Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Arthurian Alphabooks: L is for Lancelot, late [hors série]

My drawing for L—an obvious choice of Sir Lancelot—is over a week late, and my M drawing is not even begun; so my apologies to Isaac for mucking up the blog's alphabetical continuity, though he can attest that I did draw my original attempts at Lancelot several days before the deadline. Too bad they were L for lousy—so unsatisfactory that I took a while to come up with an alternative, and in doing so I broke one of my own unofficial constraints for this project, so the image above is presented hors série. It's a cartoony version of Lancelot as portrayed by John Cleese in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (on my DVD copy of MP&HG, which begins with an abortive short about dentistry, the pose crops up about 22:09 into the film, with Lancelot toward the left of the screen as part of Arthur's retinue shortly before they are accosted by God Almighty).

The rules I'm breaking here have to do with my interest through this project to discover what images of Arthurian characters I may harbor that are not consciously derived from specific prior visual interpretations—other artists' drawings or actors' faces, mostly. Where possible, I've also tried to follow the visual cues provided textually in whatever single work of Arthuriana I have taken as my reference for a given character, even in a given moment. (My first bad attempts at Lancelot were based on a description of the young man prior to his dubbing to knighthood—not yet the mature lover or seasoned fighter, but that's where the fullest physical description of him that I know of him could be found in the Old French Prose Lancelot.)

Here, I'm not only relying on someone else's image of Lancelot, but on an image born in a visual medium to begin with—no Arthurian book to speak of! (Unless, of course, one accepts "The Book of the Film" as a book; and it is glimpsed very shortly before the scene where I paused my DVD for the sketch. See also Isaac's earlier ripostes to the sort of pedantic literalism about Alphabooks that in part defines my book-centric approach.)

Incidentally, one of the current Alphabooks images—an M drawing—is also Arthurian, though it is of course not one of my drawings (it's by Axel Medellin, and I recommend his Achilles and his Illustrated Man, as well!). It's another obvious, even necessary choice—M is for Merlin—and I'm glad to see Merlin get some attention there since he will not be featured in my Arthurian alphabet here. And yet, the purist in me is a bit disappointed, because while the drawing is technically excellent, it is presented as a portrait of Merlin as featured in Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur—yet it shows him with an owl perched on his shoulder. Malory nowhere associates an owl with Merlin, whereas Merlin's familiar owl Archimedes is indeed familiar from the first part of T. H. White's The Once and Future King (and its Disney adaptation, The Sword in the Stone); indeed, the cover of my paperback edition of The Once and Future King prominently features an owl, probably Archimedes himself, swooping toward the famous sword while knights and ladies are relegated to the background. (Meanwhile, for an Alphabooks drawing of Archimedes by Sarah Pittman, see here!)

For the record, I should note that I like Axel Medellin's image of a kind of catchall Merlin, drawing on a variety of widely recognized wizardy motifs; but I don't like seeing it presented as Malory's Merlin, whose appearance is a lot harder to pin down (since Malory never really describes Merlin outright, save when Merlin is disguised as someone other than himself!). Just compare Burne-Jones's famous painting The Beguiling of Merlin for an effective image where the wizard has no beard or staff or owl—but he does have the languid yet haunted expression of a man who is resigned to be buried alive because he is so "besotted" with love for Nimue/Ninian/Vivian.

(Then again, I may just be touchy about the Alphabooks image of Merlin because for a long time I had a professional interest in staying on top of the details of literary Arthuriana, and whether or not Merlin has a familiar owl seems to me like a matter of some importance. By contrast, it didn't at all bother me to see Axel Medellin's futuristic take on Homer's Achilles, and I don't think that's just because the artist copped to its being "a very, very free interpretation.")


Isaac said...

Looks like I owe you a present, Mike-O! (Though of course Sir Bedivere might have been even more fun to draw.)

I think there's a lot to like about this drawing: it's recognizable as "Cleese as Lancelot" without being a caricature per se, it's got a nice sort of loose cartooniness (what I think of as "Mikeness") that a lot of your other Arthurbooks posts have been missing, and it's got a sort of solidity of form that I like. (Lancelot really looks like he's there.)

Would it be churlish for me to point out what seems to be an inking error (or perhaps an odd one-sleeved tabard) over there on Lance's left shoulder? Of course I would never do something so churlish.

Really, to me, this seems like a return to form (and a return to fun). Does it feel that way to you?

Mike said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Isaac! And it would be far from churlish for you to point out the omission of the mail sleeve. I actually had noticed it myself after posting to Alphabooks, but just didn't get around to fixing it! (I already had the one image scanned, and it was just easier to leave the remainder of the arming as an exercise for the viewer.)

I think it was indeed more fun to draw this Cleesey Lancelot than some of the other drawings. It was surprisingly involved in the pencil stages, though: I sketched this a lot larger than you might think, and kept tweaking the very loose pencils with more reference to the DVD still on zoom. But the *inking* was very quick--that's probably where the "Mikeness" really came out, in the ink stage.

Stuart Kerrigan said...


Would it be ok for me to use your wonderful Lancelot illustration on a pdf of my own... to wit -