The Mouse Story
I Don’t know why I doodled the cat and mouse on the end page of the short Julian Barnes essay “Literary Executions,” why that duo instead of, say, a dog and sheep, or a dog and elephant—after all, no cats are mentioned in the essay. I can’t say why, but I’m willing to speculate.
The essay, collected in The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work, is about the burdens of being the literary executor for a friend of Julian Barnes, author Dodie Smith (Dear Octopus, Capture the Castle, The Hundred and One Dalmatians, etc.). One of his executor responsibilities involved deciding whether or not it was proper to sell reprint rights to Japan, given that in life Ms. Smith had objected to such a deal because she believed the Japanese had a fondness for dogs fried, baked and par-boiled. (According to the essay that report was untrue, it was actually the Chinese who savored canine meals.) Meanwhile, the only direct connection between my doodle and the essay was that the essay mentioned, in passing, that mice had chewed the corners off some of Ms. Smith’s manuscript pages. Might my doodle mouse be explaining to the cat why he did that? But why a cat? Why not have the mouse explain its misdeed to a dog, one of the potential victims mentioned in the essay?
My guess is that the cat has been sent to execute the mouse for chewing the manuscripts, and the clever mouse is telling Scheherazade-like stories while trying to figure out how to escape. (No, wait—that’s an idea I had years ago for a children’s book—one with which, as usual, I never got around to doing anything. So many “brilliant” ideas, so little time.)
“The Mouse Story” is the third in a series of occasional posts under the title Marginalia. In these posts I’ll display and comment upon a page scan from one of my personal library books, on which I’ve doodled and/or underlined—or, as some would claim, otherwise defaced, a scared text (to the true bibliophile all text is scared). These folks, shocked by the desecration, predict (and seem to wish), that I will suffer some vile punishment for my transgressions. Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.
(Click images to enlarge.)
Over fifteen years, I presented a one-hour program called “Cartooning for Kids” at libraries and schools in the Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia region. The target group,” as described in my promotional materials, was six to twelve year old children. During the same period, 1991-2006, I also offered extended workshops (three to fifteen hours) for groups of elementary, middle and high school students. An exercise I employed at the start of each of the older group’s workshops, and one that I found to be very effective for getting them involved in the program quickly, was to ask what basic shapes Walt Disney began with when he drew Mickey Mouse?
Not a tough pop quiz, nor was it intended to be. The kids always replied quickly, loudly and in unison, with cries of “circles!” At that point I would write the title: “Bad Mickey” in large cartoon letters on the chalkboard, or on my easel pad. The brief delay intrigued them, pulled them deeper into the program. Then I would go on to explain that we would use circles to make our own version of the famous mouse, but cartoon mouse that would give Walt nightmares if he were still alive. The one rule was this: We weren’t allowed to use “perfect” circles. Our circles—or ovals, or even shapes that wound up being rectangles—had to be stretched, bent, bloated, blown up, squished, squashed, smeared—anything, so long as they were distorted in some way, and the more grotesquely the better. (Very early-on in my teaching career I discovered that kids — especially teens — enjoy a bit of “edge” to their education.) These three sketchbook pages will give you an idea of the images that resulted when be began by using basic shapes that were themselves bent out of shape. Those unique proportion-shifting building blocks became a device to create cartoons that helped us claim “Bad Mickey” as our own creation.
Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.