Friday, November 28, 2008

Quentin Blake Speaks!

As you may or may not have noticed, I've changed up the side links a bit. I've also added "Look/See" - which is a splapdash compilation of art and illustration links.

I don't know why I never looked for Quentin Blake's official site before, but it's terrific. There is a part of his site called Fossicking. (I guess it's an original Quentin Blake word for fossils/relics?) He picks something lesser-known from his 60-year-long portfolio and shares it.

What's even better, though, is that he includes an audio track(!!!) and speaks his notes (or in today's case, reads from the book he's illustrated). I would even understand if Blake had no website - he is successful enough not to need one. However, to go ahead and create one, and then go above and beyond the call by adding audio? Audio on an illustrator's site? This is truly a surprising and delightful way to create a presence on the internet.

(Thanks to the Graphic Bandit for 1/2 the sites on the Look/See list.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I have so many blog posts to finish and research and post. I have stories to write and revise and polish and send. I have magazines to research and courses to consider. I'm not doing any of it at the moment, but since I won't write and do want to post something, here is a photo. It more or less describes where I'm at anyhow. Neither up nor down.

It's an escalator at a subway station in Manhattan.

And yes, that does make it superior to the escalators here. So there.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

1001 Nights of Storytelling

1001 Friday Nights of Storytelling this Friday will be hosted by Dan Yashinsky and the stories will be thematically linked to music in honour of St.Cecilia's day.

Can you think of any stories about music off the top of your head? I can't.

Back When Toronto Inspired Illustrations

So the other day I went to my depilatrix and as always, while she yanks out my hair, we chat. She has terrific stories and this time she told me all about her husband's dream, which was truly fantastic. I won't re-tell it here. There was nothing naughty about it, but it's not my story to tell. Anyhow, the dream-story reminded me of Robert Munsch's story, Jonathan Cleaned Up - Then He Heard a Sound or Blackberry Subway Jam.

I re-read my little Annikins version today. (Annikins are and were mini-books "small enough to fit into tiny hands and pockets".)

The story remains terrific and the illustrations by Michael Martchenko are as light and charming as ever.

What surprised me, though, is the amount of nostalgia packed into the book that has nothing to do with the story. It is a fourth edition, printed in 1982. Annick Press, the publisher, was based in Toronto. They were distributed by Firefly Press (still are) - but it was a different time when the distributor's phone number was printed on the back inside cover.

The subway on the front of the book is the old red TTC train that was just being phased out when my family moved to Canada. The streetcar outside City Hall is also an old red car and City Hall itself (in the book) is the one at Bay and Queen - now known as Old City Hall. I would link to photos of old streetcars, but I can't find any. If you're not from Toronto and don't recognize the transit system or the City Hall, it won't matter. The only thing that may date the book for you is the "big shining computer machine" that Jonathan discovers at City Hall. Martchenko's illustration of it with rows and rows of reel-to-reel tape decks is a little quaint.

None of this, however, affects the story. It's still a funny story where moms want living rooms to stay neat, and bureaucrats spend $10 million on things that don't work. The story, 27 years old, remains delightful.

I have also discovered that you can download audio files of Robert Munsch telling stories for free from his website. So you can hear the whole story right now! But you may as well order the Annikin book too. It's only $1.50, and the illustrations are well worth it. Buy a whole bunch and distribute them to children - all those Christmas toy drives are coming up soon!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

RIP: Michael Crichton

I did not read Michael Crichton's books, but I'm still shocked and saddened that he's gone.

I'm surprised it took me two days to hear about it.

The one thing I remember about him is what my grade 11 biology teacher told me, which is that Michael Crichton (like my bio teacher) dropped out of med school to pursue writing (and one of his books is about his med-school experience).

According to his official biography on his webpage, this is totally false. He did graduate med school. In fact, his biography is full of over-accomplishment.

But his well-roundedness - in both the sciences and the art/craft of writing is inspiring.

The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair

Cows of all colours? Fowls of all feathers? Giant pumpkins and sheaves of wheat? Yes, yes, and yes! And don't forget the Horse Show and the Super Dogs!

The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair starts tomorrow and I'm excited!

I may go tomorrow if I feel like braving the weekend crowds, or I may go on a weekday evening.

What's the allure? Besides my delusion that I would have made a good pioneer or frontierswoman (blame Laura and Black Creek Pioneer Village), it's a good way to remember how much work goes into feeding you. (And who doesn't need to look at those furry Clydesdale hooves at least once a year?)

I keep one pair of "mucky boots" for just this occasion, as after a visit to the Fair, my boots smell like manure forever.

