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  • Drawing Out Ideas: A Second Decade of the Work of Anthony Browne
  • Jane Doonan* (bio)

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Figure 1.

“Willy dreams.” Illustration from Willy the Dreamer © 1997 Anthony Browne. Reproduced by kind permission of the publisher, Walker Books Ltd., London.


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Figure 2.

A view of the zoo. Note Browne’s different styles for the family and the caged animals in the two-page spread. From Zoo © 1992 Anthony Browne. London: Random House UK/JuliaMacRae Books, 1994. Reproduced with the kind permission of Random House UK /Julia MacRae Books and Random House, Inc. / Alfred A. Knopf Books.


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Figure 3.

A mad-hatter’s tea party in Willy’s dream of being a famous writer. Illustration from Willy the Dreamer © 1997 Anthony Browne. Reproduced by kind permission of the publisher, Walker Books Ltd., London.


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Figure 4.

Charles (barely visible) and his mother leave the park. From Voices in the Park © Anthony Browne (New York: Doubleday, 1998), page 7. Reproduced with the kind permission of Transworld Publishers Ltd.


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Figure 5.

Willy winks as we close the book. Illustration from Willy the Dreamer © 1997 Anthony Browne. Reproduced by kind permission of the publisher, Walker Books Ltd., London.

Anthony Browne has been creating picture books for just over twenty years, and anyone attempting a critical survey of his work is faced with a problem in selection, for there are not only many interesting examples but also many outstanding ones. In the first decade, he produced a body of work that is unified by his distinctive style and theme, with stories about social relationships, having generally domestic settings, and with personal resourcefulness as a constant value. This period includes the radical interpretation of Hansel and Gretel with an overtly Freudian visual narrative, and Gorilla, his own tale of the transformation of a toy into a simian dream-father. In 1984 he created Willy, the young chimp who proves to be as enduring as he is endearing (Doonan, “Object Lesson”).

In the second decade, Browne has sustained his interest in the folk-fairy tale genre, and his stories of social relationships continue to have the element of transformation of some kind or another as a central feature. In the body of work as a whole, there have also been developments, which will be the main focus of this article. He has collaborated in the production of illustrated books, in which we see his first artwork in black and white. In his picture books, Browne develops more complex ways of visual structuring and of varying the relationships of words and images. All his picture-book texts require his audience to have knowledge of other texts and discourses—folk and fairy tales, classics, and his own works; fine art, cinema, comics, advertisements—the intertextual process is his whole business. Browne has created his own kind of reader—even a young child, having seen only one or two of his books, will subsequently recognize his style and look for the particular experiences he contrives. Since the beginning of the nineties Browne’s illustrative style has become much more painterly. His characteristic use of surrealistic visual elements [End Page 30] to foreground the gap between signs and things is taken to a logical conclusion in his latest picture book featuring Willy.

Changing Roles, Changing Relationships

The settings of Anthony Browne’s picture-book world continue to be domestic, with stories about social relationships often at the point when the central character is poised for change, whether by circumstance or through physical or personal development. Changes is about an only child who is about to become the elder child. As his father says, things are going to be different. As Joseph waits at home for his parents to arrive with the new baby, toys and domestic objects undergo anthropomorphism and zoomorphism as if responding to his confused feelings. The surrealist style is fully and structurally integrated, and banished when Joseph gets his first close-up view of his sister; the reality of her moist bulging baby flesh, her toothless...

Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6563
Print ISSN
0147-2593
Pages
pp. 30-56
Launched on MUSE
1999-01-01
Open Access
No
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