As both an artist and a writer I portray people I have known. I can also say that I have portrayed people I love, but that is rather redundantly repetitive because I basically love all people, even the really nasty ones who hate me in return. It’s a teacher thing. But portraits as a writer/artist/cartoonist/fool is not a straightforward thing. Let me start by unpacking my portraits of the Cobble Sisters. Sherry and Shelly Cobble are twin sisters. They are in several of my YA novels about the little town in rural Iowa where I grew up.
They are nudists. That means their family believes there are health benefits to not wearing any clothes when they are at home or spending private time with the rest of their family and friends. I can claim that they are based on real people, because they are, but that takes considerable explaining.
I have a pair of identical twin cousins who I grew up with and learned about the unique things twin share from them. But the Cobble Sisters are not a direct portrait of them. They are not nudists. And they would probably beat me to a pulp if I dared to insist that they were.
The nudist/naturists I once knew and lived near were in Iowa City where I went to grad school (and where I found the original model for the picture), and in Austin, Texas where my girlfriend’s sister was living in a clothing-optional apartment complex. My parents lived in an Austin suburb and when my girlfriend and I visited the area in the 80’s, I stayed at my parents’ home and she stayed at the crazy communal resort for naked people where her sister lived. This situation provided the background for the embarrassment humor in my novel Superchicken. That’s the story that includes an episode where the main character is tricked into going to a nudist camp as a guest with the Cobble family. Poor Superchicken didn’t realize until he got there that it was a place where you have to take off all your clothes to blend in.
Which leads quite naturally into the second portrait I want to talk about. Edward-Andrew Campbell is called “the Superchicken” by his friends in Norwall, Iowa. That nickname is actually my nickname from high school. It comes from part of the George of the Jungle Saturday morning cartoon show by Jay Ward (Rocky and Bullwinkle’s creator).
The nickname was hung on me by a girl I had a huge crush on from grade school through junior high. Superchicken in the cartoon show was this mild-mannered chicken who could gain super powers by drinking super sauce and then fight crime. She obviously thought I was full of hidden talents just like him.
So Superchicken is a me character.
But the picture is not me drawing myself as a boy. It is modeled on my young second cousin who was my little buddy for the last two years of high school and during my first couple of years in college. The portrait in the novel, however, is part me and part a student from my early years as a teacher. The Anita Jones portrait is drawn from a Sears catalog model, while the real girl was the most popular girl in my grade at school, I wasn’t the only boy hopelessly in love with her.
Finally, since I am well over the word-count target already, I want to talk about the portrait of the main character in my novel about to be published, Miss Francis Morgan.
On the left you see who Francis really was. Mother Mendocino was born to be a teacher, and it is her natural-born love of teaching and rapport with kids that I am portraying in the novel. In the novel, though, everything that happens in that classroom was really something that happened in my classroom, not hers. Especially the invasion of the classroom by three-inch tall fairies. But it should also be obvious that Miss Morgan is not a portrait of me. I am not female. I could never respond to and touch kids the way she does because our society frowns on that from male teachers. And further, she is not Hispanic because the novel is set in 1990’s Iowa rather than the deep South Texas town where these things happened. So I based the drawing on another teacher I knew from Iowa, one that had always been the next door neighbor girl when I was a kid. She babysat me and was older than me.
So, my portrait art that I am mangling the discussion of in this post is made up mostly of amalgamated portraits. A little of this person added to a lot of that one, with a sprinkle of me mixed in for goof-factor effect. The novel Magical Miss Morgan is being edited by Page Publishing as I write this and will be available soon. I am hoping that a few of you may be foolish enough to buy one and read it. I truly believe in my goofy old heart that you will like it.