This past Saturday we had the pleasure of hosting Harry Bliss, who spoke about his newest book, Bailey, an utterly charming picture book about a dog who goes to school. The beauty of the book is Bailey remains a dog, he doesn’t try to be human to fit in. He steadfastly remains a dog and this is where the hilarity comes in.
I told Harry this and it bears repeating here: I don’t think there is anyone out there who channels a dog better than Harry. For those of us familiar with his New Yorker cartoons, he often captures the thoughts of a dog beautifully, and Bailey is no exception. He goes through the trash in the cafeteria to find lunch, gives bones as gifts and has an ongoing battle with a squirrel. One thing Harry said about Bailey that I found particularly amusing is Bailey’s got his own world, like Snoopy had his own house. He’s got a little dog house and his own cubby. This seemed really important to Harry and it really works for Bailey.
Any event with Harry is magic. He loves to draw for the audience, and this audience was made up primarily of children. One kid has seen Harry all three times he’s been to the store. He participates fully in the “draw a squiggle” part to the presentation. This is where Harry gives a kids a Sharpie and they make a line and from that, Harry makes a cartoon. I am amazed every time that Harry can see a line and turn it into something magical.
Two faint lines turned into a Darth Vader cartoon. Every time I watch Harry draw, I wonder how he can see anything other than lines. He said he’ll often create a squiggle when he’s working at home to get himself started for a day of drawing. It’s like a warm-up at the gym. I see a squiggle and all I’ll ever see is two or three lines that look like, well, two or three lines. The kids were literally hanging off their chairs, waiting to see what Harry would do with their lines. The smallest child, about 18 months, could barely reach the easel, so her squiggle was quite low. Harry turned it into a mushroom patch with a monster. Pretty cool. The very first squiggle, four simple lines, turned into a werewolf, with a great caption: There’s a hair in my soup.
The kids were in awe of how quickly he created something out of nothing and the parents really wanted to know how the cartoon process worked. Harry often works from a drawing first and then tries to get the caption. He explained that he’ll do two drawings a day, if he’s not working on a book. I can’t imagine that. I always envy artists. To be able to draw must be such freedom. I see a blank page and wonder when I can start writing on it. It would never occur to me to draw on it to fill it up.
The great thing about an event with Harry is all the kids got to keep their art. They might be too young to realize these are things worth hanging onto, but they sure understood they were magic.