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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 13 December 2014
Absolutely superb!... and you know, the shame of it is that so few people will read it because they're snobbish about "comics".
This is a tour-de-force journey through the North-East, or more specifically, the Wear Valley with its focus on Sunderland and the amazing people that made/make up its personality. It is also an astounding series of interconnections and coincidences that link George Formby with Alice Liddell and Lewis Carroll, amongst so many others. It is an amazing cornucopia, a fount of knowledge... a wonderland.
The things I learned, the places I saw. It makes me want to pack my bags and drive up there using this book as a guide! History book, guide book, facts and legends... and at the heart of it that most marvellous of all books; Alice in Wonderland.
Read it - you'll never regret it!
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VINE VOICEon 11 April 2007
But then, I'm biased.

I'm bringing a lot of baggage to this review as, more than any review I've ever written, it touches me where I live, literally, as that happens to be Sunderland for most of my 59 years. I'm also a librarian who works in Sunderland City Library and who was able to help Brian Talbot on two or three occasions. I'm also (among other things, none of them relevant here) a big comic fan.

(I thought of using the term `graphic novel', but why should I? Just because the world at large associates the word `comic' with kids doesn't mean I should pander to their ignorance.)

Also, I've never read the novel "Alice in Wonderland", though it's impossible to be ignorant of it.

So what I get from it isn't what a Carrollian scholar would get from it. Let's deal with the comics aspect of it first. Early on Talbot pointedly makes the structure clear (p.55 to be precise) when he talks about time -everything happens now. The narrative (if that's the correct word) slides easily between past and present as he delves into aspects of Sunderland's history and Lewis Carroll's life. He also invokes, much later (p.187), the blessed Scott McCloud who reminds him (Bryan Talbot) that comics can be about anything.

But what is "Alice in Sunderland" about?

Well, in some ways it's about comics itself (not `themselves'). Talbot is displaying the diversity of medium by adopting a variety of styles to illustrate a single story, that of the relationship between the book ("Alice") and the city (Sunderland) -straightforward comic illustration, pastiche, digitally altered photographs, collage and more; often all on the same page. In many ways, this is a triumph of style albeit not over content as both are blended seamlessly.

It's about Bryan Talbot himself. And, no, I'm not going to explain myself, you'll just have to read the damn thing.

It's about history, using Sunderland as metaphor, as a microsm of English history. Sunderland becomes a symbol of England's creativity, of social change, of its industry, its courage, its diversity. And Lewis Carroll and "Alice in Wonderland", though I'm less interested in those aspects.

What it is is an exuberant, often laugh out loud romp that surrealistically blends fact and fiction, realism and surrealism, meticulous historical research and wild speculation into a seamless whole that results in a comic, or graphic novel or story, like no other. This is a wild and crazy and hugely entertaining experiment in storytelling that succeeds on every level.

What I got from it is a love story between Bryan and Sunderland. Page after page is filled with familiar images. (I used to live round the corner from where he lives now. The last page depicts a street I've walked up many times with, unseen, Sunderland Minster to the right.) But what he's done is shown me my city in a new light and made me truly proud of it. Thank you, Bryan.

I just wonder what other people will make of the book.
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on 7 June 2007
... is the subtitle of this book, and well-deserved it is too. This is interesting - IanW reviewed this (above), as a Sunderland-based comic fan who had never read 'Alice'. He wondered what other people would make of the book. Well, I've read 'Alice', love the comic/graphic genre but never been anywhere near Sunderland. This book is, quite simply, brilliant. It's a TARDIS of a story; expanding in breadth and depth as you get further in, layers are peeled away revealing more complexity underneath.

Local history - yes, there's lots of that, but all in all it's a complex origami of interlinked myths, legends, facts and almost-truths. And I can say that the local history is riveting, even for someone who knows nothing of the area. I don't know if this is good or not, but I'm now living in a Sunderland of the imagination, and it's Bryan Talbot's fault.

