It's been a long road to publication for Janet Lee's "The Wonderland Alphabet." The artist has been working on her "Alice in Wonderland"-themed children's book since before Lee's graphic novel debut in hers and writer Jim McCann's "The Return of the Dapper Men." After "Dapper Men" hit, Lee won an Eisner Award and began adapting classic Jane Austen stories "Emma" and "Northanger Abbey" for Marvel Comics. Now, nearly three years since Lee began illustrating it, "The Wonderland Alphabet" is set to debut this April from Archaia.
"The Wonderland Alphabet" is a children's book based on Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass" and "Adventures in Wonderland" with all 26 letters of the alphabet represented by a different illustration in Lee's signature style. Whether it's as simple as "A is for Alice" or complicated as "U is for Unbirthday," Lee and writer Alethea Kontis have designed a picture book meant to help children learn their letters that's also entertaining for adults.
Lee spoke with CBR News about the long development road of "The Wonderland Alphabet," the origins of the book, its design and her future projects including her contribution to "Womanthology" and "Time of the Dapper Men."
CBR News: "The Wonderland Alphabet" was being shopped to publishers when we first spoke to you in 2009 for "The Return of the Dapper Men." Now, you have an Eisner and several books under your belt -- how does it feel to have this book finally see print?
Janet Lee: It's amazing. I had to tell Archaia when they first took it that, honestly, it predates the "Dapper Men" stuff. This was all for a show that I naively at the time thought I could show Dapper pages for when Dapper hadn't come out yet. It almost predates all the Dapper stuff and I had to tell them the trim sizes were wacky, I didn't understand anything about gutters when I put it together and they were so amazing and patient. They came up with solutions for my craziness and weirdness. [Laughs] I couldn't be happier they're the ones that we ended up going through. They always have such a creative way of looking at things. I'm thrilled that it finally has a home.
What's the basic structure of the book like? Will readers have to be familiar with the source material to really enjoy it?
It's based directly on both of the "Wonderland" books and components from them. I don't think you need to know anything specifically about [them]. Obviously, everybody has a general idea of "Alice in Wonderland" and the story, but I think each one of the verses stands alone. A really good friend of mine who I used to work with -- and now she's a novelist, she's got a new YA book coming out -- Alethea Kontis wrote all of the verses for me. It's all based directly on characters and situations within either "Through the Looking Glass" or "Adventures in Wonderland."
So, this is based on the original work by Lewis Carroll, then, and not the Disney version.
No, no. Of course, because it's off of Carroll, some of the stuff can get a little dark; "X is for Axes," stuff like that. Hopefully, it's enjoyable for the parents reading it as much as it is for the kids. There's nothing too disturbing about it. [Laughs]
In terms of placement and formatting, did you design the illustration with the text in mind?
A lot of it, honestly, is a bit of a happy accident. When I was creating the page, being a brand-new illustrator, I thought I had a good idea about where text placement was going to go, and Alethea wrote all the verses so I didn't know what size they were going to be. When it came time to actually put the text down, one of Archaia's designers, Oscar Pinto, is amazing. I told him to just go crazy and do what he wanted to do. He ended up with these little rabbit ears for "rabbit" and he just went completely crazy with the way the text and the fonts were used. Just whatever would make it look the best it possibly could. In some cases, he made the pictures look better than they did before, I think. He just did an amazing job.
Looking back to 2009, what was the impetus to create a book like this? It's not really the normal book you'd see solicited inside comics.
I know! It's kind of a weird one. Honestly, I did it because I was part of a gallery show called ProtoPulp here in Nashville. The idea behind the show was that artists who wanted to be book illustrators were to put together a book and show the artwork for it. Again, in my naivety, I thought, "Oh, I'm working on 'Dapper Men.' I can put those pages up," not realizing until far too late that there was no way to show pages. It's just not done, you don't show pages of the book before the book comes out. In a mad rush there at the end, I was wondering what I could do. I started looking around and realized that there was no "Alice in Wonderland" alphabet book on the market. There were Disney books that had Alice in Wonderland as a character in an alphabet book, but there was nothing that was completely focused on "Alice in Wonderland." I love "Alice in Wonderland" and I love doing fonts. I'm a strange font geek. So, I pulled together about 22 of the 26 images done in a really short turnaround time for the book show. I got them all scanned in and the book show ended up being this really great success. At that point, we started trying to shop the book around.