Remembering John Watkiss – A Creative Force in Wonderland and Beyond

January 21, 7 years ago the world lost an artistic genius, John Watkiss. John was not only a remarkable artist but also a cherished collaborator who helped bring the world of “The Looking Glass Wars” to life. As I reflect on the journey, we embarked upon together over two decades ago, I am reminded of his immense talent, his boundless creativity, and the lasting impact he had on the entertainment industry.

Hatter Madigan from "The Looking Glass Wars" throws a blade in a piece by artist John Watkiss.
Two Wonderland soldiers from "The Looking Glass Wars" march away from each other in a piece by artist John Watkiss.
Queen Redd from "The Looking Glass Wars" glowers from her throne in in a piece by artist John Watkiss.

John’s prowess extended into the realm of comics, where he left an indelible mark on iconic characters and series. His collaboration with me on “The Looking Glass Wars” was just one facet of his creative output. His work graced the covers and interiors of comics published by both DC and Marvel. His visual storytelling brought to life the adventures of Batman, Conan, Deadman, and Sandman, among others. His panels were a masterclass in composition, perspective, and emotion, immersing readers in rich and dynamic visual narratives.

One of my personal favorite paintings of John’s can be seen in Volume 11 of the book “Sparrow,” a testament to his ability to evoke emotion and depth through his art. His mastery of anatomy and his ability to capture the essence of characters in their most defining moments made his comic work truly stand out. He understood the nuances of facial expressions and body language, making each character’s journey even more engaging and relatable.

A woman in a black top, black gloves, and white skirt with black dots next to a woman sitting on a sofa in an evening gown in drawings by artist John Watkiss.

Our collaboration on “The Looking Glass Wars” was a testament to John’s unique talents. His visualizations of Wonderland, its inhabitants, and its machinery were nothing short of magical. With every stroke of his pen, he transported readers to a realm where imagination knew no bounds. His attention to detail and his knack for infusing each image with emotion and depth were unparalleled. Together, we crafted a world that was both captivating and visually stunning, including some concept art for the musical.

Deep columns of card soldiers from "The Looking Glass Wars" march with spears in a piece by artist John Watkiss.
The King and Queen of Hearts from "The Looking Glass Wars", wearing playing card ruffs, in a piece by artist John Watkiss.

John’s influence extended far beyond our collaboration and the world of comics. He left an indelible mark on the world of cinema, working with luminaries such as Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott. His contributions to projects like “Treasure Planet,” “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” and “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” showcased his versatility and his ability to seamlessly blend realism with the fantastical. His work enhanced the storytelling of these films, making them all the more immersive and memorable.

Tarzan creeps through the jungle, faces a jaguar, and confronts hunters in three panels by artist John Watkiss from concept art for the 1999 Disney animated film "Tarzan".

DreamWorks, Disney, and countless other studios were fortunate to have John’s artistic prowess grace their projects. His involvement in films like “Tarzan”, Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Homes”, “The Prince of Egypt”, and “Mulan” demonstrated his knack for infusing animated worlds with depth and authenticity. John’s mastery of anatomy, lighting, and composition made every frame he touched a work of art, leaving an everlasting impact on the animation industry.

Conan holds a sword and axe while looking at dead bodies below him while a woman kneels by his side in a piece by artist John Watkiss.
Two young people confront a reanimated skeleton with a giant skeleton head looming over them in a piece by artist John Watkiss from the cover art for the comic "Deadman 5".

John’s artistic contributions were not limited to the silver screen or the pages of comics. He was a renowned educator, sharing his knowledge and passion for anatomy with countless aspiring artists. His influence continues to ripple through the generations of creators he inspired and guided.

Sherlock Holmes holds a smoking pistol with the letters "V" and "R" in bullet holes on the wall behind him in a piece by the artist John Watkiss from the storyboards for the 2009 Guy Ritchie film "Sherlock Holmes".

As we remember John Watkiss, let us cherish the legacy he leaves behind. His imagination knew no bounds, and his dedication to his craft was unwavering. He brought wonder and awe to everything he touched, leaving an undeniable mark on the worlds of literature, film, comics, and art.

Rest in peace, dear John. Your spirit will forever live on in the beauty you created and the lives you touched.

With profound sadness and gratitude,

Frank Beddor

Musical Artists Inspired By Alice in Wonderland

For decades, our beloved Alice has no longer lived only on the page. Artists across the disciplines have taken her story and used it to more artfully tell their own. The universality of Alice’s message has been expressed in many forms, particularly by musicians, singers and songwriters.

Something about the poetry of music allows artists to explore new and expressive interpretations of her traditional, classic tale. So, let’s explore seven different music artists who have put their own unique spin on Alice’s story, and have even created a brand-new meaning all together. 


A person with a pill in her mouth, wearing a rabbit mask, reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. From the music video for the Natalia Kills song: "Wonderland".

English singer-songwriter, Teddy Sinclair, also known by her stage name, Natalia Kills, released a pop ode to Alice in 2011, titled ‘Wonderland.’ In her song, she lists all of the classic fairytale princesses we all know and some of us love. From Snow White to Cinderella, she rejects each one in turn. She doesn’t need pretty glass heels or a knight to save her; she is not your typical damsel in distress. “I don’t believe in fairytales,” she chants. Instead, she asks for a trip to Wonderland.

Alice’s story can be interpreted as a fairytale, but definitely not an average one. It does not follow the known formula of the Disney princess. Come to think of it, the story doesn’t really follow a formula at all. Which is perhaps a huge part of its appeal. Alice’s story is a beacon for those incapable of trudging the beaten path. She is the perfect Alternative Princess.


Avril Lavigne, sitting in a black dress around some trees. She is wearing playing card suit socks, reminiscent of Alice In Wonderland. From the Avril Lavigne song: "Alice".

