Thursday, August 6, 2009

Roy Freeman on Don Freeman: Part Four

(continued from yesterday)

A wonderful thing is now unfolding in my life. Since I have opened up my "genetic pores" to my father in me, I have been driven to finish books that he left unfinished. My father always had many projects going at once. (Another trait we share.) I have a notebook of his where the germinal ideas for three different children's stories are scribbled at different angles all on the same page. Two of these actually became full-length illustrated stories and were published in his lifetime! His stream of creativity was unbroken. But many of these ideas never reached fruition, for one reason or another. Some ideas lay around his studio for years, dormant, waiting for the right moment. The right moment for some of them never happened in his lifetime. I remember seeing some of these and discovered some of them in the storage material that was not sold, just to clear out our old garage. That was how Earl the Squirrel came to be published 30 years after Don died.

Recently, I was also able to interest a publisher of high-quality comics, Drawn & Quarterly, (Montreal) to reprint Skitzy, a book of my father's that he published himself in a small print run in 1955. This new version was just published in December of 2008 in a wonderful and very respectful edition with a great afterward on my father by Dave Kiersh. This was a special thrill for me because it was the kind of drawing and humor of my father's that I loved as a child and always wanted him to pursue. It is also for adults and opens up a new audience to Don.

Three years ago, I showed another unfinished children's book of my father's to the publisher and they agreed to publish it with the understanding that I complete it. This time, I had to write about 75 percent of the story. It was really a kind of "collaboration" between me and my father, aided by my editor Joy Peskin at Viking Children's Books (Penguin USA). We found an illustrator, Jody Wheeler, to complete the illustrations to the parts of the story that I had written in the style of Don's. This book is called One More Acorn and will be published in Fall 2010. (I just yesterday received Jody's sketches and they look terrific. She has done an amazing job of sticking very closely to Don's original sketchs. Many of the illustrations use Don's artwork directly.)

Then in March 2009, I went to New York and showed yet another unpublished draft of my father's to Joy and the art director, Denise Cronin, at Viking-Penguin. This time it was the story that Don initially began in the film Storymaker. Joy and Denise liked this story so much (Cattiva is the present title) they said "yes, let's do it!" This time is yet again something different. Not only am I working on the story, but I am also going to be working directly on the illustrations. I would like to keep as much of the original artwork of Don's intact and see if I can augment them only where absolutely necessary. (I guess I cannot do the same thing twice either!) This is a further step along this amazing path of "working" with my father even years after he died.

I do not have my father's genius with drawing or line. He could capture the essence of somebody in a single unbroken line (as you can see in Skitzy). He used to do this before live audiences in his "Chalk Talk" shows. He could draw the essence of somebody's face in one unbroken line! It was magic. I cannot do this at all, I will be using my sense of design and my respect for my father's gift to bring us together in a new way.

I only knew my father as an artist. He was not a father in the collective sense. He was a creative artist and a people-lover, a "life artist". He loved life and was not a family man. He was rarely at home, when he was, he was creating.

There was no reconciliation between my father and me when he was alive. The last conversation we had (in 1976 in Lucerne, Switzerland), I wanted to have a real talk with him about our relationship. Like all conversations on this theme, this lasted a few minutes before it exploded in the chronic disaster we always hit together. We never spoke again. He died of a massive heart attack two years later in New York, while I had remained in Switzerland. The reconciliation happened for me thirty years after he died.

I feel - I know - that he forgives me for my efforts, no matter if I have another style. He knows I share his respect for children, for life, and for books. In working so directly with my father's spirit, I am healing our relationship. I am sure he would be as overjoyed as I am to know that this is happening. It is a kind of real life miracle.


Charlotte said...

Thank you for sharing so much of your life and your memories of your father. Your writing is both insightful and touching. I can wait to read One More Acorn.

Dinnie said...

If someone reading this has contact with Roy Freeman, I'm trying to get in touch with him. I found a sketch his father did and wanted to let him know. I love the sketch, it looks like an original or pretty darn good print of: a new York street, a man in a tiny booth, a trolly coming down, a fire hydrant next to the booth and two people in the rain...

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