We moved to Memphis when I was three. My Dad was transferred there by the RT French Co. My Mom was thrilled. Elvis actually lived there then. I can remember picking grass out of his yard to send back home to friends in Birmingham, Our world was pretty small then. It consisted of a half dozen back yards and various drainage tunnels that led all over the place. Our little family was growing fairly quickly. Already by the time I was five, Mom and Dad had four kids. My brother Bob and I were close, Irish Twins I think they called us. He was 14 months younger. I was the oldest, though we were pretty much the same size.
One of my earliest memories was the first time our Parents dropped us off at the movies alone. Bob was six, I was seven. They sat us in the seats and told us not to leave the theater, that they would be back to get us. When the movie was over and everyone filed out, we followed the crowd out in to the streets of Memphis. The Movie was “The Fly,” Vincent Price at his best. “Help Me Help Me… Don’t let him eat me…” I am not sure if being lost in the streets of Memphis added to the impression this movie made on us as young children. But the impact was always present… I asked My parents about this reciently and they totally deny all of it...
So when Lori called me about The Beasts of the Northern Wild, I was eager to let some of this early childhood trauma out of the bag. The Story was a great balance of scientific information and anecdotal passages about the Greenhead Fly and it’s ravaging appetite. Unsuspecting tourists beware; this little beast could rip through cloth with razor-like teeth.
The biggest bully on the beach is also the smallest: Tabanus nigrovittatus. The dreaded Greenhead fly. Tabanus nigrovittatus emerges from the salt marsh at summer’s midpoint. She has just laid her first batch of eggs and she’s out of her mind with hunger, and it’s time to get down to the business at hand. Her first blood meal. She makes a beeline for the water. The sand up ahead is swarming with warm, scantily clothed bodies, fairly bursting with reservoirs of succulent human blood.
Beaches will post warnings about the fly conditions, like some weird variation on the surf report. At Crane Beach there’s another sign, too: No Refunds.
We have a cottage in Presquiile, Ontario. On a little bay just off Lake Ontario near the town of Brighton. The marsh at Indian point has been growing closer and closer over the forty years or so I have been there. It’s creeping as slow as watching Pitch drop. But it’s now right off the front of the cottage. I canoe out into the marsh every chance I get. I have been there when the wind dies and these little beasts… They can be more determined than a hoard of yellow Jackets and almost as painful.
The first idea I had was to stand the flies up in a very dark creepy illustration. Like hungry little vampires focused on your blood. Visuals for the article could have gone there. I saw it as kind of a parody of the old 50’s Grind House Drive-In classics. It could have gone humorous as well. I tried a bunch of different directions in thumbnail form, but kept coming back to the idea of the flies as Beasts. Maybe because of the title, maybe my childhood memories. I comp it up tighter and make a pitch in this direction to Lori, along with samples of the style.
Lori writes back “I do think it's super interesting, but I don't think I can bring this to my editor knowing already how he felt about seeing the full detail, the brilliant eyes and the lush greens of the marshes.....This is for our summer issue and with the marshes along the coastline, they are extremely bright and lush. I think the greenhead fly is pretty colorful in the layers of colors in their eyes and so forth”.
Lori and the editor had a different vision. She wants to see the brightly colored eyes of the fly up close with the marsh in the background. “…editor felt so strongly before about a piece. He is open to the idea of illustration but continues to stress that it must be real and that he wants to see every detail. I want him to look at the final product and not be able to tell it's illustration.”
I send the second version. She suggests twisting it in the frame to add some drama. I had thought of this but scrapped the idea because it seemed too comic-like but Lee and Forest thought it added something too, and so I did the little painting, adding some curve to the horizon. All together I was really happy with this direction. Bright and colorful. I loved the marsh leading off into the distance…. But just had to do the other one too. Sometimes they just need to get out of your head, onto the paper.
Big thanks to Lori Pedrick at Yankee Magazine for sticking with me and letting me do such a great piece. Totally a blast.