Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My brush with art.

One of the books I studied when I wanted to be a cartoonist was Drawing Cartoons (how do they come up with those snappy titles?) by regular Punch contributor and illustrator, the late Michael ffolkes. I liked it as much for the jokes as for the instruction.

(Noah is on his ark, looking across the choppy waters to a similar vessel, crammed with unicorns, minotaurs, centaurs, sphinxes, and other beasts of myth. Noah, shouting to the other boat's captain: "Personally, I don't think she's seaworthy.")

I later worked with ffolkes (not his real name) and discovered that he hadn't kept a copy of this book. So I gave him mine, getting an autographed cartoon collection in return, and then another in the mail a week later, because he'd clearly forgotten he'd given me the first.

I told him about my reaction to one example in the instruction book. A diminutive, weedy, apologetic man in Victorian clothes is walking along a street, but the shadow cast on the wall behind him is of a vast, threatening monster. A passer-by comments to his companion: "He's a master of the macabre."

"But you know who that was?" Michael asked, frowning.

I did by then, I assured him; but the point I was trying to make to him is that when I first read the book as a young teenager, the contrast between the unassuming expression of the strange, small man and his enormous shadow was enough to make the joke hilarious, a tribute to ffolkes's skills at capturing character. It was funny, even though I hadn't recognized the caricature of Edgar Allan Poe.

[Caption] "No, I'm quixotic. He's panzaesque."

I bought the original of one of Michael's Punch cartoons as a Christmas gift for my first wife. It featured two tortoises, withdrawn into their shells, with the caption: "I'll say sorry if you'll say sorry." Too late for that.

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