Many Canadian men who’ve played ice hockey will tell you there’s just something about skating down the wing with a cold breeze off the ice in your long flowing hair, and a slight tickle in your man whiskers, which has made professional ice hockey players from the 1970s somewhat of a golden era of Canadiana. The game of ice hockey, and the fashion of longer, bigger hair, and facial hair in the 1970s, were a perfect marriage. I delved into some old hockey cards I had collected in an attempt to identify some visual qualities that could be tied in with hockey from that era, here are some of my findings. I was also excited to find that researching the aesthetics of vintage hockey cards on the internet provided little to no results.
Some funky designs I scanned from the 60’s and 70’s:
some quality hockey mustaches I found:
some vintage player helmets, its hard to imagine some of these helping:
Upon re-reading The Hockey Sweater written by Roch Carrier and illustrated by Sheldon Cohen, I was immediately reminded of why this children’s book is considered one of the greatest example of Canadian children’s literature to date. On a personal level, it genuinely provided me an intense feeling of nostalgia, as I vividly remember the first time I heard it read by our elementary school librarian at story time. It was originally published in french in 1979 under the title “Une abominable feuille d’érable sur la glace” and then re-released in english, as “The Hockey Sweater“in 1984.
Even with the story based in rural Quebec in 1946, a very unique location with respect to Canadian culture, this is a timeless, unifying tale, rare in Canadian literature, as every child and adult who grew up in this country, regardless of the province they lived in or their first language, can relate to it on multiple levels. More importantly, this remains as true today in 2015 as it did back in 1979 when it was first published. Within a country as large and diverse as Canada, promoting and maintaining a strong national identity can be very challenging so stories like this, which bring us together, deserve to be cherished.
Perhaps its greatest achievement is how the story subtly identifies important aspects of Canadian culture; the prominence of ice hockey as our national game, the large role of religion in society, growing up through hard winters, and most notably, the relationship between English-speaking Canada and French-speaking Canada. According to Carrier, he created this story as part of his reaction to Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, and the growing Quebecois movement for the province to separate from Canada in the 1970s.
Legend has it that the story book was also in part born to an Interview Carrier had agreed to do for the CBC. Carrier who had achieved success recently with both French and English Canadians, was asked to try and explain to the English speaking population of Canada what the Quebecois’s reason was for wanting to separate. He had reportedly worked on what to say for weeks but was not happy with anything he had written, so in an attempt to dodge the topic to a certain extent and fill the time slot of the interview he told stories of his childhood in Saint-Justine, Quebec, and the obsession he and his friends had with the Montreal Canadiens and their star player, Maurice ‘The Rocket’ Richard, this was what eventually turned into The Hockey Sweater story.
Definitely ironic how such a classic of Canadian literature, perhaps best known children’s book across the country for promoting a national identity, was born out of the author’s reluctance to address the most polarizing topic in Canadian culture; the relationship between English-speaking Canada and French-speaking Canada. However, as great authors of fiction often do, Carrier expressed his position in a subtle yet effective way through this celebrated children’s story, with Canadian culture being the beneficiary.
A year after publication the NFB brought it to life in an animated short called “The Sweater” it was named the Best Animated Film at the 1981 British Academy Film Awards.
I came across this flyer the other day at my kitchen table, I believe it fell out of a newspaper. I was unfamiliar with the product, although I had ordered a custom Christmas sweater online earlier in the month so the existence of custom storybooks did not strike me as odd. As I drank my coffee I pondered some of the interesting questions this product raises regarding identity in the storybooks. The books appear to drop the child’s name and picture throughout the story, as though the child was always meant to be there, which would seem to raise some serious questions regarding bias.
As discussed in my earlier blog entitled Early observations on identity, ethics, and Zambia children like to be able to identify with the characters in books they are reading. This raises an interesting question of what happens to the psyche of a child when the find themselves arbitrarily dropped into a book and story-line that is at odds with their culture? Does it bring about feelings of inclusion or heighten feelings of non-inclusion?
Perhaps the stories are carefully selected to minimize factors regarding culture, but seeing Barbie on the flyer cover leads me to think that is possibly not the case. So I’m left me wondering how these “insert name here” books deal with this issue. Presumably they get requests from children from all walks of life. Do the pictures and topics in these books reflect the full range of this variation?
image was delivered to residence [end of Nov, 2015]
Jon Klassen is a children’s book author/illustrator and animator renowned around the world for having woven the clever tales of “I Want my Hat Back” (2011) and “This is Not My Hat”(2012) which follows the same narrative as the 2011 work and was the recipient of both the American Caldecott Medal and the British Kate Greenaway Medal for children’s book illustration. Klassen has illustrated and written a number of other award winning children’s books, and also worked as a concept artist on animated feature films such as Kung Fu Panda and Coraline.
