The first time I was introduced to Ferdinand the bull it was watching the Walt Disney short film version during a drive in theater double-feature intermission. I absolutely loved the story and the animation but I had no idea the character was actually from a children's book
At that point in my very young life I thought Walt Disney made up all of their movie stories by themselves, which was true of their Mickey Mouse cartoons but not true of movies like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White (by the Brothers Grimm), and The Jungle Book (by Rudyard Kipling).
After watching Ferdinand on the big screen I remember coming across it in my town library, loving the story but being absolutely amazed at how a children's book could be expanded to tell a much more elaborate and...well... animated story on the big screen. It was shortly after this time that I started consuming a lot of Hans Christian Andersen, Brothers Grimm, Aesop's Fables, and other writers to read children's stories in their original non-Disney form.
And it was horrifying... But that's a story for a different post. Now back to Ferdinand.
I knew that there were authors and illustrators of children's books but I had previously thought that Walt Disney made the movies and then others went and wrote the book version of those films (I was young, don't judge).
The Story of Ferdinand was the first time where I actually asked my town librarian for help in looking up other stories by the same author which, tangentially, led me to Mr. Popper's Penguins. But it also led me to my first research on the people who write and illustrate stories, which became a sort of side-obsession whenever I would read a new story. It also introduced me to research tools like microfiche and microfilm but that is also a blog post for another time.
Long story short, The Story of Ferdinand was the first time I ever researched the origins of a story and that led to my love of learning about the personal story behind the literary one, which leads me back to The Story of Ferdinand...
If you haven't read it, "The Story of Ferdinand" follows a bull who wants to sit alone under a tree and smell the flowers.
In fact, that's all he EVER wants to do.
While the other bulls run around snorting and butting heads and fighting all day, Ferdinand prefers to relax and enjoy the world around him, underneath his favorite cork tree.
But then, "One day five men came in very fun hats to pick the biggest, fastest, roughest bull to fight in the bull fights in Madrid."
Ferdinand, wanting none of it, sits under his tree while the other bulls show off for the men. But when Ferdinand sits on a bee, he jumps up and shouts and thrashes around, accidentally impressing the men who take him in a cart to Madrid to fight a matador.
Instead of fighting, though, Ferdinand just sits and smells the flowers in the lovely ladies' hair, no matter how hard he is poked and prodded by the Bandilleros, Picadores or the Matador.
So they have to take Ferdinand home, where he is very happy smelling his flowers once more.
And that is basically the story of Ferdinand.
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY...
In 1935 Munro Leaf, a high school teacher, wrote the story on a yellow legal pad in less than an hour for his out-of-work friend and neighbor, Robert Lawson, who was an illustrator. He chose a bull because most children's books were full of dogs, rabbits, mice and goats and he wanted to do something different.
Munro intended the book to be a simple tale for children, of a bull who just enjoyed life. But The Story of Ferdinand actually ignited international controversy. It was published during the Spanish Civil War and many people saw it as a rallying cry for, and indictment of, Generalissimo Francisco Franco.
The Story of Ferdinand was also viewed as a treatise on pacifism. Adolf Hitler ordered the book burned as "degenerate democratic propaganda," which, if you know anything about the Spanish Civil War, was rife with propaganda.
"Everybody saw I was obviously writing propaganda," Leaf said, "but they couldn't decide which side."
Either way, the controversy helped ignite the books popularity where, in 1938, it knocked off Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind as the number-one best-seller in the United States!
It was also turned into a Disney animated short that won an Academy Award in 1938!
Munro Leaf Munro Leaf went on to write and/or illustrate almost forty children's books in his lifetime, with Ferdinand his most famous work.
Robert Lawson was the illustrator of forty-six children's books (including Mr. Popper's Penguins), and the author of over twenty of those works. In 1941 he won the Caldecott Medal for illustration (They Were Good and Strong) and in 1945 he won the Newbury Medal for literature (Rabbit Hill), making him the only person to have won both a Caldecott AND a Newbury Medal.
Not bad for a book that took less time to write than I spent putting together this post!
While Cinderella-type stories date back to the first century BC, the more modern Brothers Grimm version called Aschenputtel (literally, "digging in the ashes") is the version of the story that the Disney film, Cinderella is loosely based on.
And I mean LOOSELY.
The basic storyline of Aschenputtel is similar to the Disney version:
Father remarries an awful woman with awful daughters who make Aschenputtel's life miserable.
The poor girl has her dress made by animals.
She goes to the ball and dances with the prince before leaving behind a glass slipper.
The prince arrives in town and everyone tries on the slipper.
The slipper only fits Aschenputtel.
But in the Brother's Grimm story there is so much more about it that is... well... grim.
In the original, the ball actually lasts over three nights. Each day Ashenputtel would sing to the birds and ask them to make her a dress so, obligingly, they would drop a new dress out of the tree so she could go to the ball.
There are other incidents where Ashenputtel sings as a form of magic, asking for help which she receives because of her good nature. This is a common theme in many of the Grimm fairy tales. If you are good, magic works and karma eventually pays off. If you're bad... well... you'll see in a minute.
The prince, appropriately smitten, tries to follow Aschenputtel after the ball but each time she slips away. On the last night the prince slathers the main staircase in tar but she still manages to escape, this time leaving behind the glass slipper.
