K came to the table and asked
Okay, do you have some time?
Indeed I did. KD told me he was an artist with a project that had stalled. The work was autobiographical in nature. I asked him to tell me about it.
K used to work as a caricaturist in the library of a major, major, majorly major animation company.
So, I can’t tell you what the animation company is but I can tell you that I was really good at my job. But the work environment is so, so crazy racist. It is from another era. Another age.
“The 50’s?” I asked.
but K corrected me
Nope. The 30’s!
K is black and pleasantly and artistically nerdycool. He said that he was targeted for unusual number of harassing reviews by his superiors. Because he was black and his colleagues were racist he didn’t have friends at work but complaints were lodged about him scurrilously about the way he acted at after work events with co-workers – which he never went to…because his co-workers were racist. He also hilariously said that many of his co-workers had been at the company for such a long time that some of them started to look like the characters they drew! Some of K’s tormentors looked like The Country Bears!
Anyway K got let go. He filed suit for wrongful termination and harrassment. It turned into a big thing with settlements and all sorts of legal drama that drove him to New York to seek a new career.
K tells this story with some flair. While all of us use hand gestures to tell stories K had some really wonderful devices. He would tug his ear when mentioning “listen to this” and while you and I might move an index finger from left to right while signifying movement… K made upward circling spirals. He intermittently popped his hands into little shapes that almost seemed like what you would make shadow puppets out of. It was not distracting but just wonderful and very unique.
Anyway, K has moved on professionally in many ways but he still found the experience at this big animation company to be very telling and funny and interesting.
I want to make a book out of this experience somehow. I can see the all the pictures – everyone of them! I have even drawn many of them. But I am an artist. I do pictures. Words aren’t my thing.
I ask if he has part of his portfolio with him and he showed me really amazing stylized pencil sketches. They have a sort of oldtimey Western flavor to them but still feel very modern. They are very stylish and clearly the guy can draw.
How do I write a book about this story of mine when I don’t write?
K, your images are so cool and arresting all to their own. Do you need words at all? Why do you think you need them? There are plenty of graphic novels that are brilliant but wordless.
K reveals that he has never read a comic book or a graphic novel – familiar with the form, of course…but never read one.
The names of three wordless books that tell complex stories were on the tip of my tongue but not coming…but I promised K that I would email them to him by the end of the day and that seeing them he would get moved. The image alone,in its wordlessness, can invoke some of our most powerful emotions.
But I told him about his hand gestures and how unique they were and that he had to use them as transitions from panel to panel in his book – he had to figure out how to translate his spirals and shadow puppets onto the page to lead the eye from point A to point B. K was getting excited because he started to see images getting strung together in a new way.
I insisted to him that he didn’t need to know exactly where he was going with the book but just to start – bring one brick, not the whole house…and see what he can build.
K was psyched. Later that evening I found the names of the books which I highly reccomend…
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selzick
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Allsburgh
A week later K stopped by and told me that he had looked at all the books I mentioned and was feeling totally inspired and that his drawings were flying out and he was excited to see where it would go.
A week after that K stopped by again to say that the bricks were being turned into a different house! While he is still working on the book the fact that he was working on it had him showing the work around and telling the story and he is now working with people who want to turn his story into a puppet musical based on his drawing style!
Amazing? So do you have any wordless books you reccomend? And why is it that sometimes words get in the way?
Do you need a creative approach to something you are stuck with in your life? email me at m@stillmansays dot com and set up a session.