If you follow this blog, you'll know that I recently fell in love with an animated short film called Garson Hampfield, Crossword Inker.
The evil genius behind this story of a would-be great Bumfry artist is Michael A. Charles and he and I finally got in touch. That's him sitting in his Saskatoon, Saskatchewan studio looking somewhat like, well, like a certain crossword inker.
The film's gentle humor reminded me a little of Bob and Ray. The animation style echoed some of the famous National Film Board of Canada shorts that have been so successful over the years. And yes, it's true, I'm instituting the annual Garson Hampfield Prize for Crossword Humor. Of course, Merl Reagle is the odds-on favorite again this year.
I wanted to learn more about Garson, so Michael granted me an interview:
JH: Hi, Michael. Congratulations on your latest hit.
MAC: The animation seems to have caught on (in a small but, to its creator, highly gratifying way) among the crossword puzzling community — a community I had no idea even existed. I've been working on Crossword Inker for about six weeks, most of that time procrastinating on the vital but boring task of making the lips move. Garson is modeled on me, but older and with a slight Midwestern accent for some reason, and his apartment is a replica of my own. Just now I'm sitting in that apartment here in Saskatoon, where it's a balmy, breezy day, and trying to figure out what to do next with myself.
JH: How did you get into animation?
MAC: I stumbled into it. My band put on a rock opera about five years back, which was a combination of live-action and video elements, but we were never able to pull off some of the ideas we had. A couple years ago I got thinking that maybe the story (which is about a haunted tuberculosis sanatorium) would work better in animated form, so I started playing around with Flash just to see what I could do. I never got around to making an animated version of the whole rock opera but I continue to experiment and I think each video is a little better than the one before.
JH: What inspired the topic of crossword inking?
MAC: There's something funny about inkers — I mean, comic book inkers. Their work is so important to the look of the comic, and yet no kid ever says, "When I grow up I want to be an inker!" I've never met any inkers, but I imagine they'd be full of this ferocious and justifiable pride in what they do, and quietly seething at the lack of recognition they get. I started thinking, who would get even less respect than a comic book inker? Obviously it would be someone whose job is to ink straight lines and fill in black squares.
Now that I think about it, I guess Garson's inking has a lot in common with my animating. I can't draw, I can only trace. I trace from photos, or from other people's drawings. In order to create Garson I had to actually put on a jacket and bow tie, shave my beard into a moustache, and take photos of myself in various poses around my apartment.
JH: The names are all wonderful. Where do they come from?
The names were made up, there's no story behind them. Although I do put a lot of effort into coming up with good names. I was always irritated when I'd go to a movie and Arnold Schwarzenegger's character would be named something like "John Taylor". You'd think that, of all people, Arnold Schwarzenegger would appreciate the value of an interesting name.
JH: What is your crossword-solving experience?
MAC: I'm a big Scrabble player, but I only seem to do crossword puzzles when I'm away from home. I was on the road in Texas earlier this year, escaping the prairie winter, and sleeping in the back of a minivan in state parks. After the sun goes down there's not much to do — I was traveling alone — so I would get a copy of the Times when I could find one and do the puzzle by flashlight while listening to the radio.
I'm okay with the earlier-in-the-week Times puzzles, but the later ones tend to defeat me. I'm philosophically opposed to looking up the answers so if I run into a clue that stumps me, there's nothing for me to do but throw away the paper and go through the rest of my day angry.
JH: Tell me about your band.
MAC: The band known as Sea Water Bliss is kind of on the boundary between "band" and "art project". Our first break was being hired to write a series of songs to accompany an exhibition at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon. Then we somehow talked the Mendel into letting us do a rock opera, which we spun off into a Fringe show. Meanwhile, we never really played that many "normal" gigs, in bars or wherever, though we did eventually record an album, which I guess is what "normal" bands do. Nowadays Sea Water Bliss is mostly an excuse to create videos that may or may not have anything to do with our music, though I'm optimistic that we'll get back into making music again soon.
JH: Thanks, Michael. Any big plans for the future?
MAC: Honestly, I have no idea what my future plans are, though I should probably look at getting a real job. If anyone has an opening for a self-taught musician-writer-animator, please get in touch with me.
Yes, there is a puzzle today and it's a good one too. The Wednesday, August 6 crossword by Caleb Madison (answers) will resonate with divorced parents who split child support. They should keep this puzzle for one of their kid-free weekends. The Thin Man gets referenced without a yappy terrier in sight. This time it's NORA as in Nick and Nora Charles of mysteries. No relation to Michael A. Charles, as far as I know.