Monday, October 21, 2013

The Snark takes Manhattan

THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK by Lewis Carroll, a graphic novel by this artist and explained here, page by page, panel by panel, squiggle by squiggle … right now we're in Fit the Seventh … the Banker, played by Karl Marx, will soon discover that a certain pesky specter haunting Europe is none other than the dreaded Hindustani Bandersnatch!
The Snark Hunters' Express continues its wordless journey into the jungles of Fit the 7th and the inquiring reader is already growing impatient with all this 19th-century transportation technology put at the service of 19th-century Nonsense Verse by a 21st-century illustrator wallowing in his 20th-century obsessions. Sure, it looks cool but in the immortal words of Flakey Foont: what does it all mean?

Indeed! Ideas are the bane of the more fashionable modern hipster and most of 'em avoid that sort of thing like the plague. It's hard to have an idea and listen to one's iPod and update the world on one's various bodily eructations on Twitter, it simply cannot be done without incurring the risk of stopping to think. Especially if one has nothing to think about besides oneself and one's accessorized relationship to other consumer units.

But this illustrator is brimming with ideas, both visual and verbal. He keeps them in a mental swipe file which he can access at any moment by merely lying on a comfy sofa, having a really good cup of tea and then taking a nice nap. Whilst asleep, the thousands of books, paintings, sculptures, drawings and movies he's seen and read do their mysterious mojo thing inside his cinematically furnished mind and when he awakes, bingo! An idea is born!

Richard Muller (German, 1874-1952) “Miracle of Training”, 1911

Our drawing of a Snark Hunting train in the jungle was spawned by a vague visual memory I had, an image which I later discovered to be a drypoint by Richard Muller, an obscure yet quite talented German artist from Dresden. The basic idea of training something to do the impossible was the starting point that Muller furnished me; it led me to eventually depict the training of a train by a jungle homunculus magician, a personage which fit perfectly into the earlier depiction of the same homunculus-magician luring the train out his snake-charmer's basket.

Muller's style of German Symbolism was similar to that of the better-known Max Klinger and eventually this style would merge into what we call Surrealism. There is a subtle difference between the precursor and its more celebrated descendant: the former depicted the reality of dreams by using the reality of waking, while the latter was a far more ad hoc business which eventually trafficked mostly in solipsism and amateurism.

Young illustrators take note! The technical rigor of the Symbolists' training and their conceptual precision came from a careful study and understanding of all the arts, ie., they did not reject the past as un-hip nor did they wallow in self-expression without self-analysis and self-correction. This precursor of Surrealism is not only a rich vein to mine for ideas but more importantly, a perfect example of the usefulness of learning draftsmanship to better depict that which cannot be seen.

Zen-like, huh? But don't worry, most art directors today could care less about all this and in fact, you'll get more work doing the exact opposite of what I just recommended. Double-Plus Zen-like, dude!


NB. Last week's signing tour of NYC for the Adventure Time Encyclopaedia was a smash success for all concerned, both fans and artists. Besides getting to hobnob with Martin Olson and his daughter, the talented Celeste Moreno and all the great people at Abrams, this illustrator was able to parade his moustache all over Manhattan and Brooklyn without once being asked to autograph a pre-war Iraqi dinar …

From left to right: Mahendra Singh, Martin Olson, Celeste Moreno, Olivia Olson, Jessica DiCicco
Many thanks to the great folks at Forbidden Planet, who furnished us with a NYC-block's worth of Adventure Time fans … and also Bergen Street Comics, a venue which was so crammed with great comix that it was hard to leave.

Photo courtesy of Vida Shi
 And finally, imagine my delight when I discovered that three of the young people in the gargantuan ATE signing line at the NYCC were Snark Hunters! Yes, bona fide Snarkistas, brimming with good cheer and reeking ever so slightly of forks, hope, smiles and soap. They called themselves the Snarky Geeks and they made this somewhat jaded and semi-surly illustrator's heart soar! It's nice to know that even in the hurly-burly of the pop-culture world, there are still those who search for the Snark! The kids are all right!

In any case, the overwhelming success of the NYT-best-selling Adventure Time Encyclopaedia has changed this artist's life. Put the banana peels on ice, Mrs. Singh, tonight we dine on … soylent green!

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