Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Animated Conversation

The following excerpt is from Animated Conversation by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Colin Campbell books in May 2009

Mark drew caricatures in Stanley Park.

For the price of a nice lunch Mark sketched pictures of tourists visiting Canada for the day via cruise ships. Older men and little boys were transformed into amusingly stoic mounties sitting majestically on their steeds. Couples became nose snuggling Eskimos cuddling on drifting ice flows while pink hearts floated over their heads like snowflakes.

Mark finished the drawing of a little girl from Germany. Her tiny head was now huge with a wide toothy grin and her miniature body paddled in a canoe. In the background were beavers and totem poles.

Her father paid and the girls giggled. Mark looked at the stragglers that had watched the sketch. Often just seeing the cartooning was entertainment enough and nobody stepped up to make the next purchase.

“Anyone else?” asked Mark, surveying the onlookers.

“I’ll go.” Said a young man and he sat in Mark’s folding chair.

He was old enough to grow a beard if he wanted to. The right side of his face had a heavy 5 o’clock shadow even though it was only 11 am.

The left side of his face was tragically burned. The skin had bubbled and scarred like a fleshy Panini. The upper left side of his lip was pulled back in a toothy snarl. He head was spotted with burned patches of skin like crop circles.

“I’m from Vancouver, “ He said “ So you don’t have to put in all the Canadian references, but I am a huge Canuck fan if you want to work with that.”

His lidless glass eye stared at Mark.

“Sure” Mark’s voice cracked.

Mark sharpened his pencils in preparation. This was done in actuality to buy him some time while determining how to approach this.

The goal of a caricature is to exaggerate a person’s features until there is a comical effect.

This guy didn’t need any feature exaggerated. They already overshadowed every part of his life. Every relationship. Every encounter. Every time he came into view of another human being.
Mark drew the outline on his head on the page, a large oval like an upside down egg. His hands shook a bit.

The key to caricature is to keep everything good natured. Don’t exploit every feature on the face. Draw attention to the features they the subject is already comfortable with. Make the pleasant smile wider and happier. Make the eyes brighter and sparkling with a blinging diamond.
Don’t blow up that mole like a basketball. Don’t paint those teeth in traffic slowing yellow.

Don’t be mean.

But there were no safe features here to focus on.

The closest that Mark ever came to this was a British tourist with a nose of Cyrano de Bergerac proportions. Not knowing what else to do Mark reduced the nose by about 20% and dropped it from an eagle perch to a budgie perch.

“He even drew the schnozz.” Laughed the Brit, unaware of how generous Mark had been.

Mark began the draw the young man’s preserved features on the right side of his head. Each one was a preview of the awkwardness to come when he began the left side of his head. He drew a sloppy comic strip ear with a dangling earlobe while thinking about the charred nub of gristle lurking on the left side.

Mark thought back to the caricature class he took at the community college shortly after the animation studio laid him off.

“What do I do when we have to draw really ugly people.” Asked a student with more forethought than Mark.

“Lie” said the instructor “Visually lie.”

But there was no lie he could draw here without erasing the young man’s head.

The onlookers began to shuffle away, embarrassed.

The park was quiet. A Stellar’s Jay laughed.

“So, ” said Mark and cleared his throat “you were in some sort of an accident.”

“No.” He said.

Jesus, the denial is so deep, thought Mark, should I draw anything at all.

“It was no accident, I tried to kill myself. I set myself on fire” Said the young man.

“Good God! Why?” Mark asked it before he had time to consider if this was rude to ask.

“Who knows?” He said. He smiled with his mangled grin.” I broke up with some girl I didn’t belong with and failed out of some program I didn’t belong in.”

“Fair enough.” Said mark. He finished the head with minimal burn tissue sketched. The poor guy didn’t need to be kicked while he was down.

“Anyway,” he continued “It seems so pointless now. That stuff was so meaningless. I used to take everything so serious. Almost killed me. It’s actually kind of funny that I cared about that shit. It’s all so funny. I didn’t even know what real troubles were. I don’t take much serious anymore. It’s all funny now.”

“Good way to live,” said Mark “I started cartooning after dropping out of art school, trying to be a serious artist. I wore a lot of black then.”

The young guy laughed. Drool fell down his lipless chin. “The sad part is now that I found the humour in stuff, everyone treats me so serious. People are afraid to laugh around me."

Mark looked at the caricature he drew.

The injuries were subtle and subdued. It was less of a caricature and more of a respectful portrait.

He drew a flare of yellow and orange flames burning off the top of the young man’s head.
In the background he drew a fire truck full of Keystone Cops style fireman rushing to the scene and two boy scouts held marshmallows on sticks ready for roasting.

“I love it!” He shouted. He grinned as wide as his tight scarred mouth would allow.

Post Script: I don't know what this is but it seems like someone translated this excerpt into another language and then back into English and then posted it on their blog.

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