Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Illustrated by Oleg Lipchenko
Published 2007 by Studio Treasure, Toronto, Canada
Reviewed by Andrew Sellon
Actor, ex president of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America
I first met artist Oleg Lipchenko and his wife Nataliya at the LCSNA's fall 2006 meeting in New York City. At that time, Oleg had with him a large portfolio of original renderings for his planned new edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which he graciously shared with anyone who expressed interest. I remember sitting with the portfolio on my lap, turning page after page with a growing surge of delight and admiration at the astonishing creativity and draftsmanship before me. There were so many things to admire, I truly felt as though I was glimpsing someone's personal wonderland. The layout was simply stunning. Everywhere my eye fell there were vividly realized characters and images, almost a giddy surfeit of fascinating creations pouring across the pages. I say "pouring" advisedly, because one of the most satisfying elements of Oleg's design scheme is the dreamlike fluidity of the images, and how smoothly he swirls the black, white, and sepia visual elements through and around the artfully placed text. Characters and objects seem almost to melt across the pages as vivid, surreal images might float about in a dreamer's mind. The choice of color palette and painstaking specificity of the pen and ink detailing are simultaneously Victorian and timeless. Oleg told me that (like Lewis Carroll) he was self-publishing the book to maintain complete artistic control of his personal vision. Now that the finished book is in my hands, I can only applaud that brave, doubtless expensive decision.
The hardcover edition is elegantly simple on the outside: plain milk chocolate-colored boards, with the flowing title embossed in gold on the cover. The book has been beautifully printed by The Stinehour Press in Vermont, closely supervised by Oleg. While perhaps no printing process will ever capture the breathtaking beauty of an artist's original renderings, this book is probably as close as one could hope to come: substantial and handsome paper stock, crisply rendered black detailing, warm sepia tones. The end papers greet you with an elegant collage of the amusing characterizations we will meet inside; these pages alone would be worth the price of the book. But there is ever so much more discovery awaiting the reader, always beautifully balanced with the text. This is one of those editions where you simply can't wait to turn the page and see what unique vision will greet you next. I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite characterization from the eccentrics on display. I will say that Oleg's Alice would likely lose a staring match with Tenniel's, but she does have simple beauty, and a quiet grace and openness of her own. Understandably, it's with the denizens of Wonderland that Oleg's quasi-Dickensian, quasi-cartoonish artistry shines—the clueless and hapless Bill, the argyle-sweatered professorial Tortoise, the sad-eyed and bulbous-nosed Hatter, and so many more.
I can only hope that Oleg will do the second Alice as well, and in less than the thirty years it took to produce this gem. It's not an inexpensive edition (it's limited to 226 copies, some already sold), and it's just been announced that the Stinehour Press is regrettably closing down), but if you can manage it, do yourself a favor: buy a copy from Olegs website while you still can, curl up in a cozy chair in a quiet room like Alice at the beginning of Looking-Glass, and enjoy the trip to Wonderland all over again, courtesy of Lewis Carroll and Oleg Lipchenko.