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  • Suzy Lee’s Adventures in Picture book Land
  • Sungyup Lee (bio)

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”

(Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)

Alice, one of the most famous heroines in all of children’s literature and a figure to whom the inventive Korean artist Suzy Lee has seemingly been attached, asked herself, “What is the use of a book without pictures?” Lee responded in her first picture book without verbal text: Alice in Wonderland. Furthermore, it seems that the British girl has inspired the Korean artist in her following works.

Picture books can be defined as an iconotext in which verbal and visual texts coexist and contribute to constructing a literary and artistic narrative. This description emphasizing the intricate and inseparable relationship between verbal and visual factors has been further refined by the French comparatist and literary critic Isabelle Nières-Chevrel. According to Nières-Chevrel, the materiality of a book is also worthy of note: not only does it cause the picture book to exist in the real world, but it also helps to make it work as a fictional narrative world (119). Therefore, a picture book can be considered to be composed of its text, illustrations, and each physical element of the book. However, the text is not truly one of the key channels through which Lee’s creative energy flows. It seems that her artistic talent can be fully manifested through the visual and material constituents of a picture book, as demonstrated by her wordless narrative picture books: Alice in Wonderland (2002), La Revanche des lapins [Revenge of the rabbits] (2003), Mirror (2003), Wave (2008), and Shadow (2010). When she is not collaborating with another author, Lee’s works are particularly silent but suffer no lack of communicative power. The little British girl, Alice, would certainly have appreciated Lee’s wordless but communicative books full of pictures. With the exception of a few works, the stories are conveyed simply through lines and forms expressed in her favorite medium, charcoal, alongside delicate touches of color. Most of Lee’s solo works do not speak, but show: they lead readers to feel, think, and tell their own story. Through her books, the reader becomes a sort of intersemiotic translator, interpreting the visual factors into a verbal language.

If Lee’s works do not rely on a written text, another factor—the book as a physical object—becomes enhanced. Her imaginative nonverbal worlds are magnificently embodied or incarnated in and via the book. The materiality of a book is a concern not only for picture books but also for any other published text: it is like a container of the contents. As for a picture book, the book as a physical object can acquire even more importance [End Page 17] than other types of published text because it performs communicative, aesthetic, and even narrative functions. In other words, every single element of a book—such as its size, form, the type of paper, layout, cover, end paper, title page, gutter, and dust jacket (if there is one)—conveys a message and becomes part of the narrative world found within its pages. Each element of a book is the space for a creative playground in which Lee fashions her own imaginative world. It appears that, for her, the book as a physical object is a tangible medium of expression applied in order to tell a story, just like a verbal language or visual elements. Her famous Border Trilogy—Mirror, Wave, and Shadow—makes use of book formats and gutters with remarkably high effectiveness. Therefore, it is not surprising that she considers herself not a picture book author-illustrator but a “book artist.”

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A book is really a mysterious object because it establishes a link between a fictional world and readers in the real world. It is a physical border...


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pp. 17-21
Launched on MUSE
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