Over the four score plus of my years, I’ve come to understand that I will never really know myself, certainly not the creature who stalks the calendar days, forever trying to catch himself fast and true in untrustworthy surfaces of reflection. Rather, I have learned, there is a mystery to embrace and find satisfaction in, especially in the seemingly disconnected visualizations of others, those trained to think with their eyes and those who fly blind at the challenge. I now present a stingy baker’s dozen of such renderings, from the many corners of my existence, a patchwork profile of the eternally elusive self, perhaps more illuminating in the memories they conjure than the formation of their lines.
A Mother’s View
This was drawn by my mother, during a camping trip, sometime in the early 1970s.
Having years earlier abandoned a career in art, in order to have and raise a family, it was a rare return to illustration for a very talented individual. I’m sure she cringed at the result, and only my forethought, at such an early age, allowed it to survive the nearly forty years that have since passed.
How to Hide Things
This was drawn by the master of the meticulous line, illustrator/cartoonist Jim Blanchard, back in the summer of 1996, in Ballard, Washington. Looking for a model to portray a suitably “skeevy” agent of public subterfuge, for a book by writer Dennis Fiery, to be printed by the inimitable Port Townsend publisher Loompanics, Jim wisely came to me, capturing my then-fashionable post-grunge, pre-meth self-presentation. That’s not to say I had a meth period, mind you. I didn’t. And didn’t need one. Being born with an inherently English mouth was quite enough to contend with when it came to the riches of dental adversity.
The Brain, Version 2
This brilliant little act of contoured efficiency was crafted by a good friend, while she was recovering from a serious brain aneurysm. Her essential motor skills having been all but abandoned by her cerebral control, she was in the process of regaining her ability to speak, and to walk. Being naturally right-handed, this was, I believe, drawn with her left hand, in an exercise designed to reacquaint the adjoined, but severely rattled, departments of her brain. I have to believe her extreme condition allowed her to capture something unique unto me – a wholly reflexive smile.
The Hulk and Me
Created in 1977, by my younger sister, this self-emblazoned cover to an issue of The Incredible Hulk (my favorite comic) was a gift, a sweet token of her appreciation for my having spent the better part of a week at home with her, helping her recover from a crippling bone condition, a result of abnormal growth spurts that forced her to endure multiple cortisone injections and crutches. My unusual position as home nurse was due to our mother being in England for her father’s funeral and our father having to travel on business. I would be lying to say my volunteering to miss a week of school was entirely philanthropic, but it nevertheless was a special time, one I can’t help but recall emotionally when looking at this charming, and clearly loving childhood drawing.
Captured by a Prolific Niece
This was one of many, many such renderings fashioned by my young niece during the late 1980s, during a spell living back in my parent’s house, trying to start myself on a rickety cartooning career, as well as unwittingly ending up helping to raise the prolific niece while her father was in Europe. It was a daily ritual, another drawing being slipped under the closed door of my basement studio, each a hint that I had promised to enact an impromptu art class with she and her friends before the day was done, something I almost always managed to do.
The Aching of a High School Heart
This pencil portrait was the work of a girl in my junior year art class, a girl whom I had a healthy crush on, but who, of course, I could never make privy to this secret information. It was an assignment in life portraiture, the subject and artist pairings being the purely random result of the art teacher’s arcane methodology. Coinciding with our class picture day, I sat there, as nervous as could be, quietly sweating in my borrowed corduroy jacket and shirt, watching the most beautiful girl in the world watching me with all the clinical indifference of a dentist reading an x-ray. That I was allowed to keep the drawing made it somehow even more bittersweet an experience. That I have kept it all these years, even more so.
Is That Really Me?
This was drawn by the young daughter of a girl I was dating, a child named after a popular series of children’s picture books, a girl with a keen proclivity for everything involving art and art supplies. I remember thinking “Is this who I am to her? Or to her mother?”, a flood of doubtful thinking that eventually led to the dissolution of the arrangement, and to my realization that I was deeply lost in the seemingly supernatural fog of depression. I still look at it and think “Was that me? Is that me?”
I Like How You Draw
This was given to me in the late 1980s, by one of my young niece’s friends, a boy who routinely roamed the neighborhood in a Superman cape, never appearing without it tied about his neck, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, as if he had been anointed its holding, something we mortals could only notice and admire. He was a nice kid, perhaps a bit needy at times, but what four year-old can be held responsible for that? He loved to draw as much as my niece, being her regular accomplice in softly pestering me for my attention. I ran into him on a visit back East, just last year, and had an interesting chat, not having seen him in nearly fifteen years, still finding the kid in his trusting eyes, wondering where the time goes. He told me of his new girlfriend and their plans to both attend a local college to study physical therapy. The next I heard of him, just some two weeks later, was to learn that he had died in an car accident. Life is strange, isn’t it? I suppose it is, but compared to what, I have to ask.
Upon Meeting a New Face
This quick sketch, on the blank side of a bar coaster, was drawn by artist/cartoonist Jason Miles, shortly after we’d first met, back in the early part of this new century. I remember cringing when I first caught sight of it, spinning it right side up to look at it worryingly, wondering if I truly looked as weathered and soiled as Jason’s deft lines so revealed. It reminded me of a bitter self-portrayal I’d once engineered, in a wisely-unpublished cartoon entitled “My Spiteful Little Bastard”. Having come to regard Jason as one of my true friends over the intervening years, I now recognize it as more a representation of his own deeply-introspective journey, as well as an early flickering light in his burgeoning expanse of talent.
Just Another North American Male
This illustration, by fellow Seattleite Ellen Forney, was part of her amusing visual contribution to The Field Guide to North American Males, published by Owlet Press, in 1997. Meant to portray the American Francophile (ever, it seems, the job of the Englishman), it entailed me posing in her apartment on a hot summer day, the pictured continental accessories slowly wilting in my tiring arms. I recall being very interested, and a bit nervous, to see how I was interpreted by a fellow cartoonist, in the city I had only recently adopted as my own.
Only in Portland, I Suppose
Finally, this devil-faced little etching was the handiwork of a young boy in Portland, Oregon, back in the mid 1980s. His parents, a pleasant hippie-ish couple, seemed quite oblivious to his frantic attempt at capturing the essence of me, as I sat across the coffee table, working on my own portrait of him, the air scented with the pot his father and I had inhaled only moments before under a lopsided basketball net. “I’m scared of devils, even though they aren’t real,” he claimed, capping his pen firmly, as if he were trapping all the world’s imaginary demons inside. “I just like to be scared – it’s fun.” I thought better of asking why he’d made me one of his seemingly impotent monsters, noticing that his mother was all but absent from the setting, locked behind the gauze scrim that fashioned her shadow puppet theater, a dark blur in the corner of my eye, her arms moving like a spider working its web.