Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Drawing Birdy

So I'm back at my drawing board this week. After a two month hiatus between thumbnailing my new Otto book and beginning the pencil roughs, I'm once again splashing about in the balmy waters of pencildom, happy as a duck.
As I was sketching out an early sequence in the book (shown below) I began thinking about this character Birdy and where she came from. Like authors, story illustrators find their affection growing for certain characters as they work them through, and for me Birdy is one of those. Motherly and kind, she brings our heroes in out of a nasty downpour and brews them up a nice cup of tea. They end up staying the night in her cozy little caboose in an abandoned railyard, and when they prepare to leave the next day, she is talked into joining them on their travels.
But where did this character Birdy come from? It was only when I was sketching her up for the third or fourth panel that it suddenly occurred to me she was a little old Scottish lady I ran into in England's Lake District. Thirty years ago.
The story goes like this. My partner of the time and I had just stepped off our bus in a small Cumbrian village, and were standing staring about, probably looking somewhat lost, when a little voice near my left elbow asked us where we were staying. I discovered the voice's source, a little old wizened gnome in rubber boots and Macintosh, with a load of firewood in her arms, and told her we had no idea. To which she answered, "Well, come along then," and turned and started hoofing it across a field. We grabbed our heavy packs and scrambled to keep up with her as she nimbly hopped over a downed fence, with no idea where she was taking us. Eventually we ended up at her B&B. 
It was along time ago, as I say, but my memory of her is still fresh as the day it happened — her mater-of-fact taking us under wing, the old saggy four poster bed heaped with comforters and replete with hot water bottle. And especially the mountain of food she piled up for us for breakfast. And I remember her telling us her story, how she was "brought South" by an English lad when she was a young girl, lured across the border by young love, by a husband who had had the audacity to up and die and leave her alone away from family.
And it was today that I realized that that is who Birdy is, that I'd drawn a tribute to a long-forgotten memory. But in this story, because it's mine to do with as I please, this time she goes home.

Otto and Crackers meet Birdy on a wet night. My unconcious tribute to
a little old Scottish lady I met thirty years ago.


  1. Hi Bill, I just love how this story from your past made it unconsciously into your graphic novel. It's wonderful to know the story behind the story. And it sounds like this one has a happier ending thanks to you. Can't wait to see your latest book!

  2. Thanks, Jovanna. Yes, it's strange how the subconcious works. All that stuff kicking around in there.