many have been shortlisted.

  9. Bryan Talbot Says:

    A friend pointed me in the direction of this review. Let’s not be vague – blame Chaz Brenchley, damn his eyes! I don’t know whether me posting a comment here is going to help or hinder this debate but, bugger it, I’m doing it anyway.

    First off – what a wonderful review! I’m really glad that you liked the book. Many thanks for the very kind words. Cor blimey. If I’d been able to read this before I started, which I obviously couldn’t, it would have encouraged me immensely during the cold, bleak wilderness years of the saga that was working on Alice in Sunderland.

    Secondly, I’d like to comment on Tony Keen’s posting. Glad you like it too, Tony. I really owe you a glass of wine or something. The thing I want to take issue with is the “disorganised” bit. About this I’m afraid you couldn’t be more wrong. I suppose that I really should be very pleased about this comment. After all, it means that I’ve completely taken you in, hook, line and sinker – you actually were under the illusion that the story was a spontaneous stream-of consciousness dialogue. In fact, the exact opposite is the case. The structure of the book was the hardest part (save for the 4 years of drawing the bloody thing). It took nearly 2 months of solid work until I had the structure rock-solid enough to begin the script. With a project like this, the structure (that is: the organisation of the whole) is of the utmost importance.

    It’s no coincidence that the material is presented to the reader in the order it is, that the multitudinous story elements enter the narrative at the exact moment they do. No accident then, that they are all meticulously foreshadowed to enter at exactly the right point in the narrative. The complexity of material demanded a framework that was flowing and easy to follow. The model I was emulating was, of course, Carroll’s ALICE – but that didn’t deal with the sort of intertwined multiple stories that I wanted to tell here. That’s one of the reasons why I structured the work around an imaginary theatrical performance.

    Thirdly (if anyone’s counting) there’s this debate about whether ALICE is in the “Fantasy Genre” or not. About this I don’t know and care even less. I’ve always thought of it as multi-genre, or cross-genre, or even (godhelpme) mainstream. But there certainly IS lots of fantasy in the book. The longest self-contained sequence is The Legend of The Lambton Worm – it’s about a bloody big dragon and a dragonslayer – high fantasy or what? I tried to write the old legend as if it was an “Arts and Crafts” comic strip (though there never was such a beast). Another Sequence is an adaptation of Carroll’s Jabberwocky in the style of John Tenniel. There are also ghost stories, Boy’s Own adventure etc – and the story itself is a dream, as with the original ALICE. There are at least five different versions of myself in the story, not to mention the characters from ALICE who wander in and out. The whole is inspired by a mixture of myth and reality but the book is a work of the imagination. Whether or not that constitutes “fantasy” I leave to you.

    Stretching it for the sake of debate – it could actually be construed as science-fiction (depending on the flexibility of your parameters) if you take on-board the fact that all the book is narrated in the present tense – even the “real time” historical sequencies. I do address this in the book and how it relates to my admittedly vague idea of time theory, of how all events, past, present and future are happening right now and the passage of time is simply down to the flow of chronon particles and our limited perception of it.

    I don’t know who wrote the review (is it Niall? He seems to respond to the following postings as if he did – sorry – I don’t read fanzines or blogs except when they’re stuck under my nose) but it’s a fantastic review and very astute. I’m very happy that you enjoyed the book.

    I’d like to point out that I never set out to describe a realistic version of Sunderland and its history. I wanted to paint a magical portrait of the city, doing with images exactly what prose writers do with words. As I say in the opening pages, storytellers have always brought out the magic in the places where they live. And they will do so, ad infinitum.

    Now, it appears, I’m moving to Nottingham this year. And, yes, don’t worry, I’ve already bought the DVDs of the Richard Greene Robin Hood TV series…

    …all four of them.

    Bryan Talbot

    PS: The bit about Sunderland being an older centre of learning than Oxford is a joke. HA HA ha…er, please yourselves. The Bayeux Tapestry, on the other hand, IS the first known example of words and pictures used in unison to tell a sequential visual narrative (AKA: A COMIC) in Britain. Like it or lump it, that’s a fact.

