I was totally obsessed with Daniel Manus Pinkwater’s Three Big Hogs when I was a kid. First of all, the drawings weren’t meticulously rendered like Maurice Sendak’s Outside Over There, they were colored with Magic Marker that left a faint trail of color around the shapes which seemed to give them kind of an aura. I could almost see being able to do myself. Until then I didn’t realize that kind of illustration was allowed! At about the same time I discovered Pinkwater, an art teacher had told me to “draw a face the way the inside of your face feels…” Pinkwater’s drawings looked like that. Three Big Hogs spoke directly to me, an awkward, slightly plump Jewish girl living in the semi-suburbs with a buzz cut and a tail down the back of my neck. The book is out of print now, and my old copy has disintegrated, so I just reordered it and copied some of the drawings. Studying them has reinforced what a master Mr. Pinkwater is and how profoundly his stories have affected my brain.
Three Big Hogs is about three pink pigs whose farmer leaves and never comes back. This is unthinkably sad. I remember looking at the upside down heart of the crying pig’s mouth and connecting with the intense fear of being orphaned.
They wander on their own until they get to a stranger’s house where they have an impromptu dance party, eat all his potatoes, and go to sleep. When the guy whose house it is comes and sees the mess, he screams, “Great Gravy!” and kicks them out.
This is one of the three funniest drawings of all time. I don’t know how many times I have scrutinized the way his head fills up his hat. Then the pigs wander into the city and freak out. There is an intense Jewishness to this illustration that may or may not have been intentional.
Then they go into the forest where they meet a regular toothy forest hog who calls them babies, and says, “Nobody takes care of me… I eat acorns and apples, and I sleep wherever I jolly well please.” Then he walks away.
They decide to become hairy toothy forest hogs too. I particularly remember the drawings of the pigs lounging in the forest, becoming hairier and toothier, because they are drawn with such unbridled joy. And when a weird kid who very dearly wants to be an artist and draw things that look like the way things feel sees a drawing like that she wants to be an artist forever. It’s that simple.Like some of my other favorite Pinkwater titles, The Big Orange Splot and Lizard Music, Pinkwater opens the door for children to see this magic crazy adult world, and to not be afraid of it. Later I would see echoes of Pinkwater’s jubilant line and bold color in Matisse’s cut-outs, Josef Frank’s textiles and Rousseau’s paintings. I would hear his voice in Dr. Demento’s weird radio show, and in SCTV. But I keep coming back to Three Big Hogs because it got me through the fear of loneliness and nonconformity that comes with being an artist, and instead nudges me to embrace the hairy, toothy life in the forest.