Mr Piper, by John Tenniel (1853)
'How Mr. Peter Piper Enjoyed a Day's 'Pig-sticking', 1853.

John Tenniel was a 19th-century editorial cartoonist and illustrator. He was a respected contributor to Punch for over half a century. But he is most famous today as the illustrator of Lewis Carroll's classic children's novels 'Alice in Wonderland' (1865) and 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' (1871). Although many other artists have visualized these stories since, Tenniel's artwork still remains the standard. It perfectly fits the dreamlike and sometimes nightmarish surreal plots of Carrolls books. Even today, they are one of the few 19th-century novels still reprinted with the original illustrations. Tenniel was additionally a pioneer in the field of comics. He made two text comics, 'Peter Piper' (1853) and 'Mr. Spoonbill' (1855), both published in Punch. Tenniel's work is renowned for its powerful fantasy, combined with detailed, realistic drawings. He was the first children's book illustrator whose work was exhibited and the first cartoonist to receive a knighthood.

Early life and career
John Tenniel was born in 1820 in Bayswater, London. His father was a fencing and dancing master. The boy never received any formal art training, except for a brief attendance at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1842. Disagreeing strongly with their teaching methods, Tenniel soon left and decided to learn the craft on his own. Among his graphic influences were J.J. Grandville and John Leech. In 1842 he already exhibited one of his drawings at the Society of British Artists' exhibition. Three years later he painted a fresco in the Hall of Poets of the House of Lords in London. Tenniel became a marvellous illustrator, who excelled both in realistic drawing as well as grotesque caricature. His draftmanship is all the more remarkable in the knowledge that he suffered from a gradually worsening eye condition. In 1840, during a fencing duel with his father, his right eye was severely wounded. In the decades that followed he would gradually lose sight in it.

Punch cartoons
Tenniel's illustrations of Aesop's 'Fables' brought him to the attention of the British satirical magazine Punch. In 1850 he began working with John Leech and Charles Keene, but soon eclipsed them in fame. He drew more than 2.300 political cartoons and illustrations, including the annual Punch almanac. For about half a century Tenniel both captured and ridiculed many political and social changes in Victorian Britain and its worldwide Empire. His cartoon 'Dropping the Pilot' (Punch, 29 March 1890), depicting the resignment of German chancellor Otto von Bismarck, has become iconic and is one of the most frequently reproduced cartoons in history books. It shows Bismarck, who made his country into a powerful unified nation, leaving the metaphorical ship he steered for almost 20 years. He is watched by the very young and unexperienced German emperor Wilhelm II, who shows no cause for concern. A copy of this cartoon was sent to Bismarck himself, who felt it was a "fine one."

Dropping the pilot by John Tenniel
'Dropping The Pilot', 1890.

Peter Piper
Tenniel drew some prototypical comics, such as 'The Hunting Adventures and Exploits of Peter Piper', which appeared in Punch between January and June 1853. While named after the famous English nursery rhyme, this Peter Piper doesn't "pick pecks of pickled pepper." He is an animal hunter in Bengal, India. In his first adventure, 'How Mr. Peter Piper Enjoyed a Day's Pig-sticking' (1853), Piper hunts pigs. After a fall from his horse he encounters a crocodile, whom he kills with his pig-stick. When he notices a tiger, he quickly runs off, but still manages to catch three piglets at the end of the day. The final panel shows him and his friends roast the meat, while he boasts about his adventures.

While an exciting comic strip, the narration is sometimes confusing. For instance: in the first panel we see Peter ride a dromedary (though the text says it's a camel), yet in the next he is suddenly on back of a horse. By lack of explanation the reader has no idea why he suddenly changed his transport animal. Later Peter encounters a crocodile, whom he has killed in the next panel only to stand eye in eye with a tiger. Yet in the following panel we see him mount his horse again, with the tiger nowhere to be seen, only a crocodile with a menacing stare. To modern-day readers such scenes feel like continuity errors. One should keep in mind that the comic strip medium was still young at the time. Many other 19th-century cartoonists had equal problems making their narratives understandable, at times.

'How Mr. Peter Piper Tried His Hand at Buffalo-Shooting' (1853).

In 'How Mr. Peter Piper Tried His Hand at Buffalo-Shooting' (1853) our "hero" returns, this time trying to shoot a water buffalo from a canoe. But the animal knocks his boat out of the river, whereupon Peter and his Indian paddler fall in the water. He still manages to kill the beast, but a crocodile steals his trophy. Back on the shore he and his Indian labourer are surprised by a huge cattle stampede and dash off into a tree. Once again they manage to kill a buffalo and return home in triumph. Bears are Piper's next prey in 'How Mr. Peter Piper Was Induced To Join In a Bear-Hunt' (1853). He and his subordinates try to lure a bear out of his cave, but Peter is ambushed when the animal attacks him in the back. They fight and stumble into a cliff, where one of his personnel eventually shoots the carnivore. In the final episode, 'How Mr. Peter Piper Accepted an Invitation from the Rajah of R. to Hunt a Bengal Tiger' (1853), Peter joins a Rajah to hunt down tigers on back of an elephant. Once again he nearly dies by falling off the pachyderm twice, but in the end the striped feline is killed.

