"Come all you little Singing-Pig-Shelni,” a bell man shouts. “Come get your free rides in the tin cans all the way to Earth! Hey, Ben, what other animal jumps onto the slaughter wagon when you only ring a bell?”
---R. A. Lafferty, “Ride a Tin Can”
This illustration came into being solely in the computer. No sketches beforehand, with only a rough idea of the moment in the story I wanted to portray. I'm not certain it works well without the viewers knowledge of Lafferty's heartbreaking tale. I'm fairly confident it jabs at the tender meat in the hearts of those of us who have.
You cannot see the faces of the Shelni (That's deliberate. This illustration has quite a few deliberates), but hopefully the ears are telling enough that these are meant to be the same Shelni that Jack Gaughan illustrated in the April 1970 issue of IF magazine.
So why not create my own vision of the Shelni? I love creating monsters. And the monstrous are often easier to create than animals or people. Here then is why I did not. Because, with Lafferty, I don't want islands. I want to help build up a whole. If we are playing and I'm putting my Lafferty LEGOs together, it's not satisfying enough to make my own little construct. I want my blocks to connect to other's blocks and theirs upon mine and so on, and so on, until a whole world is formed.
When I think of what I want for Lafferty and his legacy, it is an amalgamation of successes fans have had building communal worlds within the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick. Cthulhu is now an established icon because people loved the design and kept building it into their works. Dick's stories are excellent, but needed reinterpreting/rebuilding through cinema to really widen the fan base.
Lafferty will always be a genius. But I fear he won't reach more people than already know him until the rest of us take that genius and built upon it venues which appeal to and draw in new kinds of fans into a greater, grander Lafferty universe.
At least, that's the fantasy -My R. A. Lafferty fantasy.
So, then, I loved drawing those big Gaughan Shelni ears; I loved alluding to Lissanne Lake's illustration for "Days of Grass, Days of Straw" in my illustration for "The Ninety-Ninth Cubicle." It's not much. But it's what I can do.