Monday, March 7, 2011

Day 1: Start small

I thought I'd start this literary project off with a literary figure. This is Archy, and don't mind that he has the body of a cockroach; he's a firm believer in the transmigration of souls, because he was himself once a human free-verse poet. Now that he's a roach, his writing is accomplished by jumping on the keys of a typewriter, one at a time. He can't work the shift key, so there's no uppercase letters and not much in the way of punctuation, but that doesn't make it any less worth reading.
I'd like to see you try this.
What Archy has to say is often worth thinking about.

Archy was the creation of a man named Don Marquis, in 1916 when he was working for a newspaper in New York. He explained that he found the works of Archy sitting in the typewriter on his desk each morning, as long as he left a fresh sheet of paper in it. Through Archy he wrote some funny and insightful social commentary, and took us through a perspective on life from the bottom. Archy also wrote a lot about a cat he befriended, named Mehitabel, who lived a rough life but kept up a smile through her troubles.
I got my introduction to Archy and Mehitabel in a backwards kind of way, stumbling on them through the internet, which then got me to seek the stuff out in book form. This is the only book I have so far, a 1960 reprint of an edition that's been in circulation since 1927 and is apparently still being printed today, probably because everything Archy had to say is still relevant.
Archy surveying a night's work.

i do not see why men
should be so proud
insects have the more
ancient lineage
according to the scientists
insects were insects
when man was only
a burbling whatsit

hey boss this guy looks familiar
the bees got their
governmental system settled
millions of years ago
but the human race is still


Boy, are we ever.
The original illustration for Archy's newspaper column was a cockroachy bug with a big Salvador Dali style mustache, but later on the most popular and longest-used illustrations for Archy and Mehitabel were done by George Herriman, the same guy who created Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse. Yeah, Archy's only got two arms and two legs, and mostly he looks like a scuzzy little black jelly bean with a hat and some antennae. Still, it's the image most fans would associate with the character.

I made my 3-D version out of felt, wire, and paint, most of which I could reach without even getting out of the desk chair. I did most of the work on him at 3AM last night during a fit of insomnia, but that seems strangely appropriate, since he'd be writing those hours anyway. His head and body are hand sewn, face painted, and the wires for his arms and legs and antenna are just kind of jammed through the felt and stuffing. Each of those parts is one wire, and it allows for some good poseability, but he'd probably work better if I'd made a real full armature. The finished Archy is only two inches high, hat included, so I didn't feel like driving myself nuts trying it. He certainly came out flexible enough for some good photos. I may have gone overboard. I knew from the beginning I'd just have to lug out the typewriter for him to pose on, and I had to take two rounds of pictures because the first batch without the mini-tripod were crappy.
I'm pleased with how he came out, I guess he'll hang around the desk and be my mascot for the rest of the project.

You can learn more about Archy and Mehitabel, and read some of his other writings at the Don Marquis website, which also has some excellent links to more.

that was a lot to type exclamation point


  1. Heehee! Archy is cute :)
    Aside from the monospaced typewriter font, it's funny how modern the SHIFT-less text looks...

  2. Hunh, never thought of it that way. All his stuff in the books is typed all lower case and no punctuation, but after a few pages you kind of stop noticing.

  3. Yeah, it reminds me of how a lot of people type in chat or text messages. You do kinda get used to it and stop noticing until it's pointed out.

  4. I guess so, but for some reason spelling errors still jump out and grab me by the throat...

  5. Love this -- very fabulously written, Rey! (And, about the bees...they have a queen. 'Nough said.)

  6. Thanks! I wanted to write about the books themselves, not just what I make. It's an excuse to ramble, I guess...
    Queen bee! Looking forward to seeing it next time I'm out at the studio!