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“When the Seals Would Clap No More” – Fiction by Tim Conley

circuscoloringbookStep right up and marvel at the preface to the world’s most profound coloring book in “When the Seals Would Clap No More,” Tim Conley‘s contribution to our Fall 2015 issue

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IF IT SEEMS UNUSUAL TO DISCOVER A PREFACE appended to an object that is all too often called a “colouring book,” perhaps prejudices have become unguardedly confused with expectations. There is sometimes urgency in the unexpected. Therefore be warned: despite its innocuous-seeming charms (that it only seems innocuous is one of its charms), Join the Circus! is no ordinary bound stack of paper to be idly defaced, and this preface is likely to disturb and distress those who underestimate what they have opened.

Join the Circus! is certainly a joy to behold – to behold, it must be stressed and not to lay wax upon willy-nilly. The narrative that the keen-eyed reader can puzzle together from the sequence of tableaux is simple, concise, sometimes slyly allusive, and genuinely moving. It needs no improvement. The intersecting circles of clowns and poodles on page 11 are utterly dynamic precisely because they are in black and white, because the artist who gave them exuberant life disdained the superfluous and focussed on the power of the line. Reddening these clowns’ noses will not make them more antic: such an assault would irretrievably lose all the picture’s mirth. The facial expression of the poodle in the right corner is nothing less than haunting, but the smallest smear of pink, say, would demolish that nuance. The whole essence of the clown’s nose, the poodle’s ineffable expression would be violated.

Exaggeration? No. No and again no. We must understand Join the Circus! rather than disfigure it. No one would countenance a gluing together of various pages of the Gnostic gospels or the Analects of Confucius, or fecklessly stand by as some cheerful maniac made paper dolls out of The Origin of Species or The Last Bandstand: An Unbiassed Argument Against the Use of the Conductor’s Baton. These claims need not even be made – the renown of such wonders defends them; and yet one must even today defend Join the Circus!

Why? Regard, for example, the illustration on page 7: the juggling bear on the unicycle. The temptation here might be to juxtapose merry brown for the animal’s fur with jaunty red for the fez, but to do so would be a mistake. Why? For one thing, there is the temerity of asserting the familiar: bears may frequently have brown coats, but there is no reason to suppose that this particular, splendid specimen (capable of juggling four balls while riding a unicycle, a feat which the reader is politely invited to match – without opposable thumbs) does not have a magenta coat. This is only one kind of error, however. The zany who, for the sake of unconventionality or as a wearisome “avant-garde” gesture, scoops up the forest green crayon to colour only the bear’s left side and polka-dots the right in orange, presumes both that the colour does not matter and that his or her “artistic licence” trumps all other possible contingencies and concerns. Imagine a surgeon who announced, hands still within the patient’s open cavity, “this organ would look much better over here.” Imagine the firefighter who aims the arcs of hosed water right over the blazing homestead, with the justification that to his eye it looks more pleasing than merely dousing the flames directly. Just imagine!

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