Commentary &Illustration &Independent Animation &repeated posts &SpornFilms 29 Dec 2011 06:49 am

Blank Maps – repeat

- 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 the children’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.

Doug H. in Australia responded to the material, above, with an e-mail full of other wonderful illustrations of the same part of the poem. I’d like to post some of these illustrations with many thanks to Doug. With respect to all of the illustrators, about half of whom
are unfamiliar names to me. They merit a good look.

___ Just scroll down. Click any image to enlarge a bit.)
1 2
______1. Frank Hinder (1989)_______________________2. Harold Jones (1975)
__ 3.__ 4.
______3. Michael Capozzola (2005)_________________4. Kelly Oechsli (1966)

5. John Lord (2006)




______6. Max Ernst ((1950) _______________________7. Jonathan Dixon (1992)

8. Helen Oxenbury (1970)

6 Responses to “Blank Maps – repeat”

  1. on 29 Dec 2011 at 12:34 pm 1.richard o'connor said …

    Liesje and I were just looking at the original “…Snark” in connection with a class I’m presenting in the Spring, your post has just saved me a few hours research.

    “The Hunting of the Snark” is one of my favorite short films, I’m surprised to hear that animators don’t gravitate towards (though, maybe I’m not). It’s pitch perfect to the poem, has a tremendous soundtrack and is beautifully produced throughout.

  2. on 29 Dec 2011 at 3:15 pm 2.Liesje said …

    What a pleasant surprise to see this on your blog today!

    I’m a bit of a Carroll fan and came across a wonderfully yellowed vintage copy of ‘The Annotated Snark’ a few years back. I’m sure you’re aware of it but in case you are not, you should check it out – there is a wonderful sketch Holiday did of the Boojum that Carroll dismissed claiming that the Snark was quite unimaginable the way he describes it and should remain thus.

    Holiday also has some beautiful stain glass work in a church up on East 88th street, some he considers his finest work. He’s no Tenniel but fantastic none-the-less.

  3. on 29 Dec 2011 at 3:16 pm 3.Ray Kosarin said …


    Like Richard, it amazes me that animators would not love this film. It’s without question my favorite film of yours, and that’s facing some pretty stiff competition. The film is as good an example as any animator could want of the power of animation.

    It actually reaches across the gap between cartoon animation and, not to be grandiose, existentialism.
    There aren’t a lot of animated films that know what to do with important existential or philosophical problems, or that ring anything new to good literature—which Carroll’s poem–even though it’s doggerel—-is.

    If doggerel is poetry’s popular ghetto, animation is similarly ghettoized in the world of film. That makes cartoon animation exactly the right medium for adapting Carroll’s Snark.

    The cast of characters who, in their world, are condemned to go through their voyage, and indeed their cartoon lives, as cartoon characters, do not take lightly questions of existence, survival, or the purpose of their voyage-—despite their having to live and behave as cartoons. The goofball moments—-the Jim Tyer style distortions,the hilarious Betty Boop voice of the Beaver–make the characters’ predicament only that much more horrifying.

    Seriousness and pompousness are not the same thing——even if they often get treated as if they are. Snark is both unapologetically a cartoon and a serious work. What better should we want from an animated film?

  4. on 29 Dec 2011 at 4:42 pm 4.Doug H said …

    Michael, I finally completed my original comments on yiour earlier postings with a complete article titled “A Perfect and Absolute Mystery” which is due to be published in the Lewis Carroll Society of North America (LCSNA) Journal, Kinght Letter, Volume II, Issue 17, Number 87. Interestingly, Mahendra Singh is now Editor of that publication and his book “The Hunting of t6he Snark” was published more than a year ago – details are on his website at
    I’ll organise a copy of my article for you when the publication comes out in a couple of weeks.
    Best wishes. Doug H.

  5. on 03 Jan 2012 at 2:48 pm 5.Elliot Cowan said …

    G’day Michael.
    The lovely Tove Jansson also did the Snark.
    Not as nice as her later work but lovely nonetheless.

  6. on 04 Sep 2013 at 10:54 pm 6.Michael Capozzola said …


    Thanks for including my humble pen & ink illustration of “The Hunting of the Snark” in your piece on the map.

    I drew that art as a b-day gift for a buddy of mine.
    He & I saw your film while attending Ithaca College.

    (I write a letter to you about the film in 96 or 97 and you very kindly mailed me a tape.

    FYI- I recently bought the DVD online.

    A note about the map in my art…
    I took a substantial liberty- and mostly as a private joke. I thought that with all that had gone askew with the voyage- WHAT if the map was not blank at all, but merely held from the wrong side. SO-The bellman sees nothing.

    Anyway- I am honored to see that my sketch was presented alongside such esteemed company.

    Michael Capozzola

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