school photo, grade oneThe first project I ever worked on was multi-disciplinary. My teacher asked me and the rest of my classmates to start by cutting up a worksheet containing shapes called Tangrams. According to the legend, a Chinese tilemaker named Tan was walking and dropped a ceramic square. Much to his surprise, the tile broke into perfect shapes, mostly triangles and squares, and in trying to reassemble it he found he was able to create the likenesses of innumerable creatures. Children worldwide have used these as a creative starting point for centuries, and I was no different.
The first creature I discovered in the shapes was a hulking, cow-like creature, most likely inspired by the cattle that lived in abundance in rural Wisconsin. My memories of walking through barns and seeing the giant, bulging eyes of milk-cows are vivid, for as I child I was taken aback. I named it MeMeMoMo Monster, most likely a reference to the sound "mooo."
Next came the Luper, an insect resembling a bee, likely named after bugs I'd seen looping circles in the air around lights at night. A second face apparently evolved on his abdomen to fool predators away from his head. By this point I had made some clear choices regarding cohesive design elements. My concern doesn't appear to be using all the specific pieces once so much as using the shapes as stencils to repeat patterns. Likely, the corners were inspired by Nabisco. Already, corporate advertising had succeeded in influencing my worldview. An arrow is placed around the names of both animals, helping the viewer to identify the subject.
The third and final creature I created does not seem to derive it's influence from any creature on this planet. I called it "Remulum." My imagination had stepped in, and I was tasting an early creative impulse, inventing my own ideas spontaneously. At this point, I dropped the scientific arrow based labeling technique, placing the specimen instead on a pedestal with a respectable plaque.
Our next assignment regarding this project was to write a story about the pictures we had made. I invented a planet called MOKIE DOKIE.
the following text has been edited for spelling. Click the image to see the real writing enlarged.
"Mokie Dokie is a faraway distant planet. There are strange creatures there. For instance the flying creature MeMeMoMo Monster. I will tell you the story about him. One day Tan went walking. Then the creature swooped down and ate him. Mokie Dokie is the most faraway planet ever. There are strange languages. MeMeMoMo Monster means strange creature of the past. Tan means son of earth. Mokie Dokie has more creatures. Like Kneelameek. He's a spider."
"Kneelameek means strange creature of the past. His worst problem is having too many legs. There is also Meedeefeeleeree three legged creature. The Gamulam means alive still. The Looper means strange bug of the past. Ramulum means big mouthed creature. Reeekrener means flying creature. His worst problem is being too long. The renamed Croycron was named differently from any other creature so he was renamed. The End."
I find the references the these creatures "worst problems" to be quite funny, when viewed in terms of their triviality, yet quite dramatic if equated to the differences between creatures on our planet. If a similar story had been told about the planet earth and one human-like creature's worst problem was stated as having too dark of skin, the connotations change. It could be possible that too many legs, or being too long on Mokie Dokie meant serious discrimination. Somehow my young mind had already noted that the world was filled with problems, and that all people have them to some degree. I believe a good deal of this influence came from a Dr. Suess movie that my parents had shown at my brother's birthday party that same year, on a movie projector they had checked out from the public library.
Here is the short film. It was called "Sneetches".
The conclusion, I remember it vividly.
The final part of the project was to make a cover, and I mine shows an early preference for tactile fabrication. The MeMeMoMo Monster evolves into a Tyranosaurus-like beast, opening his mouth to swallow the entire planet of Mokie Dokie. Tan, already eaten at this point, is pointed to inside the monster's throat. Mokie Dokie, like the images I drew of the creatures that reside there, is framed with triangle corners. Certain elements are 3-dimensional, and unfortunately, some parts have been damaged or lost. My worst problem was using too much glue.
When the books were completed, they were put into the school library. Two people checked it out in 1983, my earliest, truest fans. If they're out there, I'd like to thank them for believing in me when nobody else knew I existed.
My worst problem these days is being an artist.