Autographs are odd things. That a person can commit their name to paper or an object, and society will assign it a monetary value is a strange business.
Signatures differ from autographs in that they are generally worthless to society as a whole. That is not to say that a signature does not have value. On the contrary, signatures officiate, validate, prove consent and one’s existence if only at the time of signing. What good would a diploma be if it weren’t signed by a Dean? However, if that Dean also had a celebrity status as a pop singer, or sitcom star, the signature could also serve as an autograph, upping it’s monetary worth-though this is highly unlikely.
My point is, I think I appreciate the practical value of a signature over the perceived value of an autograph. How then, did I find myself queued up for two hours in a line to get David Sedaris’ autograph? The short answer is, I wanted to give him my autograph.
Some time ago, I illustrated a series of scenes based on some of my favorite moments from classic and contemporary literature. One of which was Us And Them, by David Sedaris. In Us and Them, Sedaris tells the story of the Tomkeys, an odd neighbor family from his childhood. He recalls one Halloween when the Tomkeys were away for the universally observed evening of trick-or-treating, and optioned instead to take their children door to door “begging” for candy the night after. On November 1st. Having exhausted their candy supply on Halloween, Sedaris’ mother turns to her children’s trick-or-treat earnings to donate to the Tomkeys. In an effort to deny the Tomkeys his candy, the young David Sedaris rushes to his room trying to eat all of his candy, and destroy what could not be eaten in time. His mother, in an an attempt to appease the awkward trick-or-treaters at her door, barges in on her son who is smeared with chocolate and pleading, “not those”, through a grotesquely full mouth. This last image of child selfishness is the one I chose to illustrate.
So, recently, my wife and I went to see David Sedaris reading excerpts from his books and diaries. As is custom at his live readings, Mr. Sedaris graciously subjects himself to a never-ending line of fans, autographing their copies of his books, and asking them unusual questions. My wife and I lined up with two print copies of my Us and Them illustration. One signed by me, to leave with the author, and the other to, hopefully, be be autographed by David Sedaris to take home and frame.
I wondered how he would react to my interpretation of his work. As the line dwindled before us, I admit that I started to get a bit nervous. Not so much that I was starstruck, but more that I was submitting a finished test to a teacher to be graded. Or more appropriately, that I was submitting a history test to the party who had been present at the actual historical event. How would he see it? Had I come close to getting it right, and if not, could he appreciate my subjective interpretation?
Our opportunity to meet him came, he asked us our names, I handed him the prints, and my wife did all the talking. She explained that I had drawn the picture, and that one was for him to keep. He held them both and stared into them with a sort of far away look, then stated, “Well you definitely got me. But my mother, she was sort of shorter, fatter”. He snapped out of the faraway gaze with a smile, autographed the print, adding his comment (like a teacher grading a paper and adding something like “nice work”), and thanked us.
Back when I decided to illustrate Us And Them, I’d spent a good amount of time studying the short story, looking for cues and props, mindfully constructing the scenery, and casting actors for what is usually just the imagined stage of the reading mind to commit to my illustration. In a turn that I never expected, I had been given the opportunity to meet the author, the man who had lived the event, and naturally his approval meant something to me. David Sedaris validated my effort with his signature, and increased the perceived value of my print with his autograph, but more importantly he gave me the best grade I could hope for by simply writing, “You got me”.