Monday, July 30, 2012

K is for Kinbote

This week's entry for AlphaBooks is the amorphous co-hero/co-author(?) of Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire. Ostensibly, Kinbote provides academic analysis of a 999-line poem, also called "Pale Fire," written by his neighbor, John Shade, & included in the text. But the book is a curious knotwork of digressions, mysterious recollections, mistaken identities, unexpected connections, and misleading interjections-- it is utterly engrossing & often hilarious, but difficult to describe, & equally challenging to illustrate!

For a while I was completely puzzled over how to portray Kinbote. But then it dawned on me that, according to Kinbote, Shade's manuscript is written entirely on a series of index cards, so I decided to base the composition on 5 of these... I found some blank cards in an old recipe box, wrote out a few samples from the poem, & scanned, reduced & printed them. Then I scanned a page from the book, sketched out the face of Kinbote as I imagined him, & painted the features onto the cards in acrylics, then collaged the cards to the text in the shape of a "K," & mounted the whole on the cover of an old stenographer's notebook, ~6"x9".

Whew! I think this was my most complicated & time-consuming AlphaBooks character yet! But I do like the way the incomplete portrait echoes the uncertainty of Kinbote's identity, & the way the notebooks unraveling binding seems to continue K's beard...

p.s. While painting this I thoroughly enjoyed listening to an Audiobook version of Pale Fire, via Audible, narrated by Marc Vietor. I don't always like multi-voiced/deliberately-accented readings, but in this case it seemed quite appropriate, & well done. But I hasten to add that it's not a substitute for the printed version-- you will want to refer back & forth from poem to commentary, which isn't really possible in audio. What would be really amazing would be an iPad app with both text & audio, fully linked & annotated. Hear that, app developers? ;-)


  1. Amazing! I admire your larruping fabulous illustration. You are the Gold Standard of illustration. Every new something that comes out of your studio it becomes my new favorite. What a treat!

    Sorry for the deletion above. This keyboard does not read my mind :)

  2. On top of the aesthetic pleasure I get from your work, I get some great education. I love being introduced to books I haven't met yet. Thank you so much!

  3. LOVE this! Especially the clever & creative use of the index cards forming the letter K, and how it ties into the story. Another fascinating post, Leah!

  4. OOoooh, I love that audio/text app idea. And this piece is simply masterful. One of your best yet.