In the Grimm version, when the prince goes door to door looking for a match for the slipper the wicked stepmother convinces one of the stepsisters to cut her toe off and then for the other to cut off her heel so that their big feet would fit into the slipper.
And each time the prince was fooled, only to be told by different birds as he was riding off into the sunset to take a look at the bloody glass slipper, as if he could have missed it the first time. I mean, come one, the slipper is made of glass. It's totally transparent!
So finally Aschenputtel slides her perfectly-sized foot into what must have been a horribly filthy glass slipper, and rides off with the prince to live happily ever after, but not before even more birds peck out the stepsister's eyes at the royal wedding, leaving them blind beggars for the rest of their days.
So while the Disney film left out the bloody feet and the gouging of the eyes, the moral of both stories is the same... "be a good person and (eventually) good things will happen".
And be kind to birds...
Most "Learn To Draw" lessons look more or less like this:
Draw a circle for the head and a line indicating the curve of the body
Add a rectangle for the body, and some triangles for ears and stuff
Fill in the rest with dog parts, shading and whatnot
I wish I could be more helpful on specifics but as an artist I'm basically somewhere between Step Two and Step Three, and to be honest, my circles from Step One usually aren't all that symmetrical and my lines aren't straight.
I think the key to being a successful artist, though, is the same as being a successful writer or baker or anything else ... and that's not to be afraid or embarrassed or discouraged or anything else other than operating under the assumption that you are the greatest artist on this entire planet.
Even if you really are terrible (which you're not, you're the greatest artist on this entire planet, remember?) there is no other you.
Be persistent in your practice and you WILL get better.
The less you practice the longer it takes.
There's no magic here. Just hard work.
So since this post is called, "How to Draw a Dog" I suppose I'd be remiss if I didn't actually do that. So here you go. Follow along with this How to Draw a Dog video by Christopher Hart. He is amazing and I recommend every YouTube video and book he has. You will pick up so many skills so quickly it will make you dizzy.
Where the Wild Things Are was originally going to be called, Where the Wild Horses Are, but Maurice Sendak couldn't draw convincing horses.
But he could draw "Things" (a.k.a. monsters) although they were mostly just stylized caricatures of his own family members.
That he couldn't draw horses in no way diminishes the fact that he was pretty amazing at drawing just about everything else. But it does show how even the great artists have areas they need to work on.
And thank goodness for that, or Max might never have had a wild rumpus!
Madeline is a fearless girl who lives with her eleven friends in a convent (orphanage? girls school?) run by the no-nonsense Miss Clavel. They frolic across across Paris as Madeline shows her independence by standing up to a tiger and walking along a narrow wall across a bridge.
When Madeline cries in the night Miss Clavel knows something is definitely wrong and calls the imminent Dr. Cohn. Her appendix must be removed!
When her friends visit they are at first solemn and scared, only to be relieved when they see toys and candy... and a huge appendectomy scar that Madeline proudly shows off!
Later that night ALL the girls wake Miss Clavel with their crying, wishing that they too could have their appendixes out.
THE BACK STORY
The great part of the story is that it's based on several actual events!
in the summer of 1938 Ludwig Bemelmans, his wife Madeleine and his daughter Barbara took a trip to an island off the coast of France.
While there he somehow managed to ride his bike into the only car on the small island, sending him to a small room in the small local hospital. Above the hospital bed was a medium-sized crack that resembled the shape of a large rabbit. In the adjacent room was a young girl with a manual crank on her bed who had her appendix removed and was being nursed by a nun. From there the pieces just fell into place.
By itself this is a great little piece of insight into an author's creative process and how one of the most recognizable characters in children's literature was born. And if this was all there was to the story it would be all well and good. But there's more. Oh so much more...
EVEN MORE BACK STORY
When Ludwig Bemelmans was just a boy, around the same age as the fictional Madeline, his father abandoned the family and ran off with the child's governess. This meant that Ludwig's mother had to move the family to Germany in 1904 which, if you know anything about early 20th century history, was not a great time for that part of the world.
Ludwig hated school and as a young teenager dropped out to apprentice at a hotel his Uncle owned in Austria. Ludwig loved hotels but apparently hated waiters because he shot and seriously injured one at the hotel. Faced with prison time or deportation to America, he chose emigration.
With minimal skills but ample gun-related anger issues, in 1917 Ludwig joined the U.S. Army which, if you know anything about early 20th century history, was not a great time for that kind of thing either.
In the 1920's he left the military and returned to working in hotels while struggling as an artist and painter. A decade or so later, in his mid-thirties, Ludwig met May Massee, who was the founding head of the juvenile department at Doubleday, and later Viking Press. She helped him publish a couple of his first children's books but rejected his most successful book, Madeline, which was instead published by Simon & Schuster!
With a successful series to his name, Ludwig went on to travel the world, write dozens of children's books, novels, travel books, and even screenplays.
In 1940 he painted a huge mural in The Carlyle hotel's bar in exchange for lodging. This bar was later renamed Bemelmans' Bar and is still there today, with the original murals.
In 1953 he painted the children's dining room on Aristotle Onassis's yacht before buying a bistro in Paris in the shadow of the Notre Dame Cathedral, painting a mural on THAT wall (the bistro, not the cathedral) before selling it two years later.
So sometimes there's more to the story than just the story itself or even the story of how that story became a story.
Which makes Ludwig Bemelmans' story a pretty great story indeed.
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