This is a project I completed in the summer of 1998, on holiday in the Carpathians, waiting for my first year in high school to begin. I really liked the message of the book, written by Victor Hugo and published in 1831 – a message of inner beauty; social injustice being camouflaged by political or religious powers; but also a manifesto on protecting the architectural legacy of the Goths (a new concept at that time, alongside the creation of nature parks and reserves).
However, the strongest pull towards illustrating this story was wanting to draw the outfits, Esmeralda’s clothes. This was my own manifesto on preserving information of historical fashions as a more reliable source of information than the start and end dates of wars. Also, this project represented my “instant gratification” away from school worries about the future. I was quite the procrastinator, and still am – except I used to believe the Blue Fairy on that, whereas now I trust Candlewick’s wisdom and innocence… But that’s another story!
After all this time, to my surprise, I find out that Victor Hugo himself procrastinated endlessly before finally receiving an ultimatum from his publisher to finish the book in six months – to which he stepped up, proceeding to lock all his clothes away to prevent himself from socializing. So while illustrating his book, I was procrastinating, as well as drawing clothes, to relate to the story that came out of his mind while he was missing those things? Fascinating! There was also a rumour about him keeping only one large shawl to wear, and that this part may be only a myth? Take a look…
First in line, some different character designs I came across while being a fan of the story: my own version “direct and unmediated, from the book” (this is an important aspect, linking into a reader’s own archetypal landscape), then a French production, the Disney version, an Italian production, the illustration from the library book I borrowed here in Romania, and Noa’s video for “Vivre” which I tirelessly waited for during every billboard tv show. (Later on, an artist who openly identifies as lesbian made an upcycled artwork based on my drawing of Noa, as one day I shared the song’s lyrics which suddenly made an impact – so how many layers are there now? Amazing…)
Here is the first version I drew of selected scenes (and the shawl):
Here is the second version, where I wrote the exact quotes I was referring to:
I practised my drawing skills some more by drawing Disney’s version – then compared the different endings and what they meant for the overall message. Mind you, our VCR didn’t have an Image Pause function, so I just watched the film a lot of times until I got all the details I needed (and learned the songs… I could still sing you “God Help The Outcasts” right now if you asked me).
One day I took the videotape for sharing at the high school where I was routinely bullied by both classmates and members of the teaching staff for being a tomboy – but the English teacher said the dialogue seemed to be above the level of English understood by the majority, so next time bring them something with subtitles, or something less intelligent, or give up. Right! (I’ll let you debate the wisdom of such politics.) Anyway, I fared better a bit further away, oh like Japan – they didn’t understand English there either but, somehow, over there it didn’t constitute a problem… we respected each other, and we had a blast. I used my drawing to create a cultural bridge.
And finally, in August 2012, I got to explore the architectural legacy which had until then been only an idea in a book of fiction. So here’s to all the Thinkers who therefore Are…