Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Color Me Awkward

 This week I've been thinking a lot about coloring books (for no particular reason, because I was definitely not at WalMart shopping for a coloring book for myself at any time this week. At all. Shut up.) Anyway, one thing I realized in the midst of my deep philosophical ponderings is that coloring books are really really awkward.

You see, when someone sets out to create a coloring book, they are faced with a problem of how to fill it. The first part is easy: choosing a topic or character, but then, after that, everything completely crumbles to pieces (which, all things considered, is probably an accurate metaphor for your life if you make coloring books for a living.) So you have a character... Now you have to make them do something interesting for thirty pages or so.  They've got to be doing something that kids are going to be able to color, and, unfortunately (unless it's a princess themed coloring book,) not every page is allowed to be a picture of the character in the same pose with alternating backgrounds of flowers, hearts, and sparkles. This usually results in the characters just doing... stuff... for the duration of the coloring book. Not really anything consequential, just stuff.
Everything from mundane daily activities

to bizarre, and occasionally nightmare-inducing randomness

 And heaven help you if the coloring book is based on a concept rather than a character. There are always the attempts to illustrate nebulous concepts like safety or brushing your teeth. The results are usually as follows:

I think some of the finer examples of awkward come from coloring books based on characters that already exist in their own cartoon or movie. In this case the character already has a context in which they exist which the individual making the book has to convey. This is where the captions usually come in to explain what is going on in the scene, and somehow manage to drain the scene of any dramatic tension it may have had.

 Somehow the caption magically makes these events seem very... nonchalant...

Another approach is to have the caption narrate what the character is saying. What the character is saying, incidentally, is usually completely inane.

Even without the captions, the pages still always seem to be drained of anything exciting or meaningful by depicting events that take place directly after something exciting has obviously happened

My favorite variation of this whole concept is the coloring books based on live-action movies, or actual people. See, with cartoons it's easy enough to render it on a page and keep pretty true to how it looks on screen. However, there is a special kind of awkward that can only come from trying to transfer something real onto a coloring book. Rather than clumsily trying to explain this, I am just going to show you examples from the gloriously terrible coloring book based on The Beatles that I stumbled upon whilst Google searching.
Here we have examples of everything I talked about:

Mundane daily activities

As well as bizarre randomness

 And don't forget the quotes that seem to contribute precisely nothing to what is going on
In fact, this one in particular seems to combine elements both from coloring books with a previously existing context, and those without. It's a perfect storm of nonsense. There are many more examples of this outside of the Beatles coloring book, but this one makes my point so beautifully that I saw no need to show any others.

This kind of awkward is simply inspirational to me. There's just something beautiful about the subtle discomfort that seems to weave its way through the pages of these coloring books. I only wish I knew how to capture this magic for myself. How do they do it? What intricate methods do they employ to make these pieces so outstandingly uncomfortable? There is a delicate art to it, I think, and I aim to study it and find out what it is. Only then will I be able to completely understand the true soul of the coloring book. Only then will I be a true artist.


Taylor said...

I LOVE this. Truly. You've captured the awkward in coloring books. What's next? I admire your awesomeness.

Anonymous said...

AUGH. :) Wonderful stuff, this. Makes me want to go coloring book shopping...

The Erin said...

You can go with me. I never DID find a good one, and I've got 92 crayons that need use.

Jessica Grosland said...

"Do you like us in our derbies?"


Seriously. It's my favorite line ever.

Octavian said...

"Hey, Kids! Nice Helmets!" The man snickered.
I feel like that page could also be about bullies.

misssrobin said...

I buy myself a new coloring book at least once a year. No need to feel ashamed. It's great therapy!

But the ones you found scare me.