February 27, 2014
John Steinbeck’s 112th Birthday
See the interactive version!
The doodle started out simple enough: Illustrate my favorite book, Travels With Charley. For those who haven't read it, John Steinbeck takes a truck camper and his standard poodle Charley, and drives around America.
caption courtesy of a friend of a friend
"A TRIP TAKES US"
That could have been the whole doodle right there (and of course there is a lot more to the story itself), but you can't really do a doodle for John Steinbeck and not feature something as monumental as The Grapes of Wrath. 2014 also marks the 75th anniversary of Grapes' publication, so that pretty much sealed it. My solution was to feature both, as well as a few other well-known books, with one letter in each title coming forward to spell Google.
I thought these initial spot illustrations could act as a row of book spines, and clicking on them would open up into full-bleed book-cover-style illustrations with light animations. I explored this idea in many sketches. Here are some of the readable ones:
I also thought it might be cool to have quotes pop up depending on where you clicked the illustration. Kind of like the blurbs on the back of books, only more interactive. This was a bit confusing during test runs though, and our brilliant UX designer, Noah Levin, came up with the continuous parallax scroll concept as an alternative.
THE GRAPES OF WRATH
Below is one of the first sketches I drew for my initial pitch. You can see that I was shooting for more of a book cover format originally.
The final did not change too much, even after I read the whole book to find possibly better scenes and quotes.
On top of reading all of these books (the Penguin audiobooks are amazing, btw), part of my research included revisiting my hometown area of Monterey and Salinas. A few friends and colleagues came along (including the engineering mastermind behind the doodle, Kris Hom). Fun fact: the four of us from the trip are represented as frogs in the Cannery Row illustration:
"WE OUGHT TO DO SOMETHING FOR HIM"
I really enjoyed the parallels between Doc's study of marine biology and how Steinbeck observes the characters within Cannery Row. The bums, prostitutes, store clerk, Doc, etc, all relied on each other in some strange unspoken way; its own ecosystem. Placing one of the iconic cannery bridges in the reflection of a pothole pond was a subtle way of illustrating this parallel.
OF MICE AND MEN
I have a newfound appreciation for this book, having only read it before in high school. What struck me most this time around was the struggle between reality and longing.
The first illustration poses a question on that premise: Are the two men walking toward the physical farm to start a real job, or is this a walk through their imaginary "fat of the land"?
You may also spot some influence from Ben Shahn, specifically his work, Beautitudes. He has a tonal sensibility (both artistic and social) that goes hand in hand with Steinbeck's words, and hopefully some of it trickled its way into these illustrations. He has definitely played a big part in my growth as an artist recently and this seemed like the right time to thank him for it.
The quote above is taken slightly out of context from the moment it occurs in the story and this, to me, was a small victory – when illustration is more than just drawing the text. You're providing another viewpoint to the story without changing it, but creating more intrigue instead. One of the things I wish I did a better job on was identifying more of these unexpected moments throughout the series.
I chose The Pearl because it is my dad's favorite (he's the one that got me into Steinbeck years ago). In the above sketch, I drew the shape of The Pearl enclosed by the village, as Kino's discovery of the Pearl brings the entire town upon him and his family. The sea image became the final concept for the cover, but the village scene comes back to haunt us.
THE LOG FROM THE SEA OF CORTEZ
This book was eventually cut out, but I intended it to be another homage to one of Steinbeck's biggest inspirations and closest friend, Ed Ricketts. You can see how elements of the sketch ended up in the Pearl, and thankfully, there was a chance to draw Ed in the form of Doc in Cannery Row.
TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY
Coming back to Charley, I guess one question people might ask is why not end GooglE with the obvious East of Eden? That's totally valid (and has been asked), but I wanted to end this doodle on a somewhat lighthearted note. It's also an autobiographical book, and serves nicely as an About the Author section at the end of this doodle. Still, I think the message in Travels of observing ourselves and our country is an important one. Things do get a little heavy toward the end of the trip, and even in escapism we are forced to confront things.
...but not always
John Steinbeck did write that his great mission was "to help people understand each other." And it's amazing how often, despite being published fifty to seventy-five years ago, he amazes me with advice that we as individuals and as a society could benefit from today.
Thanks for the journey, Mr. Steinbeck.
posted by Mike Dutton, Doodler