This edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has found its way into print because the publisher liked the illustrations, which he found out about from a conversation he and I had earlier this year. Thank goodness he asked to publish them; he’s a real publisher, and I have wandered in the publishing desert ever since J. Michael Rolen drew the illustrations for me long ago, back before the Internet came into being. It could be said that the publication of this book is a long and a sad tale… The biggest diversion was that in 1977 I released the book as Alice’s Hour in Elfland, by Edgar Cuthwellis (Carroll’s own anagram for “Charles Lutwidge”). Dodgson had changed the title from this to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland just before publication. I wondered what would have happened if he hadn’t changed the title, so I tried it out. It does not seem to gave been a success; I can say that things went a bit better for the Rolen Alice since, for an e-book revision, I changed the title back to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and the author’s name back to Lewis Carroll.
According to the dates on his Alice drawings, J. Michael Rolen knocked out the eleven drawings in eleven days total, the first group in four days, and the second group over seven days. He did this in his spare time after work. The quality of some of that quick work reflects his background and training.
J. Michael Rolen graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a Bachelor of Arts in Letters—the ultimate Liberal Arts degree—in 1974. To get that he studied art, literature, classical and operatic music, and satire. He learned cartooning by copying Marvel Comics. He was from a musical family that played together and made home recordings.
After he made the Alice drawings for me, he wrote, illustrated, and published After-Life Madness: The World’s Most Ignored Comic Magazine. Noted Carrollian Selwyn Goodacre has copies of the first four issues, and I have a complete set. After-Life Madness was based on the book Unfinished Symphonies by Rosemary Brown. This was funny if you didn’t believe in spirtualism (check out Rosemary Brown, who died in 2001)—but art, literature, classical music, opera, and satire didn’t sell all that well as a small independent comic.
While he was at the University of Oklahoma, J. Michael attracted other students who were also interested in art, literature, music, and iconoclastic humour. I was lucky enough to be part of that; it was a suggestion by a mutual friend that I write to himto ask him to draw some Alice illustrations for me. I asked, and he drew them, and now I can share them with you.
J. Michael lives in El Cajon, California. It has been so long ago—40 years!—since he drew the Alice art that it is “the distant past” to him, but I think he likes the idea that the world may have some fans of his Alice art, or I would have given up on this project. I can appreciate that he may feel that it’s none of his business what I do with the pictures, since he sold them to me outright, but I’ve let him know from the beginning that I want him to be known as an Alice artist. Some of the pictures are, to me, as fresh as when they were first made.
Brian R. Basore
Oklahoma City, December 2017