"The reviewer's lot is not always an enviable one. Books arrive in every kind of disarray — galleys bound and unbound, page proofs, and unedited manuscripts, not to mention the lack-lustre contents in an age when every Tom, Dick, and Harry publishes his life story. But sometimes a rare and exquisite treasure arrives that restores the element of surprise and delight that made you undertake the job in the first place. Such a book is Nick Bantock's The Artful Dodger."
Joan Givner, BC Book World

***

"...Bantock's passion for parallax views and gentle, self-deflating humor carry the book along nicely...His explanations of books like The Golden Mean will intrigue fans, and the more than 350 color illustrations may make him more." 
Publishers Weekly

***

"...a lushly illustrated autobiographical survey of the inventive products of a funny, fertile, off-beat mind....The Artful Dodger offers a rare glimpse into Bantock's unique view of the world and the unlikely connections he finds there." 
Peggy Earle, Virginia Pilot

***

"It is rare to find books about illustrators and still rarer to find one by the illustrator himself. Bantock insightfully describes where his ideas come from, how he develops them, and even how he faces public speaking. For art students, this is an invaluable source of personal as well as professional mentoring." 
Susan M. Olcott, Library Journal

***

"The author, a likeable man, is not being at all disingenuous. Just as the painting, and the collages of recent years especially, make much of their point out of seemingly nonsensical juxtaposition, one senses that Bantock is acutely aware of the ransom incidents that have given his own life impetus." 
Noah Richler, National Post

***

"Bantock...fashions an elaborate pictorial fairy tale out of the story of his charmed artist's life. In a narrative that exudes an unmistakable aura of noblesse oblige, the most intriguing chapters recount Bantock's amazing good luck as a young English dropout in the late 1960's. In spite of evincing no talent whatsoever, he enrolled in art school and soon magically discovered his gift for drawing....then takes up the thread of his tale, recounting in word and image his move to Canada and his quest for more personal, challenging, and unpredictable outlets for his unique vision and technical mastery." 
Donna Seaman, Booklist

***

"... the book itself is not so much a formal autobiography as the telling of a life through the art that has been made...." 
Max Wyman, Vancouver Sun

***

"The Artful Dodger is about Bantock's creative life, the genesis of his ideas and how they make their way into print. His publisher asked for the biographical details. He wanted to write about where he's come from as a book artist and the spirit of creativity, which he says comes from the earth and flows up through the soles of your feet and can change your life....When lucky breaks come, you take advantage of them: He's chosen to focus his story on the paths taken in order to encourage and inspire other people." 
Nancy Tousley, Calgary Herald

***

In 1991, The Globe and Mail asked me to review Griffin and Sabine, a first book. 

That review began with, "The nine-year-old son of a man I know is fond of wandering the beaches of the island on which he lives. The lad gathers bits of detritus, which he then glues and ties together. This done, he bursts, assemblage in hand, into his father's den and announces 'Look! I've made a thingy.' 

English-born writer and illustrator Nick Bantock, who now lives on Canada's West Coast, has also made a thingy. And a fine and original thingy it is too." 

Nine years and many "thingies" later, Bantock has become the world-acclaimed creator of eye-feasts, surreal picaresques involving topological and inner landscapes. 

The Artful Dodger is both a sampler of previous work and a memoir/meditation on the creations and the life that gave them birth. It would be facile and inaccurate to dismiss this as a "coffee-table book" (though one would be fortunate to encounter it in that way). In its most essential use, The Artful Dodger is for people of any age who love: 

Eyefood 
Mythology 
Fairy tales 
"Box Art" (e.g. Joseph Cornell) 
Collage and assemblage, objets trouvé 
Old mezzotint postcards with funny captions 
Beautiful exotic stamps 
Federico Garcia Lorca 
Max Ernst 
Frank Frazetta 
The Goon Show and Monty Python 
The slightly vertiginous juxtaposing of yearning dreams and imminent danger. 

The fiction component of this book is accessible, but not for the lazy "passive-receiver." The reader-viewer has to meet the work, has to agree to join the journey. Those willing to do this will be rewarded with a trunkful of treats, whether they already know and love the world-acclaimed Griffin and Sabine trilogy, The Forgetting Room, The Museum at Purgatory or any other examples of Bantockiana, or are newly meeting its worlds within worlds. 

Bantock is the latter-day Dickensian "Artful Dodger" of the title, and uses the book to sort through how he got to where he is now. 

For working-class Londoners, particularly males, Art College has long been a way to escape the occupational strictures of class. For a while, most of the BritRock pantheon (including Mick Jagger) started at Art College, the "egalitarian Oxford." People with "inappropriate accents" in Thatcherite England were employable as illustrators and painters — those who drew, but did not speak. The teenaged Nick Bantock was one such. 

He brought with him the humour of Cockney word-games: 
A woman walks into a butcher's shop and asks, "Have you got a sheep's head?" 
To which the butcher replies, "No lady, that's just the way I part my hair." 

To this he added the prodigious visual imagination that has become a treasure trove of visual/verbal wonderbooks. 

The draughtsman's journey began at Viking Penguin (because Bantock liked their logo), where he became a book-jacket illustrator. (Some of that work is included in The Artful Dodger. It is, as required, mostly "well crafted," but the later wildness of imagination can be discerned pushing just under the surface.) 

Griffin and Sabine, the trilogy that would change Bantock's life, grew out of a trip to the post office, where he shared the envy of another in the queue when the person in front of them received a letter with a wonderful tropical stamp. From this came the notion of an "epistolary book" — with exotic locales, fabulist stamps, mysterious journeys, a romance based on letters, in their envelopes and different scripts, which could be opened by the reader. 

In Britain, the idea received a toffee-nosed putdown from one who'd expected the working-class illustrator to know his place. 

Back in Vancouver, Bantock headed to San Francisco for a meeting re other work. Editor Victoria Rock noted the little book at the bottom of Bantock's bag. She insisted on seeing it, and loved it at once, and a new player entered the arts universe that includes Man Ray, Hieronymus Bosch, Aubrey Beardsley, J.K.Rowling, J.R.R.Tolkein, Salvador Dali, and various contributors to French magazines such as Planete and Minotaure. People who make alternate worlds, worlds filled with all they fear and all they hope for.

Nick Bantock, with his deeply held belief that the visual and the verbal are both languages, makes his case persuasively with The Artful Dodger. Many of his drawings are of winged creatures. This is, I think, apposite — wings are air-wheels, and the visual provides locomotion for the imagination. Bantock's angel-wheels have carried him up above others' notions of "place." This is his good fortune and ours.

*** 

The above book review is reprinted with permission from the Globe & Mail newspaper, where it first appeared. It was written by Gale Zoë Garnett who is an actor, writer and director. In her recent novel, 'Visible Amazement', her protagonist, a teenaged cartoonist, meets a dwarf in the woods. 

 

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