Lonely Voyagers
by Dalt Wonk and Simon Blake
Luna Press

"Stop! Listen! We are lonely voyagers… It all depends on your perspective."

By the late nineteenth century, the understanding of scientific principles that began in the Enlightenment during the 1680s had taken hold in Western Europe. The French, of course, experienced their own thirst for such knowledge. To accommodate it, in 1873, scientist brothers Albert and Gaston Tissandier began to publish a magazine they called La Nature. This medium sought to render scientific concepts understandable to the layperson through conventional language and identifiable everyday images, many of which were hand-drawn in those early days. Each of the 26 collages in this unique work by Wonk and Blake is pieced together from pictures originally printed in pre-1961 issues of La Nature.

Here, the pictures in the magazine have clearly been appropriated for fanciful and artistic rather than scientific purposes. Wonk is an author, teacher, and drama critic. Blake is a mixed-media artist. Inspired to make something new from something decidedly old, Wonk and Blake sought to create a picture book for adults, since, much to Wonk’s dismay, most contemporary books for adults entirely lack pictures. By contrast, nineteenth-century publications for both children and adults often contained illustrations as well as text.

A book holding a compilation of images from the old magazine found its way into Blake’s possession. Using carbon scissors and a scalpel, he cut from it those pictures he believed had the potential to form whimsical collages. For example, the cover shows a heavily bearded man floating in the air on a bicycle above an Egyptian sphynx. That is also the third collage inside. So meticulous and seamless are his cutting, fitting, and positioning of each component that a viewer who did not know otherwise might reasonably think that the resulting images started life in the pictures for which Blake used them.

Any skilled writer knows that, at times, pictures are more eloquent than words in their expression of ideas, and Wonk did not wish superfluous words to draw away attention from Blake’s magnificent artwork. Therefore, he supplies only short, witty captions below each one. Wonk seeks to emulate Blake’s aim toward whimsy, writing each caption as a reaction to the element of that feature he perceives in each collage. A prime example of this is the twelfth collage, which depicts two enormous protractors wielded by equally large hands and presumably of two different people. The protractors are captured drawing circles on white paper that also contains the magazine’s original title in what look like handwritten capital letters. Tongue-in-cheek, Wonk’s caption reads, “Bravo! A big hand!”

The title for the book originated with Wonk. Operating on the belief that Earth is the only planet compatible with life, he maintains that our solitude in outer space makes us lonely voyagers. Indeed, the caption beneath the twenty-second collage also declares, “We are lonely voyagers.” The accompanying artwork depicts an olden-day sailing ship on a journey, not at sea, but through outer space. The vessel is relatively tiny compared to the huge blackness of outer space that surrounds it.

This book is all about perspective, and the ship piece seems to denote the insignificance of human endeavor in the greater scheme of the cosmos. In another example of this theme, the twenty-sixth and final collage features eight climbers scaling a mountain in view of an oversized camera mounted on a tripod. The mountaineers appear miniscule. The camera, the peaks themselves, and even the sky dominate the collage. Perhaps this humorously ridicules or contradicts the theme, suggesting that human inventions are beginning to dominate their inventors.

Wonk and Blake's book came together as a large, flat volume printed on heavy archival paper to give it the look and feel of an art portfolio. It will almost certainly appeal to collage artists and enthusiasts and could fare well as a coffee table book. It may also endear itself to anyone who enjoys ridiculing any form of the status quo for any reason, as it normalizes the delightfully absurd. Those who love the nostalgia of hand-drawn pictures will revel in the new life breathed into antique prints. For any potential purchaser, this visual, media-intensive book is more of a must-see than a must-read.

A 2020 Eric Hoffer Book Award Category Finalist

Return to USR Home