Artist Janet K. Lee created a lot of buzz in the comic industry with her debut in The Return of the Dapper Men, even winning an Eisner Award. As a result, she has that book's sequel and several other projects in the works, including the brand new graphic novel, The Wonderland Alphabet: Alice's Adventures Through the ABC's and What She Found There.
Released by Archaia Entertainment this week, The Wonder Alphabet features illustrations in Lee's unique style as it tells the ABC's with characters and concepts from Lewis Carroll's classic stories, Through the Looking Glass and Adventures in Wonderland. Working with writer Alethea Kontis (Enchanted, The Dark-Hunter Companion), the artist used her signature technique of decoupage to design a book that works as a children's story but also as an artistic treasure for all ages.Lee, who was also one of the talents behind the hit Womanthology, talked to Newsarama about The Wonderland Alphabet, as well as what she has coming up next in both comics and book illustration.
Newsarama: Janet, what's it been like for you since the success of The Return of the Dapper Men, and how did that influence your work on Wonderland Alphabet?
Janet Lee: Oddly enough, except for three pages, we finished Wonderland Alphabet long before I finished Return of the Dapper Men. In fact, Wonderland Alphabet was created because I couldn't show or sell pages from Return at a local [Nashville] gallery show for aspiring book illustrators.When I agreed to do "Protopulp: Classic Books of the Future," I naively thought I could show pages from a book in progress — and of course the gallery was going to want to sell them before the book came out. That could not happen. So I came up with the idea to do an Alice-in-Wonderland alphabet book, and asked my good friend Alethea to come up with the ideas and verse for the letters.
One of the great things that happened as a result of Return was that Archaia wanted to publish our little Wonderland Alphabet.
Nrama: What is it about Carroll's book that attracted you toward approaching it like this?
Lee: Ever since I got my first copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, at the tender age of seven, I have been a Lewis Carroll fanatic. John Tenniel, who illustrated Alice, is a major influence on my art. The degree of my fanaticism waxes and wanes; when I came up with the idea for Wonderland Alphabet it was definitely waxing. At that time both Alethea and I were working as buyers for a major book wholesaler, and we quickly determined that there was a bizarre lack of Alice-in-Wonderland-themed alphabet books. In fact, there were none.Little known fact: I am a typeface-geek. I love, love fonts. I also love textile designs. And the rest was history.
Nrama: How did you begin working with Alethea? And what was it like working with her on this project?
Lee: As I mentioned, Alethea and I worked together and were friends. By the time I started working on Return, Alethea had already authored two books, AlphaOops and AlphaOops: Halloween. She had also written a New-York-Times Bestselling companion book to Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series. She was the perfect person to write Wonderland Alphabet — I'm very grateful she came on board.Our process was pretty simple since I was racing a gallery deadline: Alethea sent me lists of Wonderland words that matched each letter of the alphabet, I picked the word that I thought would make the best illustration, and Alethea went all out writing the verse. It was amazing!
Nrama: What media did you use for the art? And what tactics did you use as you created these images?
Lee: Like Return of the Dapper Men, I used decoupage to make the illustrations for Wonderland Alphabet. That entails making original drawings, inking and coloring them, and gluing onto board or canvas using a type of glue called Mod Podge. I chose to reference Art Nouveau textile designs when making the letters themselves, and then paired them up with the images I made for that letter.
Nrama: Although this can function as a children's book, it feels more like an art book of entertaining and interesting words with images for all ages. Was that your intent?Lee: Yes, absolutely. I love reading to my children, but I hate reading books that are "dumbed down". I also find that my favorite children's books have a bit of darkness to them — Where the Wild things Are, Charlotte's Web, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Where the Sidewalk Ends, most nursery rhymes. There was no question that we wanted to do a book that both adults and children could enjoy. It seemed especially appropriate when referencing stories created by Lewis Carroll — Alice is just as enjoyable to me now as it was when I first opened it at seven.
Nrama: What were some of the more challenging pages or letters, and how did you meet those challenges?
Lee: I think Alethea would agree with me that "X" and "Z" were pretty tough. There simply aren't any obvious words from Alice to go with them. So we had to get creative: "X is for aXe" (which is used for chopping off heads) and "Z is for zzzzz" (was Alice asleep and merely dreaming, or not?). That being said, I think the most difficult letters for me were the ones where I had too many choices. I'm still conflicted about "D." I opted to go with "Duchess", but how much fun it would have been to do a "Dodo." "M" is for "Mad Hatter" — but it could also have been for "March Hare"! It was so hard to choose.Nrama: Which letters were more of a joy to do?
Lee: Don’t tell the other letters, but I think I love "O is for Off with Her Head" the best. And while I can't be entirely sure why, I think it's because I was beginning to play with perspectives, and it actually worked the way I wanted it to. For a beginning illustrator, that's a big deal. I was also determined the have a great word for "J" — my initial — since J's usually get paired with really boring things. J is, of course, for Jabberwocky.
Nrama: Of course! And I know you've got several other projects coming up. Where else will fans be seeing your work soon?
Lee: I'm working right now on the sequel to Return of the Dapper Men, which will be released next year. Then I move on to another long-form graphic novel, which I'm very excited about, but can't give any details yet.Also, I'll be collaborating with my husband for the first time on a story for The Graphic Textbook. I'm excited both for the collaboration (my husband, Mike Lee, is a novelist — why haven't we done this sooner?) and for the project. The Graphic Textbook is near and dear to my heart. It's an anthology of comics that uses sequential art to help kids learn actual school curriculum. The mere idea that teachers will be introducing kids to comics — and that comics can make it easier to learn — makes my heart grow ten times it's size!
Nrama: And that mention of a kids book brings us back around to The Wonderland Alphabet. To finish up, is there anything else you want to tell readers about the book?
Lee: Wonderland Alphabet is a book that, I hope, appeals to both the young and the young at heart. It was certainly a labor of love by both its creators. We hope you have as much fun reading it as we had making it come to life!
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