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"Ballad of a Thin Man": The Life of Ryan

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Ballad of a Thin Man: In Search of Ryan Larkin is largely the story of Chris Robinson’s journey of realization as he confronts his lifelong personal demons and takes responsibility for them. He intertwines this self-exploration with an exploration and analysis of his experiences with the late Canadian animator Ryan Larkin.

Robinson is the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival. He’s also considered an expert on Canadian and international independent animation. Larkin was a Canadian animator who showed tremendous talent. His potential was never fully realized, possibly due to ne’er confronted demons, addiction, a lack of personal accountability, and perhaps some degree of mental illness.

Robinson recounts his own experiences and shortcomings with an intriguing honesty. He is so honest that at times he paints himself as entirely unlikable. Some of this might stem from this reviewer’s beliefs largely mirroring those of the author, eliciting a reaction that’s almost entirely unsympathetic to a man who let himself succumb to these demons to begin with. Personal qualms aside, there are enough similarities between Robinson’s and Larkin’s lives to make the book work.

He offers a thorough look at Larkin’s life with some amount of sympathy and the right amount of dispassionate analysis as to what might have gone wrong. It should be noted that this is done with the acknowledgment that there are/were others in that industry who were able to take that same level of adversity and turn out the best work of their lives. Robinson briefly touches upon Larkin’s death at the beginning of the book, and the story might have benefited from providing the reader closure by more directly revisiting it again towards the end, where instead we’re treated to some of his favorite Larkin quotes.

Included is a DVD, which features two of Larkin’s shorts, the Oscar-nominated, “Walking” (1968, 5:06 min.) and “Street Musique” (1972, 8:45 min.). It also includes the Oscar-winning short “Ryan” (2004, 13:54 min.), by Chris Landreth and the original color renditions of Theodore Ushev’s illustrations used throughout the title. I must say, the black-and-white versions printed in the book do them no justice.

The written style of Ballad of a Thin Man: In Search of Ryan Larkin is accessible. Technically a textbook, it may be out of the price range of the casual reader, and is an exceptionally quick read at only 220 pages. The book was published on September 19, 2008 and currently available through Amazon.com for $26.59.

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