Friday, October 2, 2015

Ellen Raskin: Mysterious Disappearances

The first book I read by Ellen Raskin was The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel), and it's probably still my favorite among all of her works. 

It's a silly mystery book, full of clues, jokes, and puns. It's thoroughly steeped in the cultural world of the 1960s, too. Reading it not long after it appears in 1971 was a literary highlight of my childhood.

The Kerlan Collection doesn't have a lot of material from Leon, though: Just some of the inside artwork. But it's still worth seeing.

These are pen and ink drawings, with one exception: The dress of the main character (Caroline Fish/Mrs. Carillon), which is cut from a sheet of asterisks printed on photo paper from a phototypesetting machine. (Remember those patterned dresses on the We Alcotts book cover?)

Here, the young Caroline Fish is manhandled by Miss Anna Oglethorpe while at school.

After marrying Leon Carillon, and then losing him to his mysterious disappearance, Mrs. Carillon contemplates her search for him across the United States.

Here, Mrs. Carillon is joined by her tall banker (named Mr. Banks), her adopted Siamese twins Tony and Tina (no, they are not the same sex), and her new/old friend Augie, in the football helmet.

At the book's end, I don't think it's giving too much away to say there's a happy ending, and Mrs. Carillon finally gets to change out of the asterisk dress.

The hand-lettering in these drawings is incredible. If you zoom in to look closer, you can see that Raskin meticulously retouched along the edges of almost every letter with white paint.

There are eight other illustrations in the book, including the cover, which are not in the Kerlan Collection, as far as I could see. I wonder where they are? Maybe they're in another box that I missed... I will have to go back and check.

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