Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mr. Parrot Pockets

If Pluto’s a dog, what’s Goofy? It was this sort of question that should have plagued my generation growing up, but in all honesty, I think most of us just took all those anthropomorphic inconsistencies in stride. We all knew how it worked, the clothes made the man –er – dog –er –man/dog, and an unclothed animal was, well, clearly an animal. Speech balloons or the absence thereof sealed the deal.

It’s that sort of interior logic that allows an elephant to wander unnoticed in the streets of New York City. On first landing Otto obtains some stolen clothing from the unclaimed baggage area, and after that, clothed only in a fedora and trench coat, he is now mistaken for merely a largish human. At least by the less-than-curious occupants of a big city.

The parrot is taken at face value because we all know parrots can talk. So it’s a small leap of logic that allows Crackers to have a conversation with a bartender. And other animals can always recognize and communicate with one another, despite the presence or absence of clothes, because of the universal bond of animalhood. Or something like that.

Okay. So it doesn’t make sense. It’s why I love this medium called “comics”. The reader is a willing accomplice in a suspension of disbelief. But dubious logic aside, the real challenges in anthropomorphism from a cartoonist’s perspective are simply those created by an animal’s physical characteristics. Crackers’ wings transform relatively easily into large fingered hands when necessary, but Otto creates more problems. I mostly imagine him as a person in over-sized oven mitts (without thumbs) which allows him to grapple with most things. Catching cabs, (literally) blowing his nose, holding a bowl. I’ve even managed to squeeze a pointing finger out of him, but not easily. (Fortunately elephants are one of the few animals that walk the same as humans, not tippy-toed but flat-footed, so at least his knees bend the right way, anthropomorphically speaking!)

Parrot wings morph fairly easily into hands but the large saucer-like foot pads of Otto create challenges for  even the simplest gestures, like pointing.
Then there are the Alligari Boys, alligators so acclimatized to life in the big city that they have taken to wearing human clothes. Big Al has even elected to go for patent leather shoes! But again, although their claws are more easily adapted to being hand-like, I did run up against the problem of their arms being too stubby and low down on the body to easily reach their snout. Mostly not a problem other than when they’re shushing Otto, like the image below …
The stubby legs and long snouts of the alligators make hand to mouth gestures a bit tricky. It could only be managed by a hunching of the shoulders and getting the alligators to bend into the pose.
But it’s the inconsistencies around anthropomorphism that can be the most fun. Maps mysteriously appear and disappear in Cracker’s plumage, but when he pulls out a bill to pay the cabbie, Otto really takes notice. His realization that Crackers is carrying around cash leads to the following exchange, as jet lag and the frustration of their search for Georgie finally blows the top off their collaborative efforts.
The inked drawing for p. 52 of Big City Otto that I was working on this week. The bottom right panel is one of my favourites in the book, as Otto and Crackers square off eyeball to eyeball.

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