    PPS: To Jonathan M:

    Comics are only a medium. There are proportionally as many crap comics out there as there are crap novels, songs, movies and TV programmes but the best comics are as good as anything in any other medium, be it prose, movies, theatre, whatever. Take a look at, eg: MAUS by Art Spiegelman, FLUFFY by Simon Lia, EXIT WOUNDS by Rutu Modan, PRIDE OF BAGHDAD, anything by Joe Sacco, THE SPIRAL CAGE by Al Davison…etc…etc…etc In fact, check out Paul Gravett”s site. It’s a mine of information:

    http://www.paulgravett.com

  10. Talbot Speaks « Torque Control Says:

    [...] Summon Author strikes again! Bryan Talbot has posted a long and interesting comment in response to my Alice in Sunderland [...]

  11. Tony Keen Says:

    Bryan:

    The problem with off-the-cuff comments is that sometimes I end up misrepresenting myself. I did mean the surface impression of stream of consciousness, the feeling that Alice is a bit like being in a pub with you, having a conversation where you’re always going off on one tangent or another – well, actually, like being in a pub with three or four Bryan Talbots (and there’s a comedy sketch in the making), all doing this and all interrupting each other. The conversation is fascinating, but it can be a bit hard to keep track sometimes.

    But I’ve read enough of your stuff and seen you talk about it often enough over the last twenty-five years (and god help me, it is that long since I first sawy you stand up in front of a slide show) to know that you don’t actually work like that, that everything you do is actually very carefully structured.

  12. Niall Says:

    Hi Bryan — thanks for the comment. Yes, the review (and any confusions/insults arising from it) is mine. To take your postscript first:

    The bit about Sunderland being an older centre of learning than Oxford is a joke. HA HA ha…er, please yourselves.

    Ah. My Oxford partisanship may have been acting up at that point …

    The Bayeux Tapestry, on the other hand, IS the first known example of words and pictures used in unison to tell a sequential visual narrative (AKA: A COMIC) in Britain. Like it or lump it, that’s a fact.

    Yes … but my quibble is whether it’s a useful fact. Lucian of Samosata wrote about a trip to the moon in the second century, but I don’t think it’s particularly useful to call that book “science fiction”, because it’s clearly not part of a tradition that gives rise to modern sf. (It anticipates sf, sure.) I admit I resist claiming it because it seems to be straining for a legitimisation that I don’t think sf actually needs.

    I also freely admit I know much less about comics than about prose sf, but it does seem at first glance that there’s as much in common between the Bayeux Tapestry and Alice in Sunderland as there is between True History and First Men in the Moon, and I’m afraid on that point Alice didn’t convince me otherwise.

    On the fantasy question, there’s certainly room for reasonable people to disagree. I still find it a too-narrow way of looking at the book, but as Alex said, it’s the only option BSFA members had to recognise it, and I can’t begrudge them wanting to do that.

    There are at least five different versions of myself in the story

    Dammit, I only counted four …

  13. Bryan Talbot Says:

    Tony – I apologise for posting here in the first place as

    (A) Any writer responding to a review is fundamentally pathetic and

    (B) I was drunk. It was about 2 in the morning and I’d been through 2 bottles of wine.

    After a bottle and a half, it’s increasingly hard to ink the pencils.

    My god – you actually remember one of the old slide shows? Was that the one I was doing in the early 80s that ended up with “…and the future of comics is the graphic novel”? Are you going to Eastercon – Orbital, whatever? If you are, I DEFINITELY owe you a drink!

    Niall – I still stand by the blandly uncontroversial assertion that I make in ALICE that the Bayeaux tapestry IS the first know example of British comic storytelling. This isn’t at all like saying that SF was invented by the ancients because some bloke wrote a story about going to the moon 2000 years ago. The Odo embroidery IS a comic strip. It tells one story using words and pictures in a continual sequential narrative, the buildings and trees etc acting in exactly the same way as panel borders do in comics today, to divide off one scene from the next. No, it isn’t printed on paper and stapled in the middle but it’s a comic strip nonetheless. And, no, they didn’t have the term “comic” back then, but neither had Mary Shelley heard of SF. I think that it would be a bit different if I was trying to claim that the BT was the first known example of television, but I’m not.

    Because Alice in Sunderland is about storytelling, I thought that I should address the medium in which I was telling the story and that’s why I evoke the history of British comics in the book. The tapestry is the starting point simply because it’s the first known example.

