January 21st, 2011



100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)

#13 THROUGH THE LOOKING-GLASS – Lewis Carroll, adapted by Kyle Baker
(Classics Illustrated)

“Kitty, let’s pretend that you’re the Red Queen.”

Writers love to bring out the darkness and insanity of the Alice stories when retelling them, but a straightforward adaptation is plenty dark and insane because there’s so much of madness in them already. Alice’s virtue is her common sense, a clever child’s understanding of the rules of the world, and in every chapter of the books it’s shown to be useless in a world that doesn’t realise it’s supposed to follow any sort of rules at all. Nonsense beats common sense, and outnumbers it too.

Where Wonderland is a daydream place Alice falls into while lazing around on a summer day, Looking-Glass Land is a place she explicitly and consciously creates, laying down its boundaries while talking to her cats. Alice is the kind of child who has a vivid internal world, which is the sort of thing people say about children who are asocial and neurotic. Her opening monologue flits from topic to topic with as much connection between them as the locations in a dream: “That’s three faults, Kitty, and you’ve not been punished for any of them yet. You know I’m saving up your punishments – Suppose they saved up all my punishments. What would they do at the end of the year? I should be sent to prison, I suppose.

Alice is a crazy cat lady in training. In 40 years’ time, she’ll be eating pet food on toast. In 60 the neighbours will wonder why nobody realised she was dead until the cats had been eating her for a week. She’s a cranky always-knows-best in training who spends the story constantly being confronted by people who earnestly believe incredibly stupid things but will not be convinced that they’re wrong.

Kyle Baker’s artwork is perfectly suited to witty back-and-forth banter between bigmouths, it’s exactly what Why I Hate Saturn is all about, and here he also gets to play with sudden reversals in tone and expression of a cast of nursery-rhyme caricatures. His Humpty-Dumpty in particular is a triumph of smug shiftiness.

At the end of Alice’s journeys there’s a puzzle, another of the book’s existential quandaries about the nature of dream and reality. Of course, like most of Lewis Carroll’s riddles, no answer is given. There isn’t one. There’s nothing but the staring eyes of a cat who'll never care how mad you've gone.