On a similar note, the Pop-Punk Queen herself, Avril Lavigne, released her own nod to Alice in 2010, titled (you guessed it) ‘Alice.’ This emotional ballad is filled with all the angst and maelstrom that endears Lavigne to teenage girls everywhere.

In this song, she is lost, afraid, and in need of stability. Her fear and confusion can be felt as she sings, “Is this real?/ Is this pretend?” She seems to find hope again in the idea of Wonderland. She continues, “I found myself in Wonderland/ Got back on my feet again.” She has found her way despite difficulty. The song ends with strength and self-assuredness. Lavigne is a survivor, and so is Alice. 


A circus tent and ferris wheel and roller coaster in the rain. From pop duo: Neoni, this is the cover art for their album: "Wars in a Wonderland".

Next, we see a different perspective on Wonderland. Neoni, a pop duo formed in 2013, released their own ‘Wonderland’ in 2021. The song seems to be sung from the perspective of Wonderland itself, or its residents. This is a unique spin, given that the focal point of the story is usually from Alice’s point of view.

A powerful line of the song reads, “This is Wonderland, where all your dreams come true/ You gotta go get yours before they come get you.” It sounds like there are two sides to this coin; a realized dream that can easily be taken away. To me, this translates to the sometimes opportunistic nature of the entertainment industry, in which these artists are forced to operate. It sounds as if they take pride in their ability to navigate the array of wily characters they face. 


A group of people in Walrus costumes. Album cover of The Beatles 1967 album: "Magical Mystery Tour". Drawing. paralells between Alice in Wonderland and their songs: "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds", and "I am the Walrus", by John Lennon.

Speaking of wily characters, this unsung hero (or villain) from Wonderland is the star of John Lennon’s 1967 song, ‘I am the Walrus.’ Lewis Carroll’s cautionary tale of the Walrus and the Carpenter, it seemed, resulted in The Beatles’ psychedelic classic. In some way, Lennon identified with the Walrus. “I am he as you are he as you are me,” he sings. But… what exactly does he mean? Was it an allegory on capitalism? Is there religious symbolism involved? Did Lennon just really like oysters? With this song, who really knows? 

Some more ambiguous lyrics can be found in his ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ of the same year. But I sense a strong tie to our Alice. She could easily have been the “girl with kaleidoscope eyes” that Lennon references throughout the song. The lyrics follow a similar trajectory as Alice’s descent into Wonderland; the imagery grows stranger as the song goes on. “Cellophane flowers of yellow and green/ Towering over your head” and something about rocking horse people eating pie. With its zany imagery, the setting could very well be Wonderland, and Lewis Carroll’s writing could easily have been the inspiration for this fantastical piece. 


Lady Gaga ddressed in pink Frankenstein garmets and hair, un a black circular background, like the rabbit hole in Lewis Carrolll's Alice in Wonderland. Cover art for her single, "Alice - Take Me to Wonderland".

Lady Gaga’s ‘Alice,’ released in 2020, seems to have a much more straightforward message. “My name isn’t Alice/ But I’ll keep looking for Wonderland,” she chants throughout the dance-worthy pop song. In these lyrics and their repetition, we hear her ache for the nonsensical simplicity of Wonderland, a place without rules. A place where she can be a child again. A place where she can put her rational mind away, and lose herself in the innocent lawlessness of Wonderland.

I would venture to say we were all feeling a bit like this at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, when this song was released. Alice’s adventure once again proves a perfect escape from the trials of a sometimes harsh reality. 


A group of people sitting at a table with food and flowers, dressed like characters from Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Red Queen, Mad Hatter and Alice Liddell, herself.  For the rapper, Dax and hiis song: "Searching for a Reason".

Alice’s story does not have to be told through the lyrics of a song in order to share its message. Dax, a Canadian rapper, released a song in 2021 titled “Searching for a Reason,” the lyrics of which have arguably nothing to do with Alice or Wonderland. Which is why it is even more interesting that the song’s music video is filled with references to the story.

The lyrics “I’m surrounded by so many fakes, I stopped counting/ No gravity, but I’m still grounded,” play in the background as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum taunt the singer. The rest of the video follows suit with Wonderland characters and set pieces. The video is the perfect representation of visual storytelling. Alice’s story is so universal that the song’s lyrics do not need to explicitly mention her, but they can still relate to her adventure, and ours.


Rock band: Shinedown's album cover for The Sound of Madnesss, featuring the Alice in Wonderland-themed song: "Her Name is Alice". 
Black background with 4 white bird shapes and white lettering. Looking Glass Wars Author, Frank Beddor gives us this expert's take. by Marissa Armstrong.

Lastly, we have perhaps the most ambiguous lyrics yet. Shinedown’s ‘Her Name is Alice’ is a perfect example of artist – and audience – interpretation. The song tells the story of a girl like Alice. A girl that is innocent, who views the world through her own eyes, and creates her own reality. The tone of the song is equal parts sad and sweet, mournful and longing. It perfectly captures the melancholy of nostalgia, the pain of growing up while trying to hold onto a part of one’s innocence. Which is what Alice’s tale is all about.

Whether you are a fan of pop hits or more alternative gems, Alice’s story can be found anywhere. She brings people together now just as she always has. Differences in age, gender and background cease to matter as we all find a little of ourselves in her. What other story can claim such a vast and universal message?

Meet The Author:

Marissa Armstrong is a Los Angeles native and currently a student at Arizona State University, where she majors in Film and English. Her brand of dark comedy stems from an appreciation of both the light and the dark in humanity. It is her purpose to use her storytelling wiles to celebrate all things tragically hilarious. Or hilariously tragic.