Love this. It's a revelation and a joy!
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on 6 April 2007
In this fascinating book, Bryan Talbot manages to make local history interesting and enjoyable. Using a range of visual genres, from sketches to digitally enhanced photography, with fantastical comic art en route, Talbot incorporates a range of regional iconography allowing readers from wider locations than the eponymous city to engage with the material. Honouring the entertainment promised by its subtitle, he livens up what could easily be dull material with wit and (quasi-) contemporary popular culture references: Sid James is a joy, particularly his harassment of his fellow Empire Theatre ghost.

The interplay between Talbot's three alter-egos is interesting. As a performer he gives a lecture to a plebeian, suspicious of the entertainment value of local history. The middle-man is the pilgrim: the enthusiastic character who travels the land uncovering information and interacting with the buildings and people. We learn about contemporary buildings and art, and their associations with the past. The pilgrim converses with Colin Wilbourn and Chaz Brenchley, responsible for the trail along the north bank of the Wear, who informs us of the project's aspirations and actualisation. Elements such as these allow the reader to engage and appreciate the contemporary landscape.

Hinting at the traditional Sunderland-Newcastle rivalry, a theme discussed in the book, the credits reveal that the Newcastle-based Arts Council England (North East) refused a grant for the Sunderland based work.

The book is of interest to anyone with even the slightest of connections to North East England (as well as to Carroll/Alice fans), and should also take prominence in every secondary school library in the region.
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on 24 July 2007
To be honest, I knew very little about Sunderland before I read this, but despite my apathy towards local history in general, Talbot managed to keep me entranced throughout this long, colourful, varied graphic novel, turning Northern England into a new kind of Wonderland. I love the use of different styles and ideas, such as the theatrical posters, the maps, the blurry, filtered photos that give a dream-like effect, and even the silly parts, like the hilarious moment he illustrates line-by-line a scene from Shakespeare's Henry VIII. The narration is fast-paced, fun to read, and manages to show us all the minute details and connections that a single city can have, and the way in which these events shape the culture and atmosphere of such a place.
Definitely recommended.

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on 28 December 2009
I loved Bryan's earlier work "The Tale of One Bad Rat" It worked on so many levels. I knew this wasn't going to be simply a retelling of the famous Alice. But nothing prepared me for a travelogue, local history, Neil Gaiman-esque story telling adventure that would inspire me to visit Sunderland. I have learned new vocabulary, realised the inter-connectedness of peoples' individual stories and understood the character of a people....oh and there is a theme about someone called Alice too! Thanks Bryan
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on 25 February 2009
If you are not a child of the comic era you may find this book a little
confusing, I was, I still did - but hey! isn't that what Alice in Wonderland was all about?.
Interesting facts & myths told in a way that both boosts the mackem ego
while lightheartedly putting it down.
Only give it 4 stars because, as with other Sunderland history books there
is no mention of the Thompsons Donkey's.
If you more confirmation of its entertainment value bought it after borrowing it from the library.
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on 9 February 2009
A magical mystery tour unravelling the many influences that surrounded Dodgson's work intertwined with the fascinating local history of the North East. Excitingly put together in comic=novel form it travels from the heros of the Dark Ages to the present day.
A triumph. A book that should be in every school in County Durham.
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Alice in Sunderland is a book I've nearly bought on several occasions but been put off by what I feared might only be of parochial interest. I'm happy to say I couldn't be more wrong.

Yes it is about Lewis Carol and the influence of Sunderland and Sunderlanders on him, yes it's about Sunderland's history (which is fascinating and I've learned so much from this) but it's also a fascinating tale of how one place can weave together so many events, people and have such a massive impact on the culture and wider prosperity of it's country and the history of that country.

This book is also a cleverly written and at times somewhat surreal journey and a fitting tribute to Carol himself whilst being so much more. Hard to describe and equally hard to put down. A brilliant book.
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on 23 November 2013
Bryan Talbot manages an effortless combination of traditional line-drawing and comic book story-telling with computer-modified imagery and a rambling, stream-of-consciousness lecture on everything and nothing to do with Sunderland, Alice, and more besides. Occasionally the use of present tense is awkward, occasionally the digressions are... less than enthralling, but the whole is a masterpiece. With the Adventures of Luther Arkwright, Talbot practically invented the graphic novel. Here he takes the form in yet another fascinating and bold direction.
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