As far back as I can remember I drew and and I cut out with a pair of scissors. The activity books I most enjoyed as a child were the ones with toy theatre productions or construction models of buildings. There seemed to be an infinite variety of subjects available back then, and I recall making historic dioramas, Roman amphitheatres, suits of medieval armour and exotic birds, all in vividly printed card. Eventually I didn’t need the activity books at all, but made things to my own designs. After seeing the Alexander Korda film The Thief of Baghdad… re-issued and playing as a children’s matinee at a local cinema… I made a six-armed goddess* out of paper and card, decorating the finished figure with my paint-box colours, sequins and glitter.
There’s one cut-out book I remember with particular fondness. The Monster Rupert was different to my usual Rupert Bear annuals inasmuch that the pages were made of card rather than paper. This was because as well as the stories told in pictures with the text in four line verses, many of the pages were printed with full-colour cut-out characters.
Rupert’s creator/illustrator was the talented Mary Tourtel, who drew his adventures from their inception in 1920 until 1935 when her eyesight became too poor to continue. The Monster Rupert was first published in 1946 when Tourtel’s drawings were already a decade old. For that first edition it had five stories and 200 cut-out characters, though by the time it was being re-printed in the 1950s, the book had been reduced to three stories and a mere 120 cut-out figures. I had a 1950s edition, and I cut out all 120 characters and played endlessly at recreating their stories around my bedroom and in our back garden. Of course neither the book nor the card figures survived, but thanks to Abebooks I recently traced down and acquired a pristine copy of The Monster Rupert. My fingers itch to get cutting, but I think I must desist. Perhaps I’ll just scan some of the pages and get working on the print-outs instead.
” The You Tube video from the Korda film (linked from the first paragraph of this post) has been ‘mashed’ with a contemporary music-track, but as both the film and track conjure strange and captivating worlds, the juxtaposition works surprisingly well. In it you’ll find the six-armed mechanical statue that so entranced me when I first saw the film, and that I attempted to re-create… quite plausibly if my recollection serves me well… as a paper model.
Clearly there are themes present here that have stayed with me and appear in my own work, and I wonder whether my versions of Hervé and his wolf and Elijah and his raven are rooted in Mary Tourtel’s captivating stories and illustrations made nearly seventy years ago.