April 10, 2014

Peter and Jane and Miriam and Penguin take on art, copyright, crucifixes, and dead rabbits


Peter and Jane are brother and sister.

Miriam and Ezra are sister and brother.

Peter and Jane’s mother loves art.

Miriam and Ezra make art.

Peter and Jane learn about new words.

Miriam and Ezra make fun of Peter and Jane learning about new words.

Miriam is Miriam Elia, and Ezra is Ezra Elia. In 2013, their Kickstarter campaign helped put out one thousand copies of We Go to the Gallery, the first in their series of satirical re-creations of the thirty-six-volume Peter and Jane books originally published in the 1960s in the Ladybird Key Words Reading Scheme. In the Elias’ version, the beloved siblings, whose middle-class adventures landed them in the hearts and minds of complacent parents and children, are taken to a gallery and puzzle over contemporary art. They encounter empty spaces, dead rabbits, giant vaginas, and God. Among the key words repeatedly called out, as is done in the original series, is “confused.”

The Cob Gallery, which has showcased Miriam’s past work, has sold most of the Elias’ Harlequin Ladybird series in select stores and at art fairs. But, as Hyperallergic reports, Penguin UK is demanding that these new adventures and key words cease, desist, and be pulped, citing copyright infringement and a moral claim against the “adult content.”

Miriam tells Hyperallergic:

I will not bend to [Penguin’s] depravity. If they succeed, then all the satirical tradition of modern art, which is rich with the joyful subversion of pop cultural icons and brands from Picasso to Lichtenstein, lurks in thrall to the whims of corporate enterprise, and its army of devoted lawyers. They will never find the books they seek to pulp, and if they take me to court, I will fight them, however long the battle takes.

Most are on Miriam’s side of this battle, including Mark Dolley, whose father was chairman and chief executive of Penguin from 1969 to 1973. In an awesome letter of support, he says: “Both [Allen] Lane [Penguin’s founder] and my father must be rolling over in their graves at Penguin today both missing a commercial opportunity and also making a crass attempt to stifle art. Far from trying to ban her work, both would have offered Ms. Elia a commission.”

NEW WORDS: depravity, thrall, lawyers, crass, stifle.

Wah-Ming Chang was the managing editor of Melville House.