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Angry Arthur

nov 22, 2018

Angry Arthur is a picture book by Hiawyn Oram, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura. The story is about a boy that gets very angry because his mother tells him to go to bed when he wants to watch a Western on tv. While his rage gets bigger and bigger, his mother, father, grandfather and grandmother try to calm him with ‘That’s enough’.

‘But it wasn’t’, repeats the author and Arthur’s anger subsequently becomes a stormcloud, a hurricane, a typhoon, an earth tremor and a universequake. The boy and his cat are the only ones to stay intact in the landscape of his home and town where objects, cars, houses and trees are hurled about until even the earth itself cracks. The beauty of the book for me is in the beautiful forms Kitamura draws.

Fig.1: Kitamura,S. Angry Arthur (1982)

Fig.2: Kitamura,S. Typhoon in Angry Arthur (1982)

Because every object is so detailed, recognizable, friendly and solid (for instance the teapot, pans and chair in all the chaos of the typhoon (Fig.3), or the knitting basket of the floating grandmother (Fig 4), or the music sheets on the piano (fig.5)) the boy in the midst of all his overwhelming rage stays just a little boy. Safely tethered to the familiar objects that make up a child’s world, even if the only object that remains intact in the end, is his bed.

Fig.3,4 and 5: Kitamura,S. Objects in Angry Arthur (1982)

His loyal companion the cat and the boy himself are also very recognizable and solid forms that return on every page and stand out against the chaos of the backgrounds, almost as if you could pick the boy up and feel his little warm body (although he would not thank you for it). The colors are beautiful, with very earthy brown, dark green and dark red colours set against emotional oranges and violet blues.

Fig.6: Kitamura,S. Angry Arthur (1982)

The only time when Arthur’s form stops being solid is in the universequake, when his anger is at its peak and the boy and the cat are so shaken that they almost dissolve into nothingness. After that everything in the universe is destroyed except his bed. Forgetting the cause of his anger, he gravitates towards it with his tired body and ends up asleep, floating through space on a piece of Mars, with the cat sleeping peacefully at his feet. Nothing in this book is judged or explained, it is just an honest, funny and beautiful depiction of a child getting very, very angry until he is exhausted and settles back into himself.

Fig.7: Kitamura,S. Universequake in Angry Arthur (1982)

Fig.8: Kitamura,S. Drifting to bed in Angry Arthur (1982)

I turn again to art historian and picture book specialist Jane Doonan and her analysis of Angry Arthur in the article ‘Satoshi Kitamura: Aesthetic Dimensions’ (Doonan, 1991). I will share her views on the quality of Kitamura’s line, and his use of perspective.

To figure out how these things make ‘capturing the essential’ possible, I will focus on the last image (fig.8), the one you might recognize from my last blog. If you look at the quality of the line, you can see that it outlines the forms with a closed contour, precisely filled with colour. This makes the child, the cat and the bed stand out very clearly against the environment of open space.

In this way Kitamura draws separate attention to each object, emphasizing their importance, as they often symbolize the inner life of the character (Doonan, 1991). The line is fine, and with a ‘slight tremor’ (1991, p.109). Doonan tells us that there is no underdrawing; Kitamura draws directly with no margin for error. In an interview with Kitamura by Joanna Carey, she tells us:

‘He draws with ink, but instead of a springy, steel nib he uses a Japanese glass pen, with tiny grooves to accommodate the ink. This creates a distinctive line that blobs now and then as it glides, giving an unmistakable character to everything he draws.’ (Carey 2008)

Jane Doonan also drew my attention to the way Kitamura often uses inverted perspective: for example, in this picture the sturdy wooden bed (fig.9) has its lines diverging instead of converging into the distance. It gives us more exposure of the whole object and the bed becomes very solid; ‘Inverted perspective gives it an air of stability.’ (Doonan, 1991, p.110) This stability is comforting in the midst of all the emptiness of the universe in which Arthur’s anger has dissolved.

So concluding, I would say Kitamura captures the essence of his subject by his loving rendering of matter itself.

The special pen he draws his closed contours with, his detailed forms, the body of cat and boy standing out against the chaos, the solid detailed objects that keep the boy safe no matter how much his anger shakes him, the earthy colours against the emotional colours… All these click together in a story that makes you feel the essence of the boy, a small human being, in his body, with nothing else that matters in the end but to rest and to accept.

Carey, J. (2008) ‘Interview: Satoshi Kitamura’. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/nov/08/satoshi-kitamura-angry-arthur-illustrations (Accessed: 9th.December 2018)

Doonan, J. (1991) ‘Satoshi Kitamura: Aesthetic Dimensions’, Children’s Literature, Volume 19, 1991, p. 107-137

Oram, H, Kitamura, S. (1982) Angry Arthur. London: Andersen Press

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fig.8: Kitamura,S. Drifting to bed in Angry Arthur (1982)