Tag Archives: awful giraffe

When David Mitchell Drew A Space Giraffe

David Mitchell Drawing a Giraffe

Author David Mitchell illustrating his cosmology.

David Mitchell (Web | Twitter) is an English author of six books of fiction including the international bestseller Cloud Atlas (2004), which you may recall was made into a film starring Tom Hanks. Recently, our paths crossed when Mitchell was in Houston reading from his latest work, The Bone Clocks (2014). If you aren’t familiar with his work, both I and the literati highly recommend it.

Following his reading, Mitchell spoke with author Mat Johnson, observing that at age 45 he’s had an epiphany: He’s not a novelist but rather a novella-ist. As with Cloud AtlasThe Bones Clock is a series of novellas that reference and situate one another to tell a larger narrative – in this case, a woman’s life from birth to death. Even though “people don’t buy novellas,” he prefers the format as it allows him the privileges of the short story without carrying on past its “natural” conclusion. (I think we can all name a few works that, like some dying animal, resists the end).

When Johnson asked if he noticed certain themes or tropes appearing throughout his work, Mitchell answered that there were two: The first was predatory and the other miscommunication. As he identified instances of these in his work, he added that every author is merely a handful of archetypes. As these stem from the author’s experiences, this limitation is not a bad thing. All it means is that one has to keep finding novel ways to orient them – through new environments, characters, and so on.

After his reading I waited around to get him to sign my copy of Cloud Atlas — and that was when I made the ask. Even though the woman behind me (rudely) groaned and, under her breath, kept telling me to “hurry up,” Mitchell drew what I regard as The Little Prince fan-fiction. I present to you: The Planet of The Giraffe.

David Mitchell Awful GiraffeAs I said to him afterward, “If your writing career ever sours, I don’t think illustrating is an option.”

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Robert Bruininks' Pretty Awful Giraffe Drawing

President of the University of Minnesota Robert Bruininks

As you will find on his Wikipedia page, Bruininks has been working with the University of Minnesota since 1968 and was named the 15th president of the system in 2002. In May 2010 he made his intentions clear that he would be stepping down as president, which led the creation of a search committee that eventually selected president-designate Eric Kaler of New York. So with that said, it must be made clear that of everyone I have approached asking for a drawing, my confrontation with President Bruininks had to of been not only the least fruitful (he drew an amoeba and labeled it “Bob’s Horse”) but also the most awkward.

I found myself in the Twin Cities campus in the McNamara center on February 10, 2011, for a luncheon with the Board of Regents to discuss the state of the university financially, the direction it would be moving down the road, how students could work with the administration, etc., and happened to run into the president. While I have seen him at several functions, my personal interaction with him has been light to say the least; even so, my few interactions with him have been nice to say the least. So I did not think this would be that big of a deal (it certainly had not  been so with other folks), but after making the pitch all the president could do was stare at me.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?” He asked.

I repeated myself, trying to maintain my confidence; this is after all a serious business.

“I guess I can do that,” Bruininks says, taking the pen and paper from my hand and using a nearby table for a flat writing surface. Compared to those who use a single, solid line to create an outline, I see that he uses the pen to scratch a half-inch long head followed by a peanut body, which is then given legs and a tail (?). Out of the desire to be polite I try to bite my tongue – this is the worst thing I have ever seen; absolutely no effort – and can feel my tongue shed blood when declares, “It’s not much, but I’ll call it ‘Bob’s Horse.'”

He then signs it and hands it to me.

I die a little bit inside.

Robert Bruininks' Pretty Awful Giraffe Drawing

This is not a giraffe.