    There is no parallel here at all with SF in that what we now call comic storytelling has been around for centuries longer than the current tradition of SF writing, longer than the novel in fact. Some 16th century political propaganda broadsheets are almost identical to modern comics – panels, speech balloons, sequential narrative. The difference is that SF is a genre and comics is a medium. I’m sure you wouldn’t argue that Vegetable Samosa, whatever his name was, writing about visiting the moon in Roman times was not part of a history of people telling stories using words. It’s just that he wasn’t the first known example. When it comes to Brit comics, the Bay Tap indisputably WAS. It’s nothing to do with giving comics a legitimacy, it’s just stating a bald fact. There just isn’t an earlier example of telling stories using sequential pictures in the British Isles that we know of.

    “On the fantasy question” – I don’t know if Alice is fantasy or what but it’s certainly not realistic by any definition.

    Yes, there are at least five versions of me in the book: The Plebeian, the Performer and the Pilgrim, as advertised on the frontispiece, the supposedly “real” me that wakes up in the middle of the book, the “uber me” that’s seen pulling the strings of the Performer on stage and the “meta-me” (oh dear, there’s no “mini-me” ) that wakes at the end to realise it’s all been a dream, even the bit where I woke up in the middle. There’s also the “historic” me (at 4 different ages) that appears in the bits where I’m talking about my Grandma.

    Oh, bugger. It’s nearly 3 o’clock. I’ve gone and done it again. You swine!

    Bryan

  14. Tony Keen Says:

    Byran:

    No need to apologize, both your comments have been very interesting. Sorry myself if (as I suspect) my last response comes over as a bit grumpy – it wasn’t meant to.

    It was 1983, it was an Elfquest convention in Glasgow, and it was about the history of comics, so I suppose it must have been that. Yes, I shall be at Orbital – last I heard my Sandman talk (Greece and Rome in Sandman, so expect pages from ‘August’ and ‘Orpheus’) will be straight after yours on Alice, which may mean I have to sneak out of yours early. Annoying, but can’t be helped.

    Niall:

    I think I’m going to take Bryan’s side here (sorta). The Bayeux Tapestry certainly is, like Trajan’s column, or the Parthenon frieze, part of a tradition of sequential story telling that leads, via Hogarth, to comics as we now understand it. I’m not sure I’d call it a comic, though part of my reason for not doing so is that ‘comic’ implies something physically less substantial than a tapestry (or a 30m tall column), which Bryan would no doubt, and rightly, point out isn’t necessarily a valid point. But the lack of the distinct frames and pages to me makes it slightly different from the form as emerged.

    And I think you’re wrong about Lucian. I wouldn’t describe it as science fiction, but it is a part of the ancient tradition of fantastic literature. Admittedly, it’s intended as a parody of fantastic voyage stories, but, not least because Lucian survives and what he was satirizing doesn’t, it’s appropriated into the later tradition of fantastic voyages, on which More’s Utopia, Swift and Cyrano de Bergerac drew for their works (the latter two undoubtedly knowing their Lucian, and knowing it well). And that’s surely part of the tradition upon which Wells is drawing. I’d have to go back to the source texts, but I suspect the True History and First men In The Moon have more in common than you think.

    (Actually, that may solve a problem I was having about an invitation to contribute to a conference in December comemmorating 40 years since Apollo 8, where I wasn’t at all sure what to talk about.)

  15. Tony Keen Says:

    One day I will learn to proof messages before I send them. Sorry Bryan …

  16. Niall Says:

    Tony:

    (Actually, that may solve a problem I was having about an invitation to contribute to a conference in December comemmorating 40 years since Apollo 8, where I wasn’t at all sure what to talk about.)

    Well, glad to be of some help there, at least. I also agree completely that Lucian is part of the fantastic tradition. I’m just not sure how much Wells was writing in that tradition — but I have to admit it’s ages since I read First Men in the Moon.

    Bryan:

    The difference is that SF is a genre and comics is a medium

    Yes, you’re quite right, of course. A better comparison would have been with the first novel — as far as I know we don’t have a clear answer there, even for the first novel in English (Wikipedia seems to back me up, at the moment at least) so I’m still surprised that it’s so clear-cut with the BT. But as I said in my previous comment, my knowledge of the history of comics isn’t that great, so I shall take your word for it that it is.

