A talented friend, journalist and former presidential speech-writer, Gena Feith, approached me in May about an exciting project she was working to complete this summer. "The Illustrated Eulogy of Herman Katz: Spaniel, Lover, Snackaholic" is Gena's humorous and touching memoriam to her deceased pooch, Herman, who was something of a legend in the Katz family. Herman, a King Charles Spaniel, was originally adopted to serve as a distraction to Gena's heartbroken brother, but left a legacy much larger than his little doggy frame. The story was written and illustrated by Katz, who recently earned her MFA at Columbia in creative writing. I helped Gena polish her beautiful handiwork and brought her stacks of drawings to the digital world.
Gena was nice enough to answer some questions and give a bit more insight into the making of this project:
Where did the idea come from and what inspired you?
I was inspired by the death of a good dog and a deadline. The assignment was for a class I was taking in the Columbia MFA program called "Thickening the Plot," on unconventional ways of telling stories.
I hadn’t drawn in a number of years – since High School – and as I stood in Pearl art store Saturday morning before the assignment was due Monday, I thought what an impulsive and probably terrible idea this was.
I was inspired by all my favorites who’s work I mimicked in the piece. I love Pierre Bonnard and I love his dogs. There is a dog in my building named Bonnard and I feel we have a connection.
I am inspired most of all by Maira Kalman. Who isn’t? I saw her at a reading recently and woke up with a terrible feeling the next morning that I’d Justin-Beibered her. I told her the story of my whole life and I gave her a pencil. I comforted myself with the thought that she’d probably do the same to Nabakov.
Where did your brilliant friend Caitlin come in?
I think the short deadline certainly helped make it happen. Even though I was surprised and very pleased with the outcome, I had assembled some of the images haphazardly, collage-style via a makeshift analog photoshoppy approach. I had drawn many of the images within the image on separate scraps then arranged them in to scenes on the photocopier. When scanned they were less than high quality resolution-wise. They included a lot of extra visual noise that Caitlin meticulously helped tame – image by image, line by line. We liked some of the extra static, for one, the snow scenes, which was actually snow from the photocopier and accidental, though it helped lend more depth somehow to the picture.
Do you want to do more illustrating in the future?
I’ve recently begun taking drawing and painting classes again. I hope to illustrate a mini World-Book for my daughter who arrives this January.
The complete piece is not yet available online, but I've included a small excerpt to get you excited about the release of Gena's opus:
More on this as Gena and I find a home for this story online and hopefully at bookstores near you!