a eulogy for maurice sendak

Writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak died today. He was 83 years old.

I loved Sendak’s picture books as a kid, and I love them today. His scratchy, well-layered illustrations always seemed to have so much more depth than many of the other picture books I read. My boys are currently enraptured by Chicken Soup with Rice, one fourth of The Nutshell Library; they were gifted a copy of the book from a reader of these comics, many years ago.

Obviously, the book Sendak will be most remembered for is Where the Wild Things Are, the riotous, game-changing picture book from the 1960’s. Where the Wild Things Are dared to feature an angry, almost unlikable protagonist in little Max. It seems almost commonplace today, but back in 1963, the image of Max running after the family dog with a fork was shocking.

I’ve paid homage to Sendak often throughout the years with my comics, going all the way back to when I was continuously drawing journal comics about my personal life.

Even there, I was processing my anger through the monster character… and I had quite a lot of anger! At the time, I was living with my parents, eking out an existence on substitute gigs. I was hopelessly in love with someone who wasn’t going to give me the time of day. My life was a shambles! Gradually however, my use of the monster shifted away from being a purely angry expression of my personality.

Here, the character twisted somewhat to become more a harbinger for my anxieties… specifically, my anxieties about teaching. Here’s one I drew right before I had to go back to work after my first extended holiday break. I was teaching 8th grade in Brooklyn and flailing mightily.

I look at those comics and I remember all those angry, anxious feelings intimately… but the funny thing is, I didn’t know I was drawing the monster for either of those purposes! I’ve never been really great at expressing my emotions; it’s one of those things that really limits me as a cartoonist/artist/whatever. I just knew that there was a small contingent of my readership who really liked it when I drew myself as a monster! It’s easy for me to see all those emotions now, but at the time… nope.

Meeting Ellen and starting a family has mellowed those angry, anxious feelings quite a bit. I started drawing a lot of comics where the monster was a hapless, sometimes even fun protagonist. There was this extended run of strips I posted about a few years ago. Then there’s this comic I did after Elliot was born, where I detailed all of our nicknames for the kid.

…of course, angry monster does come back from time to time.

I quite like the idea of doing a comic strip where the main character is malleable and changes to suit the tone of the story. It’s something I considered pursuing awhile back.

At any rate, I hope I’ve made it clear how very much Maurice Sendak means to me as an artist. The guy lived a long life full of every accolade and award an illustrator can hope to win; he produced work that will stand the test of time and journey on into the future as true classics. I’m sorry to lose him, but I’m glad to have known him through his art.

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One Response to “a eulogy for maurice sendak”

  1. […] Teachable Moments « a eulogy for maurice sendak […]

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