Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Ordinary Tale of Captain Love

                                       “God save thee, ancient Mariner!
                                         From the fiends, that plague thee thus! –               
                                         Why looks’t thou so?” With my cross-bow
                                         I shot the ALBATROSS.  The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Captain Love was an ageless mariner, a pirate in gothic black, high, pointed collar and sharp, angled features to the face and beard.  He stood alone, pre-dawn on an outcrop of rock, indifferent to the storm that raged all about.  Bertie conceived him thus, corrupting his mother’s morality tales, before he could properly draw the character.  It then took an age of effort, retreating from the world and neglecting the distractions of youth, before Bertie had refined his skill, this time twisting the romantic art of his father.

When he was ready, however, it all felt worthwhile, like a brilliant dawn following the blackest of nights.  With this arrival of day Bertie sketched the deliberate detail he had learned, charcoal moving with pace and precision.  It soon became clear what the captain was holding in his right hand, the head of a black yo-yo caught mid-motion returning from a throw.  After that Bertie drew the left hand, depicting cruelty without fear; what he produced was the white neck of a once graceful sea-bird, hanging limp and red drops of blood inked as they fell.

This, as Bertie would describe, was an ordinary tale of colour, black against white against red.  There was no guilt involved, no fiends plaguing his conscience; and it was the very simplicity that shocked, anticipating his audience and knowing what they would want to hate to see.  Bertie did so by pocketing the captain’s yo-yo like a fob, the sketch complete.  He followed this with new images, the long fingers of Captain Love piercing innocent albatross skin and picking out raw, bloodied flesh to eat.

Mrs Anderson, for whom Bellcastle, like the Junior School she ran, was an ordered idyll, never quite understood Bertie’s work.  She was pleased that her only child had discovered some talent, a focus for an otherwise idle life; yet the skill of disgusting an audience, causing them to cringe at the offence displayed, was not one that she admired, and Mrs Anderson would have preferred if Bertie had applied himself in some different way.

Bertie stuck to his art nonetheless, the son of a small-town Headmistress rescued from the embarrassment of obedience by the shocks he administered.  Added to this growing notoriety among the local young were those rewards that a modest income can provide.  Whilst the Captain Love franchise would never reach a mainstream audience – the cruelties depicted a niche market, the tales of the captain attracted a steady, loyal following.  This meant that by the time Bertie reached his late teens, conscious that there was a world beyond his predictable and comfortable Anderson home, the sale of Captain Love stories was sufficient to finance the purchase of Bertie’s car.