Illustration &SpornFilms 06 Dec 2007 08:42 am

Blank Slates & Maps

- One of my favorites of my films is The Hunting of the Snark. I adapted this from Lewis Carroll’s poem. It was an enigma to the audience when it was first published – Carroll refused to explain its meaning, and it’s an enigma now.

I remember screening it with an audience of fifth graders – about 200 of them along with a number of their parents. The program, in Chicago, was part of a retrospective of some of th echildren’s films I’d done at the time. I made the decision to show the Snark, even though I wasn’t sure the audience would sit still for it.

The response was amazing. The adults, during the Q&A period, had a lot of questions. The kids had no problems. When, finally, one parent asked me what it was supposed to mean, I decided to turn it around. I asked if one of the kids could answer the question. A lot of kids raised their hands, and the first one gave me the appropriate answer.
A bunch of guys go hunting for a monster________This is how the map was illustrated by
that’ll make them disappear, and one of_________the original illustrator, Henry Holiday.
them catches it. For all intent and purposes
that IS what it’s about.

I love showing this film as part of my programs. It’s easy for me to discuss, and I’m proud of it. I don’t think most animators like it, but that doesn’t bother me.

During the story there’s one key part that all illustrators love to illustrate.

“Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank:
(So the crew would protest) “that he’s bought us the best–
A perfect and absolute blank!”

A blank page! What could be easier to illustrate? A couple of illustrators have cheated such as this map found on line:


Figure One: Bellman’s Blank Ocean Chart
Barry Smith at the University of Buffalo dept of Philosophy uses this map – a blank slate – to treat it as a map of heaven. Carroll was an Evangelical minister, but I’m confident this is not what he had in mind when he conjured up the lines in the poem.

Mehendra Singh has a website which is slowly illustrating the entire poem. His illustration for this passage appears to the right. This is part of his comment accompanying the illustration.

    Yet another shameless Magritte pastiche, and not the last one to grace these pages, I’ll wager. Shameless — the 10th Muse of Protosurrealism!

    Even more shameless — this insistence that the crew of the HMS Snark use the French language for navigational purposes when it is clearly evident to anyone who has ever been lost at sea that English is the natural language of confusion. This is easily verified. Stand on a streetcorner in any francophone city and ask a stranger: where am I? If necessary, pull at shirtsleeves and wave your arms, speak very slowly while pronouncing every phoneme at the utmost decibel level.

Singh has a curious and interesting site in its own right.
Let me encourage you to check it out for all the original illustration on it.

This is how Quentin Blake chose to illustrate it in his version. Since he obviously was nervous about just showing the blank map, he illustrated the Bellman holding it.

This is Ralph Steadman’s version. He went for the gold and just showed the map.
Yet, it’s still, obviously, a Steadman.

This is how I chose to depict it in my film. Showing hands and table behind it,
gave me the opportunity of trucking in to white to transition to the next scene –
an image of the sea, itself.

10 Responses to “Blank Slates & Maps”

  1. on 06 Dec 2007 at 10:35 am 1.mahendra singh said …

    Thank you for the very kind mention of my humble efforts to illustrate the Snark. I plan to do it all as a “graphic poem”, about 56 pages. I plan another year.
    I really enjoyed your description of the children’s reaction to your film, as opposed to the adult’s. The poem literally speaks for itself, as most good art does. The poem is, as the cliché goes, perfect for every age, which makes it a difficult sell in these niche-ridden times. Trying to sell my Snark to various publishers is proving far more difficult than I had hoped for. So it goes.
    I also would love to do an animated version of the Snark, in the style of Karl Zelman … if time permits!
    Love your blog, the illos/storyboards are so tasty!

  2. on 06 Dec 2007 at 10:51 am 2.Michael said …

    Mahendra, it was my pleasure recommending your site. Your illustrations are beautifully done, well thought out and nicely discussed by you. The Snark encourages intelligent thought behind any attempt to illustrate it, and it’s good fun to do. I think I concentrated my film version as much on aspects of Dodgson’s life as I did on Carroll’s words. Clever puzzles are easily developed.
    Keep up the good work.

  3. on 06 Dec 2007 at 11:56 am 3.Tim Rauch said …

    I was a HUGE fan of Lewis Carroll when I was a kid and definitely enjoyed the film. The dream sequences really stuck out to me, and I remember them being credited to a specific animator; who was that? I also thought there was some very funny stuff going on with the characters in the scene where they all first come together on the boat. It’s a peculiar story and I thought the film was very fittingly peculiar!

  4. on 06 Dec 2007 at 12:25 pm 4.Michael said …

    Bridget Thorne did the storyboard drawings for the two dream sequences. We took those drawings and put them on animation paper. Then I asked her to do a couple of inbtween positions for each drawing. I timed out those images with dissolves – animatic fashion – and scored it with effx & music.

  5. on 06 Dec 2007 at 3:35 pm 5.Tom Sito said …

    I still recall your story of trying to sell this film project to a producer who only wanted to make the Hobbitt into a rock opera!

  6. on 06 Dec 2007 at 3:42 pm 6.Doug H said …

    Michael, I’m delighted that you have given us more information about YOUR Hunting of the Snark. You may remember we corresponded about it some time ago. I very much agree with your comments about Mahendra’s contributions. He is bringing a whole new perpective to the hunt – and enjoys it!
    Thanks for your site, I visit every morning.

  7. on 06 Dec 2007 at 4:22 pm 7.Michael said …

    Yes, Doug, I certainly remember you. I had trouble finding other illustrations on hand. Most of my books are in storage. If you have any “Maps” you’d like to show, don’t hesitate to contribute. I love the Snark and like seeing it on my blog.

    I have a doc on Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poems that I did as a companion to the Snark, but it never made it to the dvd. I may put it on line sometime.

  8. on 07 Dec 2007 at 11:33 pm 8.Henry Lowengard said …

    If you’ve read other Carroll works, there’s another good map mentioned in Sylvie And Bruno (Part I or II – I don’t recall!) which is a map on a scale of 1 to 1.

  9. on 12 Dec 2007 at 9:48 am 9.Brian Sibley said …

    As a Carroll/Snark fan, I’d love to know where I can see the film…? You mention a DVD???

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