learning to cut

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.

16 thoughts on “learning to cut

  1. Pingback: The Oz Toy Book – A BOOK A DAY IN HAY

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  3. This is so cool, and it’s wonderful that you have this book in your possession again! (Sound familiar??) It’s like a piece of the puzzle of your life has fallen into place, with the added perspective that only age can bring.

    I am certain that, thanks to the internet, many people of our generation are accumulating cherished items from their long-lost childhood. And why not?

    • Thom, speaking personally I can say there is indeed a wonderful sense of being able to reach back and grasp significant details from a past that felt the poorer for their being lost. For me the Internet has opened up and greatly enriched life. It has been the means of finding things I had lost along the way. It has provided the means by which to nurture treasured friendships and has helped create new ones. (This of course is how you and I met.) It’s also allowed the development of exciting working relationships with people across the world who I would not otherwise have met. Friends and colleagues are just the touch of a keypad away, and we can all share so much more information than has ever been possible in the past. With regard to reading, books still rule in this household, but there are more of the ones that I’d long aspired to thanks to the wonders of Google ‘search’!

      I came late to computers… I was not of a generation reared on them… but taking on the technology was one of the best new tricks this old dog learned. I don’t like to think about what I would have missed had I not risen to the challenge! It’s all been a wonderful experience.

  4. Isn’t it ironic that the ‘value’ of such wonderful books these days is raised if they were NOT cut and enjoyed by the original owner? I picked up a Wild West cut amd make booklet the other week with the cowboy figures and their stands still intact on the page and I just cannot bring myself to take the scissors to them.Scanning them in is a good alternative Clive…. but it’s not the same as playing with the real thing is it?

    • That wild west cut and make book sounds like great fun and I’d have revelled in making up its contents when I was a boy. Living in Wales I was entranced by the idea of the American West, and daydreamed of being a ranch-hand with a horse to call my own. So I treasured my Cowboy Toy Theatre book, and played with the stage I made from its pages until the poor thing fell apart.

  5. mmm… i am so jealous… i really love the raven with the key; it carries so much meaning. so, we will see how patient i am, with this cutting. i am on to the cardstock, now, and still making changes…

  6. I love the photo of you cutting paper, and that someone thought to take the photo, and that you still have it! I liked to make cut-outs too and still do enjoy such things. It is so amazing to see where your interest in paper cutting has led.

    • The photograph was taken by my mother’s first cousin Leonard. The woman who I grew up calling ‘Nan’ was not in fact my grandmother but my great aunt, and her son Leonard, a professional photographer, made many images of my sister and me because our two families lived together in one house. It was thanks to Len that my early childhood was recorded, which was a great help recently when it came to illustrating my biographical chapter in the monograph.

      • Ah, this explains so much. Some of the images from your childhood are so unlike the usual family photo. I have occasionally thought it was almost like you had some magical means of ordering up an image from some moment in your past in order to illustrate a particular blog post! How wonderful that Leonard documented so much in his photographic work! You are indeed quite fortunate to have such a collection of photos.
        By the way, this week I ordered a copy of the The Book of Ystwyth, and the monograph. They are being sent on ahead to my Ontario address, so I must wait a few weeks before I will have the pleasure of seeing them. I look forward so much to taking them with me to read this winter!
        Thanks very much for your comment about my old house. Lately, I am feeling so good about the “rightness” of rescuing this poor old structure. I’m certain that you feel the same about Ty Isaf.

  7. In my humble opinion, there can be no doubt about the ravens and the wolves and their “imprint” in your personal aesthetic sensibility. And… don’t forget the beautiful gray horse!

    • I think you’re right Anita. I’d completely forgotten about the ravens and the wolf in that particular story until the book arrived a couple of weeks ago. My heart skipped a beat when I opened the covers because I recognised the animals immediately. All those years forgotten, buried in the subconscious, and the instant I saw them I remembered.

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