Like most 19th-century picture stories, 'Peter Piper' is a text comic with the narration appearing underneath the images. It could be considered an early example of a series, since the reader follows the same main character in four different adventures. Contrary to later comics published in magazines or papers, all episodes are self-contained. 'Peter Piper' is a slapstick gag comic, yet a thrilling adventure at the same time, thanks to Tenniel's vivid artwork . To modern-day readers the colonial tone and killing of (nowadays endangered) animals can come across as offensive and outdated. Yet Peter is more an upperclass twit than a hero. Each hunt is disastrous and he only survives through dumb luck or because his servants or fellow hunters save him. In the tiger-hunting episode, for instance, others do all the hard work. Peter merely fires the final shot, yet is still congratulated for his "indomitable courage and reckless daring." Peter Piper also shares a physical resemblance with Tweedledee and Tweedledum in Lewis Carroll's later 'Alice' novels.

Mr. Spoonbill, by John Tenniel (1855)
'Mr. Spoonbill's Experiences in the Art of Skating', 1855.

Mr. Spoonbill
Between February and March 1855 Tenniel made another text comic, 'Mr. Spoonbill's Experiences In The Art Of Skating', serialized in Punch in three episodes. Just like Peter Piper, it stars another upperclass twit. Mr. Spoonbill tries out ice skating, but he is very bad at it. He constantly falls and at one point breaks through the ice. Wet and cold, he drinks a hot beverage to make him "feel pretty comfortable" again. At home, he warms himself behind a stove, while the narrator concludes it's Mr. Spoonbill's "first (and last) day's skating." Compared with Tenniel's previous comic 'Peter Piper', 'Mr. Spoonbill' shows his growth as a comic artist. The narrative can be followed more logically and between each panel there's more suggestion of continuous movement. 

Alice in Wonderland by John Tenniel
'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'.

Alice in Wonderland / Through the Looking Glass
John Tenniel is probably best remembered for his wonderful illustrations in Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland' (1865) and the sequel 'Through the Looking Glass' (1871). Since he was first and foremost a caricaturist, certain 'Alice' characters, like the Mad Hatter, Duchess and Queen of Hearts, have the same disproportional huge heads as the politicians in his cartoons. Yet the backgrounds and animals are all drawn realistically. Much like a real dream where nothing makes sense, yet looks believable enough to seem true. Generations of young readers have been fascinated and frightened by Tenniel's vivid drawings. It's almost impossible to imagine Carroll's colourful novel without them. Tenniel cemented the public image of Alice, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts, Tweedledee and Tweedledum and many other unforgettable characters.

Carroll gave Tenniel tremendous creative freedom. He even dropped an entire chapter at Tenniel's suggestion, because it contained a scene with a wasp in a wig, which the artist just couldn't draw convincingly enough (a century later Alan Aldridge heard this anecdote and drew a convincing wig-wearing wasp in William Plomer's picture book 'The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast' [1973]). The insect also appeared in the animated music video adaptation 'Love Is All' [1975] by Roger Glover.). When Carroll published 'Alice in Wonderland', Tenniel was unsatisfied with the printing quality. He complained about it, whereupon Carroll instantly withdrew the first edition at his request! But it was all worth the extra effort. Today Carroll's novels remain bestsellers and one of the few 19th-century illustrated novels still reprinted with the original drawings. 

In many ways Tenniel's artwork for 'Alice' makes him a prototypical surrealist. It comes to no surprise that the novel (and his drawings) were a strong influence on the 20th-century Surrealist movement. Max Ernst made a 1941 painting titled 'Alice' and illustrated Carroll's novel in 1970. In 1945, René Magritte also made a painting inspired by Carroll's book. Salvador Dalí too illustrated 'Alice in Wonderland' in 1969. Numerous other artists made their own graphic interpretations, including Emily Gertrude Thomson (1890), Arthur Rackham (1907), Charles Robinson (1907), Charles Folkard (1921), Willy Pogany (1929), Mervyn Peake (1946), Ralph Steadman (1967), Graham Overden (1969), Peter Blake (1970), Kuniyoshi Kaneko (1974), Tove Jansson (1977), Anthony Browne (1988), Helen Oxenbury (1999), Lisbeth Zwerger (1999), DeLoss McCraw (2001), Gabriella Baracsi (2008), Robert Ingpen (2009) and Yayoi Kusama (2012).

