Give a detailed analysis of three double page spreads taken from Anthony Browne's Voices in the Park and discuss the different ways in which words and pictures come together to create meaning for the reader. Include discussion about Moebius's 'plate tectonics'.
There is a double page spread in Anthony Browne’s children’s picturebook Voices in the Park that exemplifies the postmodernist nature of this particular work. That spread, ironically, depicts the mother noticing her son has disappeared and shouting frantically for him. It is every parent’s nightmare scenario: the missing child, and Browne does not shy away from depicting the mother’s horrified response to her discover that Charles has disappeared, commenting that “you get some frightful types in the park these days.” In these panels, the reader, a child, is introduced to the dangers that lurk in the epitome of civilization, the public park. That Charles will reemerge safe and sound, albeit not before his mother spies him talking off in the distance to “a very rough-looking child,” does little to temper the panic that Browne initially unleashes. Indeed, the opening panels describe the family dog, Victoria (“our pedigree Labrador”) being chased off soon after arriving at the park by a “scruffy mongrel” that pursues the more refined, civilized dog relentlessly. Right at the start of Voices in the Park, we have been introduced to two frightening images: the expensive, loved family pet being assaulted by the canine personification of evil and the temporary disappearance of the young child discovered interacting with the juvenile personification of evil. And this is a children’s book.
Now, examine the introductory panels to “The Second Voice,” that of the forlorn father and his son Smudge – a name clearly intended to be contrasted with the more refined Charles. This family is decidedly less prosperous than the first family, or “first voice.” These panels, the second one wordless, is intended to illuminate the despondency and loneliness of this family. The second panel is silent, showing the father and daughter, Smudge, quietly walking up the street past a wall beyond which are the projects. Charles and his mother lived in a beautiful, large white house with the quintessential symbol of suburban bliss, the white picket fence. Smudge and her father inhabit the decrepit inner city projects. It is their “scruffy mongrel” that chases Victoria, a dog whose mere name bespeaks a certain elevated socioeconomic status. With these two sets of panels, Browne has drawn a strong contrast between elements of society, which he adroitly uses to illustrate the misjudgments and miscommunications that permeate humanity and that divide people. Voices in the Park presents the same events from multiple perspectives, a technique originally attributed to the late Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa in his 1950 film Rashomon.
As Browne’s story transitions to its “third voice,” the reader is presented with the child’s infinitely more innocent perspective, although the image of Charles walking through the park is presented with the threatening image of an adult’s shadow looming over him. This shadow, we know, is probably that of his mother, who is wearing a hat. The illustration, however, seems intended to evoke concern regarding the dangers that lurk within. (It is an image that looks like it was adapted from Fritz Lang’s 1931 silent film M, about a child murderer haunting Dusseldorf’s streets, a theme that would, unfortunately, fit.) It is the next two panels, however, that serve the author’s purpose of contrasting the frightened images of the mother and the despondent images of the father with the playfulness of the children. Charles and Smudge happily play together in the park. The first panel is captioned with Smudge asking Charles, “’Do you want to play on the slide?’ It was a girl, unfortunately, but I went anyway.” These children have not been inculcated with a visceral fear of the world that inhabits the minds of their parents.
The “fourth voice” is that of Smudge, and it fills out the story, as her perspective now takes center stage. It was Smudge, a harmless, sweet little girl, who Charles’ mother viewed from afar as a “very rough-looking child.” The adults make judgments based upon appearances, the children are not immune from that phenomenon, but are not hardened beyond redemption.
Moebius’s “plate tectonics” metaphor is widely applied to Voices in the Park. The story’s postmodernist, nonlinear narrative is illustrated with multi-layered, often surrealistic imagery that evokes numerous emotions, from fear to humor to depression. Moebius, of course, adapted his metaphor from the world of geology, in which the Earth was discovered to be composed, just beneath the surface, of multiple, constantly shifting plates that, when they overlap or collide, cause earthquakes and tsunamis. Browne’s illustrations and emotionally-charged narrative provide a good example of the metaphor’s application. Much occurs in many of his frames, from the haunting image of the shadow looming over Charles to the playfulness of a Santa Claus dancing across the frame while a couple from earlier centuries embrace, to the paintings, including da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, leaning against the wall past which Smudge and her father walk on their way to the park. There is much to notice in Browne’s pictures, and much of it is oriented more towards parents than to children. They are dynamic illustrations used to amplify the text, however, and, in that sense, are representative of Moebius’ comparison.