Comics in Wonderland: Roger Langridge’s Lewis Carroll Mash-up

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As Roger Langridge noted in last week’s interview, his comics are a mix of British sitcom, vaudeville theater, E.C. Segar, and Samuel Beckett. They’re usually parceled out in short, snappy sequences—but his newest, published in a dozen installments by Boom! Studios, runs over 300 pages. Snarked! is populated with Alice in Wonderland characters, costarring the Walrus and the Carpenter. The series has earned praise from adults as well as children and an Eisner at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. But despite widespread critical acclaim, it was a slow seller. So sadly, this month’s issue is the last one.

The good news is that the series is being repackaged as three trade paperbacks, with volume two scheduled for next week. And in the concluding part of our interview, I asked Langridge about his connection with Lewis Carroll.

How did you recall responding to Carroll’s stories as a child?

I think my first exposure to the Alice stories was the live-action film version from 1972 starring Fiona Fullerton. I must have been six or seven when I saw it. I haven’t seen it since, so I don’t remember if it was any good. But I do remember that Spike Milligan played the Gryphon and Peter Sellers was the March Hare. Anyway, it must have made an impression on me because I read the books pretty soon after, and returned to them every couple of years ever since.

I think I responded to the sheer eccentricity of the characters as much as anything. And “eccentric” is the right word; they weren’t “wacky,” they weren’t “zany,” they were just a bit… off. A bit unsettling. I suppose that weird, slightly sinister Victorian atmosphere got under my skin more than a full-on parade of loony-tunes would have.

Your work often has side references to Carroll; how did you decide to foreground his characters?

I don’t know that I ever consciously planned to set a story in a Carroll-ian world until it happened. For the longest time it was just a part of that box of tricks I referred to earlier. When in doubt, whip out the Carroll.

Snarked! grew out of panic, in a way. I was trying to come up with a project to do after The Muppet Show comic ended, and I had a few ideas rolling around, none of which seemed to be clicking, exactly. One of them was a daily web strip starring the Walrus and the Carpenter as a kind of “Art d’Ecco and Gump” double act. Another was a faithful, word-for-word adaptation of The Hunting of the Snark, which I’d still really like to do. But as I was thinking about doing it, Mahendra Singh’s adaptation came out, putting it off the table for a few years.

Then there was this “Duh! Of course!” moment where the seemingly obvious move of mashing the two ideas together finally hit me. And it sort of grew from there.

And how did you deal with John Tenniel’s visual legacy?

Partly, I made a deliberate decision to make the characters my own as much as possible. My intention with Snarked! was to build my own Carroll-inspired world, not to set a story in Carroll’s world per se. A lot of the stylistic decisions were simply informed by the speed at which I had to draw the book. On a monthly schedule, the luxury of studying somebody else’s style and trying to imitate it, especially a style as heavily detailed as Tenniel’s—or Henry Holiday’s on Hunting of the Snark—wasn’t available to me.

The artwork in Snarked! was drawn to a large degree on “Langridge Default Setting,” just so I could stay on schedule. I deliberately avoided giving myself too many difficult challenges that might slow me down. There were a few nods to Tenniel on the covers, though: the tea party, the Jabberwock.

I liked to refer to the original, definitive illustrations whenever I could. The Alice books, in particular, always feel a little “off” when illustrated by anybody else.

What about future projects?

I really wish I knew!

Right now the only regular thing I’ve got going is writing Popeye for IDW, and drawing the occasional story. And I’m writing another four-issue series for IDW that hasn’t been announced yet. Before the end of the year I’ve got a book job to do: I’ll be illustrating a new edition of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, doing some proper, old-school black-and-white illustrations with lots of detail and crosshatching, which I’m looking forward to. After that, I really have no idea.

There are a bunch of things I would like to do. I would like to do further adventures with the Walrus and the Carpenter, but Snarked! was not a great financial success, so that will only go ahead if we can come up with some kind of alternative to the publishing model used on Snarked! that will allow Boom! to keep their shirts and me to feed my family. And so far we’re drawing a blank on how to satisfy both those conditions at the same time. What’s looking more likely now is that I’ll do something completely new. But wh
at that might be, I haven’t the foggiest idea at this stage.

One possibility I’m entertaining is a superhero book entirely on my own terms, although whether there’s a market for a modern-day Plastic Man kind of thing, with a straight central character playing against a world gone mad, I have no idea. I suspect not, but I’d certainly like to take a stab at it. It would be my final attempt to engage with the superhero genre, I suspect. The only superhero books I’ve ever really liked are ones that have a strong streak of—deliberate—absurdity running through them. And if I can’t make something like that work, I think I’m done with the whole genre for good.* And possibly commercial comics generally, since that’s all that sells these days.

Otherwise, it’ll be back to making comics nobody but me and three of my friends want to read, subsidized by commercial illustration work, which is a career plan that worked fine for me for many years and which I’d be quite happy to go back to. What those comics might be, I don’t know.

I’ve got a half-dozen ideas in my notebook all vying for attention, none of which are quite there yet. Top of the list right now is a Fred the Clown graphic novel. I’m thinking it might be a good time to return to the character, because I’ve had critical success, if not commercial success, with a couple of other things now. And I feel I can do Fred the Clown again without getting accused of being a one-hit wonder.

But some other, stronger idea might hit me between now and when I’ve finished with the jobs I’ve got on at the moment. So I’m leaving myself open to possibilities until I absolutely have to decide on what I’m going to do next. I’m hoping for some sort of lightning-bolt moment like the one I had with Snarked!. But the only way you get those is by laying the groundwork by writing every day, so right now I’m writing every day. I’m confident it’ll happen eventually. I’m just not sure when.

* In May, Langridge made an ethical decision to reject work from Marvel and DC. He was prompted by a recent court ruling against the Jack Kirby estate involving artist creators’ rights. For more on this issue, see my recent interview with Arlen Schumer.