November 22, 2010

Anatomy of a book design #3: Enter philosophy


This is the third installment of a series by artist Mahendra Singh on the process of adapting Lewis Carrolls classic nonsense poem, The Hunting of a Snark, into a graphic presentation. Like most of Carroll’s work, this poem has seen various iterations since it was written in 1874 but this is the first time it has been adapted as a graphic telling. Melville House published Singh’s adaptation in November.


A panel from Singh's adaptation

A panel from Singh's adaptation

A nautical though nice bit of inkery in which we can see the Baker’s character in a better light. For one thing, he bears a considerable resemblance to Lewis Carroll himself. Equally important, this light to which the Baker refers with his finger might well be that very same light for which one does not lack when heaven guides the way. This light is also rather fetchingly captured in the accompanying painting by Raphael, his famous School of Athens which graces the Stanza della Segnatura in Rome.

If one regards the Baker in this philosophical light, one might say that he carries about him a certain Platonic air (see #1 in the painting), a mystical faith in a universal flashlight which he carries about with himself wherever he goes and which enlightens his path in even the darkest caves of the human mind. It is this mental flashlight which provides him with the sang froid necessary to navigate through the thickets of hyenas and bears in which he finds himself today. Note also that he smiles at his tormentors, a Mona Lisa sort of smile which says to his would-be tormentors: I know that you are not real, that you are merely shadows of a Higher Hyena and Bigger Bear.

The ursine fellow to the Baker’s left is a Gradgrindish sort of fellow, well-schooled in the Facts of Life, a scholastic and Aristotelian air about him (#2 in the School). He has no need for invisible flashlights for he relies upon Facts, just the Facts and their Causes, perhaps even some Numbers, and that’s that! He carries a book, not for idle speculation but for assaulting weaker-minded mortals such as the Baker with.

School of Athens

Raphael's School of Athens

At their feet we see a personage in the guise of a drawing of a hyena taken from a xerox of a photograph of Heraclitus of a fax of a painting of a second-hand knock-off of the life of Michelangelo (#3) as told by Vasari. This reflective beast is lounging pool-side, debating whether tis best to plunge entirely into the waters or better still to merely dabble the tips of one’s toes in the waters. He is consumed with doubt lest he be unable to bathe in the same waters twice.

It also appears as if this hyenaic Michelangelo is consumed with a petty jealousy over the excellent design of the drawing in which he finds himself depicted. Not only is it a cunning gloss upon the above stanzel, but it also illustrates the wisdom of obtaining one’s artistic training at a qualified and accredited institute of higher learning, a precaution which this artist’s rival, the infamous Raphael (not shown here) attended to by graduating cum laude from the Roman campus of the School of Athens.