  17. Liz Says:

    Tony: Fear not, we jiggled the schedules about, so you’ll be able to go to all of Bryan’s talk. Which I am looking forward to, as I should have read Alice in Sunderland by then.

  18. James Says:

    That’s a fair cop Tony, and I suggest you raise the concern of non SF comics with the Matrix reviewer concerned, that’s just not on, trying to slip in stuff that isn’t SF, I am sure that intelligent SF readers and editors will be appalled. ;-)

    Yet, I do not believe the case to be so with Alice in Sunderland, as mostly I see it as quite a fantastical story. I do think people can see SF and F and the superhero genre as something else entirely and I am pretty sure Battler Briton will not get nominated for the BSFA awards

    Alice in Sunderland is a sequential art story, just like regular comics, but its packaging, artwork, depth and most importantly the story is not that common in the industry. For the hundreds of monthly titles on shelves there are only few such wonderful Graphic Novels, which somehow cross media and genre tastes every month.

    This Graphic Novel has been nominated by members of the BSFA for an award, and the administrators considered it valid. That is quite unusual for a grpahic novel and I think its because this is indeed an unusual work – not because comics are considered SF/F without further consideration.

    james

  19. Bryan Talbot Says:

    Tony – your posting didn’t seem grumpy to me at all.

    Yep, that was the talk. I did it at quite a few libraries and unis all around the country in the early 80s. I was being evangelical. I now charge for my talks! And yes – the Elfquest con! I’d almost forgotten it (a feat in itself when you remember it was organized by the unforgettable Linda Miller).

    I look forward to buying you a drink at Eastercon and watching your talk. When is it?

    While it is, undeniably, a piece of sequential storytelling, I don’t consider Trajan’s Column a comic as such- and I’ve stood before it at least a couple of times meditating on this. It’s a sculpture for a start. The Bay Tap though, while not having actual pages (or, rather, just one 230 feet long), is a comic strip by any definition. What else could it be? It is a story told in sequential illustration. And it does have discrete panels. If you examine it, as I’ve said previously, each scene is cut off from the following one by the use of designs that operate in exactly the same way as panel borders do today. Anyhow, I’ll refrain from spouting off any more about the BT here.

    Well, I ‘m now going to cook some salmon, eat it and have an early night.

    The graphic novel I’m working on now is most definitely SF! Steampunk, in fact.

    Bryan

  20. Jonathan M Says:

    Bryan — in Alice you do talk about “Taking Flight” by Craig Knowles, a sequential sculpture, and call it a |3-D comic Strip”.

    By the by, having actually read it now, I can better understand the thinking behind nominating Alice for the BSFA award but not, say, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

  21. Bryan Talbot Says:

    Jonathan,

    The difference is that Taking Flight has distinct moments on time, separated by space and, as you’ve seen in Alice, photographed and put into frames, it works exactly as a comic. I don’t think that applies to Trajan’s column. Scott McCloud does though, so what do I know?

    I think of TLEG as steampunk, at least the first two series. The second one’s even based on “War of the Worlds”. Not seen “Black Dossier” yet.

  22. Tony Keen Says:

    Bryan:

    I think that Trajan’s Column does have discrete moments, but the divisions between scenes aren’t always clear, and they can blend into one another. In fact, it reminds me of some of what you do in Alice! I’m still happier calling it sequential art rather than comics (no dialogue, for a start, though word balloons were known in the ancient world). There’s a rich tradition of this sort of thing in the Roman world, including a marvellous frieze that tells the story of a loaf of bread (that was my CAPTION 2004 talk), and it is out of that tradition that the Bayeux Tapestry eventually emerges.

    I’m on at 5 pm on Sunday.

  23. Bryan Talbot Says:

    Tony Keen Says:
    March 1, 2008 at 12:58 am
    Bryan:

    I think that Trajan’s Column does have discrete moments, but the divisions between scenes aren’t always clear, and they can blend into one another. In fact, it reminds me of some of what you do in Alice! I’m still happier calling it sequential art rather than comics

    **Me too, though I’d still call the Bayeaux tapestry a comic.

    There’s a rich tradition of this sort of thing in the Roman world,

    **The Standard of Ur even predates this, I think.

    I’m on at 5 pm on Sunday.

    **I’m still unsure whether I’m leaving sometime on Sunday or monday morning. If I’m around, I’ll be there.


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