by Tom Watson
We all have heard the Greek mythological story of “Achilles Heel”. This is the story of “Tom’s Thumb,” however this story is not mythology, it is very true.
Once upon a time in the year of of our Lord 1965, there was a fledging young illustrator from the Valley of Napa„ far away from the Magical Kingdom of San Francisco. His name was Tom. After studying at Art Center School, Tom had worked for a full-service studio in the Hamlet of Oakland for two years, where he learned about the practical side of the business of illustration and graphic design. After two years of diverse experience, Tom wanted to try his hand in the Magical Kingdom of San Francisco. So, he left the studio in the Hamlet of Oakland and began looking for larger dragons to slay across the Bay, in the Magical Kingdom of San Francisco. One day, Tom received word from Sir Norman Nicholson of the Magical Kingdom, requesting that Tom accompany him to slay some large fierce dragons roaming the Magical Land. Sir Norman, an experienced and well respected Knight of the Round Table (Society of Illustrators), was one of Tom’s instructors at the Academy of Art in the year of our Lord 1959. Sir Norman had been helpful with advice and moral support in the past, and Tom was very grateful for his noble acts of kindness.
Sir Norman had received several storyboards to slay for the Milk Advisory Board. He offered to split the work with Tom, but typically the AD was in a rush and wanted them finished and on his desk the following morning.
With assignment in hand, Tom anxiously traveled to his distant lair in the Valley of Napa, with ideas racing through his mind. On his arrival, he burst through the door and told his wife, the fair Lady Joan, that he would be at battle all the night and into the next morning, to slay this large dragon. While lady Joan prepared supper, he worked feverishly to do all the pencil roughs before supper, but his mind was moving faster than his hand, and he was drawing faster than he had ever drawn before. While traveling to his lair, Tom determined that even with only one break for supper, he would barely have enough time to finish the job of slaying the dragon, and deliver it back to the agency in the Kingdom of San Francisco. Surely, a daunting task for young Tom.
As Tom drew faster and faster, his hand became a blur and his mind was racing frantically, making one decision after another. Then, the unthinkable happened! Tom’s right thumb began to cramp and soon it became useless. A wounded warrior, he could not hold his pencil any longer to draw. No matter how he tried to overcome it, it was to no avail. Tom thought this is the end! He would miss his deadline, let down and disappoint his friend Sir Norman, and miss an opportunity to earn his knighthood in the Magical Kingdom of San Francisco. Tom was mortified. Could a stiff thumb end his career? How could he tell Sir Norman that his thumb stopped working, stiffened up and died? It would never be believed by anyone! After taking a short break, he tried once again, but Tom’s thumb cramped again and the more he tried the worse it got. Tom had to inform Sir Norman, for it was the only thing he could do. In receiving the bad news, Sir Norman chuckled and assured Tom that it was only a temporary reaction to his understandable anxiety and nervous tension, and it would probably go away after he had his supper. Sir Norman calmed the dejected and near panicky Tom, and told him not to worry, that it wasn’t life or death, and to call him if it continued. Tom felt cautiously better, while eating his supper. After supper, Lady Joan massaged his taut neck, back and arms, which helped him relax before he had to return to his fate. It was now or never, Tom or the dragon?
The next morning Tom walked to his coach, and taking a long breath of early morning air, he was off for the Magical Kingdom of San Francisco. He felt elated and greatly relieved that he had completed the job, killed the fierce dragon, and felt confident that the AD would be pleased with the results. Tom traveled directly to the chambers of the agency that initiated the assignment, as Sir Norman had instructed him to do. Tom proudly displayed the numerous colored storyboard frames to the AD, who was smiling and nodding his head up and down. He then, turned to Tom, shook his hand and exclaimed, “Good job, Tom, I’ll have a purchase order typed up for you before you leave”. That was music to Tom’s ears, and the beginning of many, many more storyboard and illustration assignments in the Magical Kingdom of San Francisco, including special effects conceptual boards for the movie industry throughout the 1990s’.
Sir Norman and Tom remained good friends throughout their career, and to this day, they look back and have a good laugh about their many escapades together in those early days of the Magical Kingdom of San Francisco.