Author, Artist, Designer
Graham Rawle is a London-based author, artist and designer. His novel Woman’s World, collaged entirely from text fragments clipped from vintage women’s magazines, won wide critical acclaim. His reinterpretation of The Wizard of Oz won 2009 Book of the Year at the British Book Design Awards. The Card was shortlisted for the 2013 Writers’ Guild Award for fiction. He teaches Sequential Design at the University of Brighton, England, and is Visiting Professor at Norwich University of the Arts.
I spent five years creating Woman’s World, a full-length novel constructed by piecing together fragments of text clipped from early 1960s women’s magazines. My main concern was to ensure that the collage method was relevant to the story – the form and content considered as one. I had been writing a story about a housebound and somewhat troubled woman, Norma, whose life is governed by the ideals prescribed by the women’s magazines she devours. Their strong directives leave no room for compromise, making it hard for any ordinary woman, let alone Norma, to live up to their demands. The shortfall leads her to create a persona entirely fabricated from the words in the magazines. When it occurred to me that Norma could actually be a cross-dressing man, the whole thing made perfect sense. Women’s weeklies from that period actually read like a ‘how to’ instructional manual for the budding transvestite – everything you need to know to achieve perfection in all areas of womanliness. The very idea of Norma sitting down with scissors and glue, cutting bits from her beloved magazines and pasting them together to tell her story already says a great deal about her fragmented mind and her dependence on the magazines to find her female voice. Having established the look of the narrative voice, I needed to ensure as comfortable a reading experience as possible. I designed a simple formal type grid, which runs throughout the book. I occasionally break through its parameters in order to visually underscore the dramatic tension in a particular scene. The book design, the layout of the page must be governed by the story content. I’m not interested in adding visual tricks unless they’re inextricably linked to the story and add something to it.
A mysterious grey haired man drops a playing card in a deserted alley. Riley picks it up. The queen of hearts? He wonders if it is somehow significant. When he later hears someone refer to the Princess of Wales as the Queen of Hearts, he believes he is onto something. Before long, he is finding all kinds of bubble gum and cigarette cards on the street, each one apparently containing a further hidden clue as part of a coded message (probably from MI5). Riley makes the connections: Princess Diana is in grave and imminent danger and it’s his special mission to save her. Will Riley rise to the challenge and try to rescue the Princess, or will his obsessive pursuit of the grey haired man lead to its own tragic conclusion? The Card contains illustrated evidence of each of the cards discovered on the secret trail. The book design and page layout highlight Riley’s natural proclivity for finding meaningful coincidences in the most unexpected places. Who else would have spotted that Barry Manilow is an anagram of Library Woman? The Card, published by Atlantic Books in 2012, was shortlisted for the 2013 Writer’s Guild Award.
The Wizard of Oz
(US Book cover blurb) In this fascinating reinterpretation of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, artist Graham Rawle has stripped the epic story about Dorothy’s journey to Oz of all remnants of Hollywood iconography. Gone are the Judy Garland braids, the Technicolor ruby slippers, the ethereal Glinda the Good Witch. In their place, Rawle has fashioned graphic characters and scenery that are at once relentlessly modern and devoutly loyal to Baum’s original text: the Wicked Witch of the West “has but one good eye” and it is “as powerful as a telescope,” while Emerald City only appears to be green because the inhabitants are made to wear tinted glasses. Infused with color, images, and montages that bring the classic story alive all over again, this is an Oz that is both surreal and surprising.
Diary of an Amateur Photographer
When I wrote Diary of an Amateur Photographer, my idea was to create a book that looked and felt like the original journal of the protagonist, so the entire book is created by hand as he would have done it. Gathered ‘evidence’ is stuck to the page and the words are manually typed onto old scraps of paper. I wanted to provide another layer whereby the reader learns more about Michael’s character and psychological state – sensing his physical presence on the page in the way his typewriter keys strike the paper, the choices he makes in the delivery of his story and in the increasingly erratic page layout as his investigation spirals out of control. Interestingly, physically assembling the pages in this way also helped me as a writer to get inside his character. The story also carries plot clues that are not referred to in the text. For example, there are several visual references to things being upside-down – a nudge to the reader as well as to the protagonist about a piece of evidence being viewed the wrong way up – yet there is no mention of this in the text. In a straight text transcription of this book, the upside-down clue would be lost. Towards the end of the story, Michael begins to supplement his own writing with bits cut from old photography manuals and pulp novels. The solution to the mystery is revealed on a card sealed in an envelope at the back of the book and the message is created in this way, like a classic ransom note. Collage requires a certain amount of compromise: you have to work with whatever is available, but for me, this constraint has always produced interesting results because it forces me to become more inventive. I also found that the text pieces, however short, carried with them something of their original context and that the tone and flavour came through clearly in the finished piece. The card was only a couple of hundred words, but it got me thinking about the possibility of constructing a whole novel in this way, and that led to Woman’s World.