In 1993, between finishing school and going to University, I spent a few months in Prague. I think you’d call this a gap year these days; time to fill with all sorts of worthwhile things such as helping lepers, that might one day help you get a menial job that isn’t going to pay.
For me it was very much a year off. My friend J and I got menial jobs (that paid very little) for 6 months, saved up our pennies and took the Megabus East.
I won’t lie, the main lure was the ridiculously cheap alcohol – something like 10p a pint back then. But in the hangovers inbetween sessions we got to enjoy some of the equally affordable culture. We went to the opera (for a few quid), haunted the flea pits of Wenceslas Square and went to the odd exhibition. Which is where I discovered the art of Adolf Born, and stumbled upon this much treasured edition of Roald Dahl’s The Witches.
Born takes a completely different tack to Blake. Although the two share a similar, free flowing cartoon style, they’ve focussed on very different elements of the book. Where Blake creates some properly disturbing witches, with bald, blotchy heads, ghoulish grins and elasticated skin; Born specialises in fantastical representations of animals, animated with a surreal sense of humour and a splash of queasy colour.
The Witches gives him ample opportunity to create a bestiary equal to the one in Dahl’s imagination. My favourite spread is the illustration of the Grand High Witch’s recipe for ‘Formula 86 Delayed Action Mouse-Maker’. Where Blake shows the ingredients as inanimate objects, Born takes flight and gives shapes to the Crabcruncher, Blabbersnitch, Groblesquirt etc.
I’ve always had a real fondness for Czech animation – having spent many a late night in my childhood watching the very strange imaginations of the likes of Jan Švankmajer and Jiří Trnka spill out of their brains and onto the screen. Born is very much in this tradition, humorous but also really dark.
I was thrilled when doing a little research for this piece to stumble across the below film – an unreleased version of Tolkein’s The Hobbit from the 60s. It’s a collaboration with Gene Deitch, who is probably best known for his ‘difficult’ take on Tom and Jerry. No such reservations for The Hobbit, which showcases Born’s style beautifully and manages to tell the story in just 11 minutes. If only Peter Jackson would take a leaf out of his book…