Saturday, September 30, 2006

Design Decisions: Pennyroyal Press Editions of Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz

Barry Moser talked on Thursday (at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art) about the parallels and perpendiculars of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and Dorothy's tale in The Wizard of Oz. Much of the talk matched, word for word, the essay "Shadow Plays in Black & White" in Moser's collection, In the Face of Presumptions. Pluses of the talk, though, were additional reflections on the role of illustrators -- including reference to the disservice that illustrators can do by fixing images and preventing readers' visions. Moser also identified many of the American political faces he used as models for the characters. Among them were Alexander Haig, Nancy Reagan, Caspar Weinberger, and Ronald Reagan. (Fear not, both Alice and Dorothy were modeled from Moser's own daughter, a dark-haired gentle face with quiet merriment.) Asked whether he was crafting deliberate political commentary, Moser admitted that he doesn't want story readers to "see" the political characters until or unless someone points them out; he uses them instead to entertain himself during the long hard work of crafting the books!

Designing and illustrating the three books (two for Alice) led Moser to reflect on their authors' close connections with death and its implications. Seeing each narrative as one of journeying, Moser quoted Eudora Welty from The Robber Bridegroom: "A journey is forever lonely and parallel to death." He also noted the vast difference in "feel" of the narratives, seeing the Alice work as taking place in "closed space" and te Dorothy as related to the openness of the American Midwest.

This significant difference became, in turn, a way to look at the choices in design for the University of California limited editions of the books. The two Alice books, in Moser's hands, evoked Victorian luxury through their half-leather bindings and decorative papers. For The Wizard of Oz, though, Moser and his collaborators used paper over boards, with simple gold stamping on the front panel and a blind stamp on the rear: "No tooled leather and marbled paper for this child of poverty, this child of the prairies, this child of dust."

Typography choices drew on similar senses: The page designs for Alice, with their sidenotes, colors, and inserted illustrations, give an effect that Moser describes as "decorated and calculated pandemonium." In Oz, though, he used typography based on the O and Z (presaging the choice Moser would later make with the first page of his Pennyroyal Bible). Blessed with "lots of white space" and executed in black and white, Moser's Oz only indulges in color for the running heads, which cue to the Map of the Marvelous Land of Oz drawn by L. Frank Baum.

As designer, illustrator, typographer, and maker of a multitude of choices, Moser exposes his own reflections about life and the texts, saying, "Death presages the feeling of loneliness which to me premeates all three stories."

Most of all, he relies on vision, in both senses: "It is through the act of seeing -- and I mean both inward seeing and outward seeing -- that I come to think what I think and make the judgments that I make."

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