Friday, May 25, 2012

Alphabooksbeasts: A is for archy

Okay, first of all, I officially retract that image of Aslan that I posted late Sunday night. I'm going to need to draw from Narnia later in my Alphabooks alphabet, and I wasn't too happy with the way Aslan turned out anyway.

 Actually, as it turns out, A is for archy, the free-verse poet reincarnated as a cockroach who cavorted on the keyboard of Don Marquis starting in 1916 (about seven years before e. e. cummings's first book, if you're keeping track of poets with odd typographical habits).

Maybe you've never heard of this poetical cockroach, but I first encountered him when I was a mere tyke, in a Time-Life book about insects and spiders that excerpted "archy declares war." (archy never uses capital letters, because while he is jumping around the typewriter he is unable to push down the shift key at the same time as a letter key. Kids, ask your grandparents about the medieval technology I'm talking about.)

I don't still have that book, and I haven't been able to determine for sure, but I think that same poem may have given me my first glimpse of the cartooning of George Herriman.

(I'm pretty sure this particular image did not appear in the book I had; I borrowed it from this blog post.)

You can get archy with Herriman cartoons here.

When I finally did see Krazy Kat during my undergrad days, maybe archy had to some extent made me ready for what I was going to see. For that, I thank the Time-Life company, I suppose.

I didn't want to try to ape Herriman for this drawing, though, in part because I'm planning to visit him later in the alphabet, but mainly because I know enough entomology (and have spent enough time with cockroaches) that I wanted to aim for a little more fidelity to the actual critter form. Here are some preliminary doodles.

I gave him boots in one drawing because I figured he'd need a little extra weight to get those typewriter keys to budge. They looked silly, though, so I gave him some leather shoes instead. The next doodle was pretty close to what I wound up with for pencils. In some ways, as usual, I like the sketch better than the finished inks: more energy, and a sort of scruffy quality that seems right for a cockroach.

If you're wondering what rules led me to pick and then reject Aslan, here are my personal guidelines for the AlphaBooks project:

1. I'm planning to do two alphabets this time, one of which will consist entirely of Donjon characters
2. For my other alphabet, as with Alphabeasts, I'm going to draw twenty-six characters from twenty-six different sources
3. None of my characters will be human beings. (Mostly they're animals. This is because I have been enjoying drawing creatures for the first two alphabet projects, and because my skills as a caricaturist are really still too minimal to be honed by a project like this.) 
4. That said, they'll all still be characters—that is, they'll have personalities that go beyond their natural animal qualities. (There may be an automaton or two in the list, but even they will be distinctive individuals.)

I've got the alphabet all planned out now (at last!), and I'm psyched to get drawing. Next week, we'll meet a little chimp, and not the one who spent time with the fortieth president.


Curious Art said...

Oh, I love archy!!!! I remember that book with such great fondness. What a letterific start for your alphabet!

Mike said...

I can't believe you didn't encounter Krazy Kat until your undergrad days. A deprived childhood, I say!

Fine cartoon, by the way (but I told you as much off-blog already!).