If you're in the area, you should go!

This post will be much much more convincing once I fill it with cow photos.

More Childhood Books: Encyclopedia Brown

I loved Encyclopedia Brown growing up.

He was a good kid. Smarter than the grown-ups, unafraid of bullies, and his best friend was a girl. Actually, I forgot that his best friend was a girl till I re-read one of the books last night. The mysteries hold up well (and I even remembered some of the solutions - not solved, but remembered from when I was nine or twelveor whatever). The dialogue is a little dated, but that's a positive rather than a negative. The metaphors are funny; the sarcasm child-like and not obnoxious.

This part shocked me however:
On Tuesday, business was slow all morning till Elmo Thomas came in.
"Mothers," he grumbled. "They don't understand kids."
"That's no way to talk," protested Encyclopedia.
Sure, as children, we often feel our parents' decisions are unfair, but Encyclopedia's defence of parents and grown-ups in general is so rare, that it made me pause and re-read the dialogue - and notice how mild Elmo's complaint is. (Compare it to the way child 'sass' has been depicted in books, tv shows, and film since the 80s).

Philip Pullman has said that it's easiest to write a kid's story with an orphan as the protagonist, because parents just get in the way. I think he's right, and it's something that most writers intuit quite quickly (unless the parents are part of the story, or must be there to provide a safe haven for the end). When a child is the hero of the story, parents are usually absent (negligent/deceased/ill/in a parallel world):

  • Sarah in "A Little Princess" - orphan
  • Mary in "The Secret Garden" - orphan
  • Lyra in "The Golden Compass" - orphan in the sense that her parents are not her guardians nor are they known to her
  • Will in "The Subtle Knife" - only child to an ill single mother and long-lost father - in modern child psychology, Will would be considered "parentified"
  • Huckleberry Finn - under guardianship of Widow Douglas and then later escaping a neglectful alcoholic father
  • Harry Potter - perhaps the most famous children's lit orphan of our time
  • Pippi Longstockings - living alone with her horse and her monkey; father lost at sea
There are many more that escape me now.

I guess I'm so familiar with a children's lit character having no parents, that I found Encyclopedia's respect for grown-ups incredibly sweet and startling.

The Encyclopedia Brown books are written by Donald J. Sobol and have been in print since the late '60s.

Addendum: How did I forget Oliver Twist?!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de la Porciúncula

One of the more interesting opinions I've read about Los Angeles is here at BLDGBLOG, an architectural blog by Geoff Manaugh.

I don't disagree with him either. The irony is that you have a city that "doesn't care" what you do, populated by people in entertainment, who are all desperate to have you care.

325 days of sunshine a year can only stave off certain kinds of depression.

Library Thing?

I don't know what Library Thing is, but I'll find out and report back.

Fake Digital Camera, Real Life

The camera I have is old and crappy, so I do not carry it around. Also, I do not exactly know where it is at the moment.

Here are the photos I would've taken today to show you, however:

A co-worker dressed in a suit with a drawn-on moustache, with a semi-filled dress hanging off her and a balloon attached to the dress (for a head); life-sized colour photocopies of Cloris Leachman stuck on the balloon. She was Dancing with the Stars! Awesome.

Two Asian guys in the elevator tonight dressed as giant Mah-Jong tiles (using boxes they decorated themselves).

Two seeing-eye golden retrievers curled up together like a big challa bread under the table at Tim Hortons.

Girl running out of cab into condo dressed as "sexy" (aka skanky) police officer in short shorts and thigh-high stockings; running, because in that space between the cab and the condo, she's not so much "costumed" as just "outside in lingerie"! (All those who are reading this with a guilty raise of the eyebrows can refrain from the comments section, thanks!)

I, like Benny Cooperman, usually go to my parents' house for Shabbat dinner, but today I stayed home.

While I have pushed (procrastinated) revisions on the first novel, I have been writing short stories and reading too many mysteries (pulp, really). (More on that in a future post.)

I've deconstructed a Spenser novel in the past few days, and tonight I ended up at Tim Horton's and broke my story. I thought I had already broken my story, but my last two ideas did not hold water. (Perhaps story-breaking is more a screen-writing term; I mean hammered out an outline. More or less.) I think this one's good, but I'll have to wait and see how it looks in the morning light. It's so sad when you go to bed a genius and wake up a hack.

I hope you had a tremendous Hallowe'en. I stupidly scheduled a dentist appointment for Monday. Who goes to have their teeth checked after a weekend of (day-after, on sale) candy?