Ed Kuekes adapted 'Alice in Wonderland' into a comic strip in 1934, while Olive Ray Scott. Bob Kane, Don Cameron and Jerry Robinson's 'Tweedledee and Tweedledum' (1943) and Bill Finger and Lew Sayre Schwartz' Mad Hatter (1948) are three 'Batman' villains based on Carroll's similar characters. The iconic scene of Alice's tea party as drawn by Tenniel was used on the cover of issue #15 (September 1954) of Mad Magazine, with the subtitle 'A 'Mad' tea party'. In the 18th issue (December 1954), Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis and Will Elder parodied both 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' in a comic strip using Tenniel's original illustrations. In 2004 Yohann Puaud and Wyllow made the one-shot graphic album 'Au Delà des Merveilles' (2004), a free interpretation of Lewis Carroll's classic novel. Bryan Talbot adapted 'Alice' into a 2012 graphic novel. Manga based on Carroll's work were created by Ai Ninomiya and Ikumi Katagiri ('Are You Alice?', 2004), Kaishaku ('Kagihime Monogatari Eikyū Alice Rondo', 2004), Quin Rose ('Alice in the Country of Hearts', 2007-2010) and Kaori Yukki ('Alice in Murderland', 2014). Remco Polman made 'Alice in Particle Land' (2013), a comic made for the Center of Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland. 

Max and Dave Fleischer created a Betty Boop cartoon, 'Betty in Blunderland' (1934), based on the story. Walt Disney did the same with Mickey Mouse two years later in the short 'Thru the Mirror' (1936), which became a precursor to his animated feature 'Alice in Wonderland' (1951). Gene Deitch made his own animated feature, 'Alice in Wonderland in Paris' (1966), but with a completely different plot. The same year Hanna-Barbera made a modernized animated TV special named 'Alice in Wonderland (or What's a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This?', 1966), which featured two small cameos of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. Terry Gilliam's debut film, 'Jabberwocky' (1975), was inspired by the poem 'The Jabberwock' in 'Alice Through the Looking Glass'. Jan Švankmajer created a delightfully surreal stop-motion picture, 'Něco z Alenky' ('Alice', 1988), a perfect rendition of the dreamlike and nightmarish qualities of the original story. Still Tenniel's illustrations have never been replaced in the public consciousness by any other graphic artist's imaginative re-interpretation. 

'Alice in Wonderland' has been adapted, referenced and alluded to in many other media. Fans of absurdism, fantasy, psychedelica and hallucinogenic drugs treasure both the novels as well as Tenniel's drawings. Jefferson Airplane's drug-induced hit 'White Rabbit' (1967) was inspired by it, as were three Beatles songs written by John Lennon: 'I Am the Walrus' (1967), 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' (1967) and 'Cry, Baby, Cry' (1968). At his request Carroll's face was even added to the photo montage on the cover of 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'. 

'Through the Looking Glass'.

In 1893, Tenniel became the first illustrator/cartoonist to ever be knighted. Former British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone personally recommended him for this honor to Queen Victoria. The event added more respectability to both Tenniel as well as his profession. His work was exhibited to the general public in 1895 and 1900. By the time he retired in 1901, Tenniel was honoured with a farewell banquet, presided by Leader of the House Commons, Arthur Balfour, who would become Prime Minister a year later.

Death, legacy and influence
John Tenniel passed away in 1910. During his lifetime he was good friends with John Leech who once said: "Talk of drawing, my dear fellow, what is my drawing compared with Tenniel?" Tenniel's influence on later generations of artists can be experienced in the work of Thomas Nast, Peter Newell, Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, René Magritte, Walt Disney, Max Fleischer, Ed Kuekes, John Henry Chinner, Edward Gorey, Mark Ryden, Jan Švankmajer, Terry Gilliam, Ralph Steadman, Everett Peck, Soumei Hoshino, Kaori Yuki and Chris Riddell. A testament to both Carroll and Tenniel's enduring popularity is the fact that no less than 18 characters from 'Alice' have asteroids named after them. In 1990 two were named after the Cheshire Cat and the Gryphon, followed by the Jabberwock and Dinah the cat in 1991, the Mad Hatter and the Red Queen in 1992 and the March Hare in 1993, the Mock Turtle, Tweedledee, Jubjub Bird and Bandersnatch in 1994, the White Knight in 1995, Father William and Tweedledum in 1997, Tigerlily, Haigha and Hatta in 1998 and the White Rabbit in 1999. Lewis Carroll received an asteroid in 1994. Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired both novels, also received her own asteroid in 1996.

Books about John Tenniel
For people interested in the life and career of John Tenniel, Frankie Morris' book 'Artist of Wonderland: The Life, Political Cartoons, and Illustrations of Tenniel' (University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, 2005) is highly recommended. 

Alice in Wonderland
'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'. The image inspired John Lennon to his song 'Cry, Baby Cry' from The Beatles' album 'The Beatles' (1968), better known as The White Album. 

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