Pay close attention to the hair! Maria Hoyle talks to friend and cartoonist Anna Crichton about her upcoming book, which immortalises the strangest six weeks of our lives
When the black dog of lockdown began to snap at our heels, we went ‘down, boy!’ in myriad ways. We fought it off with loaves of sourdough, 1000-piece jigsaws and bonkers online purchases. Some of us may have had a repeat order with LiquorLand (and may, in our excitement, have greeted the courier wearing no pants).
And then there’s my mate Anna. Anna Crichton to you – and to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New Zealand Herald, Metro, Listener and many others in which her art has appeared. Anna found structure and solace during that long night of the soul with a series of cartoons, which she posted daily on Facebook and Twitter.
Hawke’s Bay-born Anna is a multi-award-winning illustrator, cartoonist and, says her cv, explorer. That sounds a bit grand – but it’s true, in both the abstract and physical sense. To be in her company is to escape to a different realm, and to never know what might happen next. The British explorer Freya Stark – who lived to 101 – might well have been talking about Anna when she said the key to never growing old was always to remain curious.
Anna is the sort of artist who gazes out the window of her light-filled studio and thinks, ‘I might have a go at ceramics’, and a few months later you’re holding a chilled pinot gris at her first ceramics exhibition. So the fact she spent lockdown drawing 60 cartoons – now to be brought together in a book with the working title of Dear Virus – came as no surprise.
The cartoons depict a couple, Mr and Mrs Dear, and chart their daily lockdown challenges. It’s an endearing, comical and sometimes poignant souvenir of lockdown – made up of often surreal scenes that have their root in various real events and lockdown longings.
Mrs Dear is a large, bulbous lady, her spouse a tiny bald man with a bushy moustache. And on top of Mrs Dear’s head is an exaggerated coil of what looks like poo. It is poo. Is this perhaps a reference to the fact that, for most of us right now, our hair looks like shit? It’s less complicated than that.
“I like drawing turds!” says Anna cheerfully. “I grew up with lots of them around me. I used to collect horse poo a lot, to sell around the neighbourhood for people to put on their roses. [The hair] is a really good shape. I thought ‘I want her to be eccentric; how can I make her more eccentric than just being a big boxy woman?’ I knew with a turd hairstyle I could do things with it further down the track.” And she did – at one point it becomes a souffle, at another a tangle of Medusa snakes.
“It’s just a matter of letting your mind wander in the most strange directions,” Anna explains. “I go and sit on a log by the sea and stare at the sky and let these ethereal thoughts come into my head.
“The book is a humorous look at the time during lockdown, but hidden behind the humour often are poignant, delicate sentiments that everyone has had. There will be historical reminders – how hard it was to get flour, panic buying of toilet paper…. Hopefully they’ll jog memories of what lockdown was about.”
One of my personal favourites is a drawing of a colossal statue reminiscent of those overblown Soviet Bloc monuments. It’s of a checkout girl, with a caption that refers to the heroes of lockdown.
Was the process therapeutic for Anna? “It felt like I was doing something worthwhile. Isolation is how I work anyway. I can’t go into an office and slipstream off other people’s energy. But this was wonderful because I knew I had to do one a day. The whole creative thinking process made me feel purposeful otherwise I’d have been floundering. It’s rewarding having a blank page and at the end of three hours you have a cartoon. I just had a woman in China who’s interested in buying all 60 cartoons. But I won’t just let them go like that.”
Anna has ordered two stuffed dolls, a Mr and Mrs Dear in crochet, from a flight attendant who’s a whiz on the needles. How fitting that these flights of fancy are to be immortalised in wool by someone whose life in the air has been temporarily grounded.
It’s very Anna.
See Annacrichton.com for an update on her book publication and to see more of her fantastic work, as well as her travel blogs (remember travel?)