Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Fantastic Mr. William Joyce

There are some days when my life seems truly blessed.  There are many reasons why I would choose not to live in NYC.  However, there are days when I'm really glad to be here, and this past Saturday was one of those days.

I was lucky enough to attend a book signing and talk with the author, illustrator, and filmmaker William Joyce at Books of Wonder in NYC.  I've written about this little gem of a store many times;   it continues to inspire me. Children's books authors and illustrators are my celebrities! If you haven't yet visited Joyce's website, please do so by clicking here.  You'll love it.

Joyce has written and illustrated many books, including the Guardians of Childhood series, comprising "The Man in the Moon," "Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King," and "E. Aster Bunnymand and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth's Core!" 

William Joyce, spread from "Man in the Moon"

His new picture book, where he teamed with illustrator Joe Bluhm, is called "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore." It--and the Oscar-winning animated short of the same title--was the subject of his talk.

Joyce spent the bulk of his time talking about life in Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He told an anecdote about how he observed children in the hurricane shelters, crammed with thousands of people who had lost their homes, who were able to lose themselves "in the bubble" of their imaginations when reading books that he had passed out to them.  This helped to inspire a portion of his book.  It begins when Morris Lessmore, his beloved books, and even the words on the page of the book he writes, blows away in a Wizard of Oz-style storm that upends his home and leaves him in a black and white world.  While no Wicked Witches were squashed below, below, below his home, and no yellow brick road appeared to show him the way, his wanderings led him to a young woman being carried aloft by books.  Flying books.  Flying books in color!  He followed one particular book, a flip-book animation of Humpty Dumpty, to an old house filled with these books.  Reading the books, getting immersed in a world of imagination, Morris turned to color after his world went black and white.  The house he lived in had no computer (like Joyce), no internet, no hand-held games, not even a Kindle. Just books. Books that gave color to his world.  And living there, he wrote his own book.  He lived among and in the books, took care of them, shared them with others, until he was an old man.  I won't give the ending away. 

Little did I know that we would also be able to view the movie with Joyce and his colleague, the movie's director Brandon Oldenburg, also of Moonbot Studios, in attendance.  It's a first for me: seeing an Oscar-winning film for the first time with the men who made it.  How inspiring!

Screening of "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore".  See Joyce at left.
Of course I got a copy of the book signed for my inspiration collection.  It's so great to be able to talk to the authors. 

He drew the egg with a pen for me, because I told him I am an illustrator.
I asked if it were nerdy to want to pose with the author. He replied, "Yes, but that's ok!" I own that one. I am a children's literature nerd.  Are you, too?  Don't be afraid to admit it.  Heck, embrace it! It means you have a verdant imagination and a healthy dose of innocence left.  Those two things are still in short supply.

Me and William Joyce. Amazing. Or, as my nephew would say, "Epicness!" Even cooler that a Trina S. Hyman and a Gennady Spirin book illustration are directly behind us. They are two of my favorites.
Even nerdier, but via proxy: here is my photo with a very accommodating Brandon Oldenburg. It's my geekfest photo for my little sister, an animation student at Rochester Institute of Technology.

Me and Brandon Oldenburg, posing with Joyce's "Dinosaur Bob"
 The moral of the story (of my day): keep dreaming and think big.  They thought and worked all the way to the Oscars, and won.  Thanks for a cool afternoon, Mr. Joyce, and a healthy dose of imagination.

Friday, August 3, 2012

As Ugly as a Hedgehog

The story of Hans-My-Hedgehog has been the subject of a few posts here: one, which shows the grown half-man half-hedgehog Hans riding astride his rooster as king of the forest, (click here); the other, which is a self-portrait with said rooster and hedgehog (click here). Here is my second installment of Hans-My-Hedgehog, though really, it would be the first following the story's narrative.

As always, the Brothers Grimm version is grim indeed, focusing on the horror of the story.  They look to the father instead of the mother. The father wishes for a son to help him in his old age, to be heir to his farm:

'Once upon a time there was a peasant who had money and land enough, but as rich as he was, there was still something missing from his happiness: He had no children with his wife. Often when he went to the city with the other peasants, they would mock him and ask him why he had no children. He finally became angry, and when he returned home, he said, "I will have a child, even if it is a hedgehog."  Then his wife had a baby, and the top half was a hedgehog and the bottom half a boy. When she saw the baby, she was horrified and said, "Now see what you have wished upon us!"
The man said, "It cannot be helped. The boy must be baptized, but we cannot ask anyone to be his godfather."  The woman said, "And the only name that we can give him is Hans-My-Hedgehog."'

But they miss the point of view of the mother; they did not understand that longing for a child that can run in a woman's blood.

Anthony Minghella's version comes closer to the truth:

'That woman wanted a bairn so bad she wouldn't care what she got.  If she had a hedgehog, she'd bring its snout to her breast...No sooner said than done, she got her wish. No time at all, she has her boy, little ball as ugly as sin with a pointed nose and sprouting hair everywhere, a hedgehog baby with quills as soft as feathers."

One of my favorite renditions of this scene is by an illustrator named Ina, whose subtly-rendered drawings are filled with loving detail (click here).  Ina shows the nursing mother with her gentle, beastly baby. 

What would it be like to finally have that much-desired child, even if it were as ugly as a hedgehog? Would a mother truly scorn that child and make it sleep behind the stove?  Or would the mother love that child as the darling of her heart, would she cuddle it and rock it and nurse it in the night? Would she heat milk for it and feed it to him and sing lullabies into his quills?  What would you do?  This is what I would do.

"Rocking the Hedgehog Baby" Pencil. copyright 2012 Jessica Boehman