Monday, May 01, 2006

Sign here please

My signature was born when I was about 10.

I used to carry around a sketchbook filled with cartoons of characters called The Wuppets, inspired by a range of toys they gave away with meals at the A&W drive-through. Actually, ‘toys’ is a pretty generous term. The Wuppets were just balls of wool with eyes glued on. Y’know, the kind for making soft toys you which can buy in bulk, that roll when you shake them. They had big hobbit-like feet, flat pieces of leather with double-sided tape that you could use to stick them – quite permanently – on car dashboards.

I drew pages and pages of Wuppet cartoons. No dialogue, just the Wuppets doing stuff. The only thing I wrote were the titles: The Wuppets At The Haunted House! Wuppets Go To Space! Looking back, they were prolly the height of my artistic talent. They were easy to draw (just a circle, two eyes and feet) and to this date, I haven’t drawn anything else as consistently well. Again, ‘well’ is a generous term. More accurately, my Wuppets are the drawings that have turned out closest to what I imagined them to be.

Anyway, at some point, I felt proud (or was it possessive?) enough about them to want to exert some ownership. So I decided to invent a signature.
I asked my dad to show me how he signed his name. The signature he showed me was actually the ‘initials’ version and it left a deep impression on me.
Maybe it was the way he did it, that looping of the pen that seemed so much like a needle with ink as thread. A few deft swirls of the wrist and a symbol magically appeared. A kind of logo that said ‘Dad.’ Or perhaps it was the way he signed a few of them in a row, each repeated with equal precision, like it was a stamp.
Either way, from that moment on, my concept of signatures was as pictures instead of words. Drawing instead of writing.

And my drawing sucked.

To my 10-year old self, crafting a signature was a big thing. A this-is-how-people-are-gonna-remember-you-for-the-rest-of-your-life-so-you-better-not-suck thing. After all, it would bear my name – and a name is the most public, yet personal thing a person can have. Best to go slow.

So via this blend of childish insecurity and a premature sense of drama, my first signature was…my Dad’s.

I began signing the Wuppets with my Dad’s initials and pretty soon it was everywhere. My books, my pencil box, every where. From time to time, Oh, I tried working on my own signature, but it just never seemed to match up to Dad’s. Besides, nothing was wrong with the one I was using. A few people had even said it was cool. And so I let it be.

Then two things happened.

Thing #1: Dad started letting my brother and I read his comics. Maybe they were too dark for us (Twilight Zone, Tales From The Crypt, Conan) or maybe he didn’t have the time to dig them out of the boxes before then. Either way, it was an upgrade in our privileges. A promotion.
Then I started noticing a lot of them had a signature on the cover. It was stylish and elaborate. Translation: I couldn’t make out the fucking thing.
So I asked Dad.
He said the signature read ‘Goya.’
“Goya?”
“Yes. Goya is an artist from the 18th Century. “
“Why is his name on your comics?”
“It’s just someone I admired.”

Thing #2: They’d given us forms for class trips before, but the one to Cameron Highlands was the first one requiring the students to sign as well. Dad had already signed for me to go, but I left the ‘student’s signature’ portion blank. Out of habit, I almost signed my Wuppets signature, but stopped when it hit me that it wasn’t mine. Just someone I admired.

So that night, out of necessity, I drew my own signature. I had no time to try out different versions and because my teacher admonished us to ‘always sign the same way’ I didn’t deviate from that initial scrawl.
When I made my first passport, the design was finalised. It traced the ungainly loops and a laminate was placed over it, sealing it.
The one I use on cheques and credit card bills today is a direct descendant.
All who have seen it says it bears very little resemblance to my name.
That’s understandable.
After all, it was done in a rush.
And I’ve never been much of an artist anyway.

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