Around my house though Klassen is primarily known by my son and I for the first two books mentioned above; affectionately known as the teddy and fishy books, which feature both a bear and fish as lead characters. These books have entertained my son since we first read them around his first birthday, and still captivate him today, weeks before his third birthday. They are undoubtedly two of his favorites, and if I had to speculate on why that is I would suggest it’s both the simplicity and beauty of the art style, in conjunction with the simplicity and beauty of the storyline which uses repetition to introduce the reader to a number of different animals and fish respectively.
The story in both books revolves around the concept of stealing a hat, which I’ve observed my son relate to from the age of one when we first read “I want my hat back” (2011) . My son seemed to acknowledge that the hat had been taken by a character who did not own it, which seemed to fill him with empathy for the owner , and disdain for the taker. This book seemed to play to his early grappling with the concept of possession. It was a cold winter at the time we read it, and my son was very aware he had his own hat, that was put on regularly for keeping him warm when we went outside. I suppose in warmer climates children might draw similar parallels for hats that protect them from the sun.
Although I wasn’t aware of it when we read the books initially, I later came to know Klassen for a number of other reasons. I was surprised to find out I had traveled down many similar life paths to Klassen. He had grown up primarily in the Niagara region as I had, he had studied animation and graduated from Sheridan College in 2005 as I had (Klassen from the classical program, and myself from the 3D program) and we had both spent the majority of our professional careers working in the animation industry in the United States.
Klassen’s and Daniel Rodriguez’s student film from Sheridan College
Inspired to find out the illustrator and writer of the books my son and I had enjoyed had a local twist, I read up on Klassen’s career and came across this quote of his from Illustration Mundo (2008)
As an animator I was familiar with this sentiment, in the fact that working on larger projects can often take a long time to produce. In my experience, I would add that these bigger projects often involve large numbers of artists working together sometimes doing very specific tasks (ie. just facial animation).
While this process lends itself very nicely to the efficiency of production, it can also have the bi-product of making the artist feel to a certain extent like a cog in the machine. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but one of the aspects that drew me to animation was its ability to serve as an avenue for creativity and personal expression, which was an aspect I often felt disconnected from on larger projects.
Jon’s comments in the quote above along with a 2014 interview he did for the Globe and Mail would seem to express his fondness for the freedom that comes from working as a children’s book illustrator in contrast to the rules that are often tied to the workflow in the animation industry.
In part, similar sentiment has lead me to pursue this masters in illustration.
In the interview below Jon talks in detail about his experience writing, illustrating and publishing his books.
I thought he made two very insightful points, in regards to writing the books.
First was that although he is a more experienced illustrator and relies heavily on the illustrations to help carry the story. Initially he finds he has to be able to read it through without pictures and enjoy the story by itself.
Secondly he seems to indicate that unless an idea for a story comes almost as quickly as you would read it, it’s not a tight idea. He talks about how the entire story can be changed in five minutes and that this is both a plus and a negative for the writer. Reading into this I feel what he might be trying to say is that when writing a story for children’s picture books, if you have to think too hard about telling the story, the truth and simplicity of the message may be lost on them. I find this to be a particularly revealing piece of advice.
Below Klassen demonstrates a sample of his process and technique while working in Photoshop. He builds many of his elements using traditional mediums and scans them to be assembled digitally. It’s interesting to note the way in which he seems to draw directly with selections as opposed to painting masks.
Below is a link to a blog covering a great interview with Jon on general life and his work process.
It may seem odd to be beginning a blog post exploring Canadian identity through illustrated children’s books with a photo of my mother and I taking the family car for a drive in the countryside outside Lusaka, Zambia, the warm African country where I lived as a child. Zambia is not far off the equator, and most likely very far off what one might consider while contemplating the Canadian environment and culture. I begin this post in Zambia as one of the first thoughts I had regarding my research, was that in order to define what might make a children’s book distinctly Canadian, there would be merit in exploring imagery and culture that Continue reading “Early observations on identity, ethics, and Zambia”
I wanted to test out how adding images worked in word press, and thought this might be a fitting image to use… Its an illustration I came across recently done by Jessica Borutski a fabulous Canadian animator, living and working in the United States, an experience which could be a blog post here all on its own! so maybe I’ll come back to that later… Anyways up and running!
