Saturday, February 20, 2010

Illustrations for Oscar Wilde's "The Selfish Giant"

UPDATE: You can just skip over these first three paragraphs if you like. And the fourth one as well.

Yes, that's what you would be seeing here...if I hadn't created the paintings using the Painter Classic program that came bundled with my cheapie Wacom tablet ten years ago, saved them in the proprietary .RIF format, and then had the 1999-vintage computer (running Windows 95) crash, taking the program with it.

So. The files are on my computer, recovered with great effort and some expense, first by my friend who built me this computer and transferred all my files from the old one, and then by the folks at Best Buy who had to recover this computer when I stumbled into a nest of vipers one day and had my new computer hit - hard - by several viruses at once. But they are inaccessible, as inaccessible as all the old homemade cards that were made in another proprietary format on another now-lost program. (Literally; I don't know where that disc is.)

Maybe I can locate the old tablet installation disc, and maybe I can convince Windows XP to allow me to install both the tablet and the Painter program. If that happens, I'll grab all those old RIF files and save them as BMPs or JPGs or whatever.

UPDATE: It took less than half an hour to locate and run the two discs that contained the installation programs for the Wacom tablet and the add-ons, including Corel Painter Classic. It then took another hour to figure out why Painter Classic kept telling me "Not enough memory to run Painter." (Turns out that too much virtual memory is as bad as too little, as far as this program is concerned; I temporarily cut my virtual memory in half and it works just fine.)

Perhaps the game was not worth the candle, though. These paintings...well, I was in my earliest days of playing around with this program, and I was aiming for something cartoonish, maybe even Muppet-ish, and I was mixing media - crayon, pastels, oils, watercolors - in a way that would be almost unthinkable (and probably unworkable) in the bricks-and-mortar world. Worse, the paintings were not really based on any textual passages (but see below), but more on my memory of the story, which I first experienced as a cartoon as a young child (see below) and later as an illustrated book at the office of Dr. Abbot, my Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor (that used to be a specialty, you know) who served mainly as my eye doctor, prescribing and dispensing my glasses and, later, contact lenses from third grade all the way through the end of High School. (He retired after that.)

Another note: The dates on these paintings indicated that they were created in late September, 2001 - in the weeks that came after the world changed forever, at least the world that some of us knew. My thoughts were turned towards family, and my young and as-yet-unborn nephews, and I was immersing myself in things that seemed important and worthwhile, all while swimming in an environment of shock and horror and grief and rage. I don't know how much that informed what I was doing, but I think it's in there somewhere.

This one is called "The Selfish Giant Alone." It doesn't really have a place in the story. I think it comes after this passage:
He had been to visit his friend the Cornish ogre, and had stayed with him for seven years. After the seven years were over he had said all that he had to say, for his conversation was limited, and he determined to return to his own castle.
(That sword looks bent, dammit.)

The problem is, the next picture - "The Selfish Giant Returns" - is an illustration for the sentence that immediately precedes that one:
One day the Giant came back.

It's meant to look imposing, frightening, an angry giant seen from a trespassing child's perspective, cast in silhouette by the sun. But at the same time it looks silly: a big angry giant with a sword* strapped to his back, wearing a short skirt.

And now "The Selfish Giant Revealed" - which would be an illustration for the very next paragraph. Two paragraphs, five sentences, three illustrations. Here we see the giant as more Muppet-like than the previous illustrations suggested, with ping-pong ball eyes and a wide gash of a mouth, big ears, a bushy mop of hair, sideburns, and knee breeches. Notice that the grass has grown midway to his knees in the seven years he's been away.

But that was it. I never did any additional illustrations for this story.

For those unfamiliar with this story, here's a link to Project Gutenberg's version of The Happy Prince and Other Tales by Oscar Wilde. Read them all. He was an amazing guy who wrote amazing stories.

BONUS: YouTube user TheLittleDevil has posted the old cartoon online in three parts.
The Selfish Giant - Part 1
The Selfish Giant - Part 2
(The personifications of Frost, Snow, The North Wind, Hail, and Autumn have stuck with me for my entire life.)
The Selfish Giant - Part 3 (It's missing the very last sentence at the end of the story, which is a real gutpunch. Read the story and see for yourself!)

*The sword, at least, is canon. From near the end of the story:
"Who hath dared to wound thee?" cried the Giant; "tell me, that I may take my big sword and slay him."

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