I recently got my hands on two truly strange books. Not a bad strange, of course. Just strange in that I haven’t ever really come upon anything like them before. The two books are Bounty, an original tale of mermaid-related mutiny aboard a ship, and a 151st anniversary edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Both are written (or in Alice’s case, edited) by Michael Clark and published under his publishing company Pocket Watch Books.
Pocket Watch Books was started by Clark as a way to do something significant, artistic, fun, and inclusive. In Clark’s mission statement on his website, he says:
“As long time lovers of literature and the arts, of film and theatre and photography, we wanted to pull together all these elements into telling great stories… [W]e want to engage and entertain our beloved readers… our storytelling reflects a broader context and system of values that we hold dear.”
Pocket Watch Books system of values is treating women equally within fandoms. After years of noticing the heartache women are subjected to by so-called ‘real fans’, Clark decided Pocket Watch Books would cross gender barriers and empower women and girls with stories that have strong voices and just outcomes, worlds where assumptions are trampled, and Geekdom can be proudly celebrated and shared.
Bounty is an M-rated book and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is E-rated for everyone. Bounty is about a naturalist named Will on a ship bound for the Sandwich Islands, where the crew encounters mermaids. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is the classic tale by Lewis Carrol, edited and lightly expanded by Michael Clark. Most noticeably (without me reading one of my other editions at the same time as reading this edition) the biggest change comes with the last few pages of the original being expanded into its own chapter.
What made these two books such a strange experience for me (as you’ve possibly guessed from the rating system) is that they’re photo illustrated. Clark wrote Bounty and edited Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but he also filled them with elaborate photography. Each photo is fit into its designated part of the story to expand upon what you’re reading, like a still frame from a movie taking place within the book. The models have detailed costumes and have been directed into very specific positions. It’s clear that thought went into each picture and its position within the book.
Aside from a few pictures within Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that were a touch too dark from having been taken in a shady area, it’s all very high quality. Love and passion went into these two books and it’s clear Clark believes in what he’s doing. Most interestingly is that some of the models in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland have piercings and tattoos. It’s a bold choice, especially if it was done to show the normalcy and inclusivity to body mods.
Clark’s writing is proficient and flows nicely. With the pictures included throughout, the prose can be a little sparse. It sometimes feels that the prose takes a secondary position as it connects us to the pictures that come next. It feels like it’s telling us instead of showing us. The pictures show us instead of tell us though, so it all evens out into an enjoyable read.
Pocket Watch Books is an absolute oddity. These two hardcover, glossy page tomes are so unlike anything I’ve recently come across. They create a sort of strange, ethereal, nostalgia feeling for me. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland especially made me imagine that it was something my grandma would have bought me in a thrift store like some mysterious treasure. Bounty is an interesting original tale and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland a lovingly edited expansion on the classic story.
Pocket Watch Books is a strange but magically independent publishing company. The company is still young and only has Bounty and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to its credit, but they’re worth looking into.
“One company can’t change the industry, especially not a small publisher like us. But maybe we can light a candle that will help others see in the darkness. And maybe the fire will spread if you believe in it too.”
Michael Clark’s mission statement is modest in its wishes of wanting to change the status quo of how women are portrayed in media and how they’re treated within fandoms. I think with just a few more people on Earth with the drive, creativity, and passion that Clark displays, we wouldn’t be such a problematic species!