He reminded me of a character out of Homer with his ringlets and beard, especially the spry and thin Michael of the Raggedy Ann era. He just needed a cuirass.
I much teased him over his drawing skills. He would grin and his eyes would pinch in quiet commiseration. Michael drew like Michael Sporn would draw. Line as melody. A route materialized in black Penstick letter ‘F,’ his tool of choice. He told me its tip would break in to brush-like elasticity. He was like his tool. Outlining the confident and vulnerable qualities of his subjects.
Michael was generous with art. He gave a lot of room to animators, to discover themselves as well as the art. When he handed out scenes to animators, rarely did he offer how to do the scene. There was little instruction as I would expect ( and hope from Michael ). He would say, ‘Have fun. See what comes out.’ This sounds contrary to experience, but he has an alchemy. His book adaptations to storyboard were thorough. His translations distilled what the human sentiment was for each character, whether it is a yearning for a family crocodile or a romantic shipwrecked mouse.
He enjoyed a laugh. His face would collapse into a smiling tiered landscape, flesh mashing together like the grinning of the Grinch’s grin looking onto Christmas.
And he enjoyed his big blue Cadillac back in the day, the Fine Young Cannibals playing on the tape player, an inexplicable golf ball tucked in the pouch of the back seat. He drove. The air filled with motion, movement of shapes and colors, a substantial wind blowing on the face and scattering hair like sparklers on Chinese New Year. I was filled with a curious joy and pride. And everything moving on ‘three’s’.
Early in Michael’s career he adapted a poem by Lewis Carroll, “The Hunting of the Snark.” This brilliant film spoke to me of Michael’s inner life, a most personal identification of inescapable dread. In the poem an encounter with a force beyond human or animal control is experienced. It is called a Snark, a kind of mythical bird whose black shadow circles our lives. And when encountering a certain kind of Snark, a ‘Boojum,’ one silently and unexpectedly vanishes away.
In the end, a Snark vanished Michael. It was a Boojum, you see.
JOHN R. DILWORTH is an animation artist based in New York City. His most known works include The Dirdy Birdy, Life in Transition, and Courage, the Cowardly Dog. His work can be seen at StretchFilms.com.