I’ve recently begun a masters in Illustration at the University of Hertfordshire which I’m very excited about, and also a little terrified by as I work full-time and have a 2 year old son who means the world to me, and with whom I try to spend every possible second with. The masters is an endeavor I’ve wanted to take on for some time now, and although the circumstances dictate that I have to do a lot of the work alone and in the wee hours of the morning, its a journey I’m very glad to have begun.
As I begin writing this post I think of a television commercial I watched recently for The Hudson Bay Company (a Canadian Department store) which featured one of the company’s most famous sons; David Thompson, climbing the Rocky mountains, and looking rugged. Mr Thompson was many things to many people, most notably: map maker, surveyor, fur trader, astronomer, revolutionary, explorer and epic adventurer! He is most renowned for having mapped more of North America than anyone else, which he accomplished by horseback, canoe, dog sled and on foot. He traveled some 90,000 kilometres, (is this how I should spell it in Canada?) equivalent to circling the globe twice, and mapped some 3.9 million square kilometres of wilderness, quite the undertaking! He is also well respected for having contributed to Canada’s development as an independent nation. As I write this post I wonder how he felt as he started his journey, and walked his first kilometre, was he as excited as I am right now? and how did he feel when he walked his 90,000 kilometre? was he overcome with emotion and joy at what he had accomplished? or just plain tired… He accomplished things most of us could never dream of, but yet it started with one step, so I’m left wondering how far this journey will take me?
I come to writing this first blog post, with that thought, and having spent the last 4 weeks consumed by selecting a topic (and subsequent keyword) that I’d feel comfortable dedicating the next 2 years of my life to… a chilling thought! I’ve spent most of the last 15 years working as an animator, so its been a while since I’ve done much writing or research, but I had hoped that I would have a “eureka moment” which would make picking the topic easy. Alas I did not. I guess I shouldn’t be to surprised when one of the main reasons I signed up for this masters, was the hope that I would discover direction for my own work as an artist. Well there have been numerous nights recently where I’ve begun developing ideas for my topic around 9 in the evening after a long days work, and worked till 3 in the morning thinking I was finally getting somewhere, only to throw the idea in the garbage (Canadian word?) go to bed setting my alarm for 6, defeated, and getting ready to do it all over again the next day. With that thought in mind, going back to David Thompson for a second, I wonder how he felt around his 900th kilometre? did he ever spend hours or days portaging through mosquito ridden swamps and forests, or paddling into headwinds across lakes only to realize he had left his compass back on the other side? (I’m guessing that was fairly important to him!) Maybe some of you reading this now have shared similar experiences researching your topic, spending way more time trying to decide where you should focus your energy than you thought you should, but hoping to get the result right in the end. In my experience putting the time into the idea up front has usually been worthwhile and pays off in the long run, will it here? I don’t know, only time will tell I guess… But I do know that when I see other topic’s and themes that fellow students and illustrators have dedicated their time and in some cases lives to, I think Wow! what an amazing subject! maybe I could do that! there is just so much excitement going on in the field of illustration and applied arts in general right now! its just such an incredible time to be creative and alive!
Maybe you’re reading this post many days from now, and find yourself in the same boat (or canoe!) striving to choose a good topic, if that’s the case good luck to you. I hope that this blog will survive well into the future. I’ve begun blogs in the past only to watch them fall by the wayside and loose direction, but feel I may have found a subject with meaning here that I could continue on with for many years . (pause for a bedtime story)
The topic I’ve chosen to focus on for our first 2 modules “Is Canadian Identity through illustrated children’s books”. In our practice 1 module (illustration course) I have selected the keyword of “story” with the intention of exploring uniquely Canadian myths and legends that could be applied to illustrated children’s books. To back this up conceptually I have begun researching the topic of “Canadian Identity through illustrated children’s books” to gain an understanding of where this topic lies currently, and begin to piece together where it has come from historically, politically and ethically, from both an internal and external perspective.
I had originally intended to cover this topic primarily from an internal perspective, but realized that it would be beneficial to first gain an understanding of the facets that are involved in establishing cultural identity as a whole. So for that reason I have refined my research topic to the broader area of “Establishing cultural identity through illustrated children’s books” with the intention of focusing on how it relates primarily to Canadian culture.
Well its currently 10 in the evening (EST) here at my home in Canada, so goodnight, I’m off to research books!