Thursday, September 08, 2005

Rocketfiction, Then and Now

OK, you ask…why the name? What’s a “Rocketfiction”?

Well…it has to do with my Grade 9 art class at Sir Robert Borden High School, circa 1973, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The art teachers, two of them there were, being very Ottawa-ish straitlaced sorts of middle-aged ladies, did their best to propel their earnest young students towards studying the finer points of macramé and the quilting art of Joyce Weiland, with side forays into the wonders of Ken Danby and Greg Curnoe and Cornelius Krieghoff.

Unfortunately for them, at least two of their apple-cheeked young charges were having none of it.

For there we sat, Peter and I, immersed in our studies of Chris Foss, the cover paintings by Roger Dean for the group “Yes”, the comic mastery of Jack Kirby’s New Gods, and much more in the same vein. Try as they might, the Art Ladies could not mould us as they desired. In the feverish flush of youthful enthusiasm for Lowbrow Culture, we proved impervious to their siren call towards Higher Art and All Things Macrame. Canadian Art of all varieties was their God, and they desired nothing less than that we would join them in worshipping at its altar.

But we were resisters. No matter what the assignment, we steered it back towards spaceships and sky cities and muscular heroes risking all to punch out the villains.

Finally, one winter day, Mrs. Bowstead cracked. With a shrill note of exasperation, the words suddenly tumbled from her mouth uncensored: “You---you boys. What is it with YOU BOYS?? All you want…want to draw is…is… this…THIS ROCKETFICTION!!”

There. She had done it. She had named the cursed enemy! And then off she stomped, thoroughly frustrated. Peter and I quietly exchanged the droll glances only known to 14-year-old boys, smiling the small smile of victory. For we had won! The Art Ladies had been properly shown that, no matter what they did, we would not be bent or swayed from our path, and thus they had retreated back into the thickets to lick their wounds and examine their macramé and quilting and undertake fresh campaigns to thrust it upon other hapless students of the arts who found themselves in their clutches. To them, anything to do with science fiction or comics or animation and the like, was best described by that wonderfully-coined term, sounding like it emerged from the 1930’s: “ROCKETFICTION”.

I painfully, dutifully endured one more year of “art”, but after Grade 10 took the bull by the horns and did not renew art class for Grade 11. The relief was immense! But soon after the start of Grade 11, the other lady, Mrs. Davies, approached me in the hall, concerned upon hearing this news.

“Paul---you stopped taking art! But whatever are you thinking? What will you do now? You have art talent, you shouldn’t just---just DROP it!”

This Canadian-Nice-and Well-Meaning lady just couldn’t conceive that there was “art after art class”. To her way of thinking, without her and her art class, it was impossible that a student continue in the study of art, much less progress! My exact answer to her is lost in the mists of the past, but well do I remember her baffled expression as I explained that I was simply dropping her art class, not dropping art itself!

And so, some years later, I still continue in my study and unabashed celebration of all things lowbrow, especially that specific flavor of Lowbrow which goes by the name of…”Rocketfiction”.


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