My 8-year old son has developed a passion for drawing. One day he just picked up a pen and paper and started drawing volumes and volumes of artwork, mostly centered around this one character, Arnold, from the cartoon Hey Arnold! Hey Arnold! was a popular show on Nickelodeon in the 1990′s, so I never knew it as I was too old when it came out. Although it doesn’t air now either, my son somehow found the show through Netflix or one of the other On Demand sources. He instantly related to this character with the football-shaped head, and would create stories and illustrations of this guy and his friends. At first, he would draw scenes from the shows he had watched and later purchased. Then Arnold was transformed into this new character my son invented, which melded together Arnold and whoever else was on his mind, sometimes a super hero, sometimes James Bond. For instance, he once drew a storyboard where Arnold finds his inner super powers and sews his own superhero costume, ala Spiderman. I was happy to indulge my son and buy him paper and pencils but I could barely keep up. Then he decided he wanted to publish his work and put together a binder full of his drawings for me to bring to work, photo copy and give away to his friends as a prized gift, sharing his most personal feelings.
My son has been through a head trauma so I was really happy to see him lose himself to something so creative and to find a new form of expression. He is also someone who, when he becomes interested in something, has to know every last detail about it. Soon he was telling me about who created the show, a man named Craig Bartlett, and how he was in the middle of writing a Hey Arnold! movie when his arrangement with Nick ended. I did a little research myself and found there were legions of people, like my son, who desperately wanted to see this movie get made. Of course these people were older, children of the 90′s, but they all saw in Arnold what my son saw- a very relatable character, acting like a typical boy. “Hey Arnold! was one of the last true cartoons” I read somewhere, which piqued my interest. Why was it so special? I went on to learn that it was one of the longest running shows on Nick and most popular. Not to diss today’s TV programming for kids, but this show aired during a time when story lines really mattered and less attention was spent on special effects and inappropriate subject matter. Kids adored Arnold, and I soon learned why.
After my son pestered me for months on how he wanted to write to Mr Bartlett to ask about the movie and share his drawings, I finally got down to looking for his address. Of course he had parted ways with Nick so I couldn’t find him through my contact there, so I poked around for weeks until I finally found a way to reach out to him and we sent him a letter. I sincerely did not think I would hear back, but lo and behold, he sent my son a personalized drawing that we now have framed in our house. It sits proudly on my son’s desk in his room and I have to say, I think it is one of our family’s prized possessions. I say this not because it is worth something of monetary value, but because of what it represents. This guy appreciated what my son had to say, was flattered and took the time to write him back. In a day where maybe getting a ReTweet is all you can expect from a celeb, it took me back to a simpler time, when fans were fans and kids were kids. And cartoons were about real life.
I just had to write this homage to Craig, because of what a good person he is and how he left an indelible mark on my son that could literally shape his future.