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Just call me Norma

You see this is the trouble with saying ‘Yes’ in an uninhibited and reckless fashion. One minute it’s February and you’re a bit drunk and in a creative rut. The next it’s August and you’re at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont.

Maybe I needed a better question. Why didn’t you tell me to apply for America’s Got Talent? Jerks. I could be at Radio City Music Hall instead of the Hotel Coolidge, an old railway hotel from the 1880s. The hotel’s last renovation was in 1925 and very little seems to have changed since then, including the lobby full of creaky old women plying their ancient trade. Combine this with the smell of must and beige carpet in the bathroom and I could almost be back in my childhood home.



There have been a few furniture upgrades including this large sofa from circa 1975 when apparently a puffy pink vag was the inspiration for sofa designers everywhere. It should be noted that Erik posed for this photograph after I pointed out what it looks like.

The newest feature in the hotel seems to be our bathroom shower’s rotating shower head. It’s a shame that this Sinclair C5 of bathroom design didn’t receive wider acclaim though I suspect that the function of its hypnotic nature is to distract you from the weak water pressure. Although they are yet to submit a review on TripAdvisor, the Hotel Coolidge is apparently popular with bats. We were advised that if one gets into our room then we should just open the door so that it can get out. I was a little more concerned with how the bat (out of hell) would get into our room in the first place but this wasn’t covered.

Anyway, we are here to take a Graphic Novel Workshop. In graphic novel terms my pitch would be about the hero and his grumpy non-drawing sidekick who is reluctant to participate but through the course of the week she goes through a transformation and ends up learning a valuable lesson (though not how to draw). Fiction is far stranger than fact.

My favorite day so far was Monday. Morning. Specifically Monday between 9am and 11:30am. We made name cards and introduced ourselves. The afternoon went downhill a bit because we had to pitch our graphic novel idea and there was also homework. My worst nightmare, second only to finding a bat checking out our rotating shower head, is having to draw something. Really? On the first day? Yes, now take home this very large piece of paper and draw something that encapsulates your whole story and bring it with you tomorrow.

Sensibly I allowed this idea to percolate while Erik and I went to dinner and had a glass of wine. And of course I didn’t want to stay up too late on the first night, far better to wait until morning and approach it with fresh eyes. Tuesday 6am. Oh fuck I still have to draw something. Is it possible to trace clipart from a laptop?*

Perhaps my idea of not actually practising any drawing before coming here – so that I wouldn’t peak too early – wasn’t my best one. After lunch on Tuesday we’re all invited to pin our work onto the board and to gather around so that we can review and discuss each individual piece. I would sooner be chased along the Shining-style hallways of the Coolidge Hotel by a hypnotized bat. I pin mine up and do a quick scan of the other 14 pieces in the hope that someone will be only marginally more talented than me.**

The instructor walks us through each piece. What emotion is being conveyed? What is the feeling? What do you notice? The other drawings are rich with details, layered, lots to say about them. Stuff you see in actual proper comic books.

And then we come to mine.FullSizeRender2 ‘And whose is this?’ the teacher asks, perhaps wondering if one of the other students accidentally let their 5 year old child slip unnoticed into the class.

And they really tried to give me good feedback, but I didn’t exactly give them a lot to go on. Someone comments that it’s an interesting choice to show the characters from the back, that it shows there’s an air of mystery to the piece. Absolutely right and nothing to do with the fact that I cannot draw faces and expressions unless it’s in emoticon form. Would the mystery be heightened if one character was winking and the other frowning? The lack of background and other characters is also interesting, they all agree, gives it a dreamlike quality, which was exactly what I was going for and was not because it took me the full 3 hours before class to just draw this.

Break times are a little tricky. There’s lots of conversations going on about cartoons and animation and I start wishing I had actually paid attention when Erik was talking about Japanese animators. I get my Miyazaki mixed up with Miyake which can be awkward when you’re discussing the renowned designer’s spring collection when everyone else is talking about Spirited Away. And it’s even better when I get Mr Myagi confused with Mr Magoo. Fortunately the break area has a Keurig and a large bag of pretzel crisps so I’ve been able to keep myself entertained with ‘busy work’. I am the extra of the Graphic Novel Workshop.

Tonight (Tuesday) was Movie Night. Because of its very clear 3 Act structure we watched Sunset Boulevard which I haven’t seen in years. I realized just how long it had been when I heard Joe Gillis tell Norma Desmond “there’s nothing tragic about being 50. not unless you try to be 25.” Horrifying enough for me as I hurtle towards old age but then I looked at myself in my limited edition pink converse and and my denim skirt with the patch pockets and strategically placed rips and the jaunty trilby that I think looks oh so cool. Well hello Mr DeMille.

* No
** Not a chance

1 thought on “Just call me Norma”

  1. Glad to see Erik likes to get up in there! I actually think your drawing is quite good, but what do I know? I know what I know… your writing is excellent. Congratulations on branching out.

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