Hoist your flagons!


Heave on your futtock-shrouds and don’t leave your swashes unbuckled! ‘Tis International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Don’t forget: If you are anywhere near Latrobe, Pennsylvania, shape a course for The Art Center (819 Ligonier Street) where I’ll talk about illustrating pirates this evening from 6:30 – 8:30. If you miss it, I’ll be at The Art Center again tomorrow morning 10:00 – 11:00ish (we need to clear the decks before noon—when some poor lubber’s wedding takes place).


As promised, here are the answers to yesterday’s M is for Movie Pirates Quiz:

First row: Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Carribean (2006). Second row: (left to right) Douglas Fairbanks in The Black Pirate (1926); Robert Newton as Long John Silver in Treasure Island (1950); Sherman the parrot; Errol Flynn as Captain Blood (1935). Third row: Charles Laughton as Captain Kidd (1945); (Charlton Heston as Long John Silver in Treasure Island (1990); Dustin Hoffman as Hook (1991); Walter Matthau as Captain Red in Pirates (1986). Fourth row: Maureen O’Hara as Prudence ‘Spitfire’ Stevens in Against All Flags (1952); Laird Cregar as Sir Henry Morgan in The Black Swan (1942); Kevin Kline as the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance (1983); Graham Chapman as Yellowbeard (1983).

Tomorrow be the big day, belike!

Aye, Friday: the day we’ve been waiting for all year, International Talk Like A Pirate Day! Polish your hooks and sand your peg legs! If you are anywhere near Latrobe, Pennsylvania, set a course for The Art Center (819 Ligonier Street) where I’ll talk about illustrating pirates Friday evening from 6:30 – 8:30. If you miss it, I’ll be at The Art Center again Saturday morning 10:00 – noon.

To celebrate the big day, here is an illustration from P is for Pirate—a theater full of movie pirates. They range from freebooters of Hollywood’s Silent Era to today’s swashbuckling sea dogs.

How many can you name? I’ll post the answers tomorrow, by the powers!


Davy Jones

More from P is for Pirate as we count down to Talk Like a Pirate Day, September 19th! I’ll be presenting a pirate program at Adams Memorial Library in Latrobe, PA, Friday & Saturday September 19th & 20th.

Here is D is for Davy Jones from sketch to final painting. Sorry about the color in my progress shots—must’ve been at night and I forgot to switch the flash on. You can see I based my version of Davy Jones on an 1892 ink drawing by John Tenniel from the British humor magazine, Punch. Tenniel is the guy who drew the famous illustrations for Alice In Wonderland.

Edward Teach

As a follow-up to my last post about Queen Anne’s Revenge, here is the man himself—the terrible Edward ‘Blackbeard’ Teach. I show him in close-up so you can see the slow-match fuses he used to weave into his whiskers and set alight before attacking a ship. You can find him in P is for Pirate, now available in bookstores—or drop me a line in the comments for an autographed copy.

Pirate captains were elected by their crews and could be voted out. To keep his crew in line, Blackbeard constantly showed himself to be more fierce, more outrageous than anyone else on board. Seated with his rogues during dinner, Blackbeard fired a pistol underneath the table and wounded one of the crew, just to remind them who he was.

Blackbeard had to be mindful of his crew’s appetite for liquor—for rum, an ardent spirit distilled from molasses. Without rum, a crew would mutiny, as this excerpt from Blackbeard’s log attests:

‘Such a Day, Rum all out: – Our Company somewhat sober: – A Damned Confusion amongst us! – Rogues a plotting; – great Talk of Separation. – So I looked sharp for a Prize; – such a Day took one, with a great deal of Liquor on Board, so kept the Company hot, damned hot, then all Things went well again.’

R is for Revenge

Queen Anne’s Revenge, that is. Queen Anne’s Revenge is the name of Blackbeard Teach’s flagship—though I have to admit I don’t know why he chose that name. Queen Anne ruled Great Britain & Ireland while Blackbeard was alive, so maybe he considered himself to be a privateer on behalf of the Crown? Was he not happy with the War of the Spanish Succession? I’d like it if, in the comments, someone could offer a better reason behind Teach’s name for his ship. Writers Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift & pirate aficionado Daniel Defoe flourished under Queen Anne, so maybe her reign really was culture’s balmiest day—but why did she need to be avenged?

Anyway, he only captained Queen Anne’s Revenge for 3 years before she sunk off North Carolina. And so I had the wonderful opportunity to paint a sunken pirate ship for Eve Bunting’s new book, P is for Pirate. It was also a chance to pay tribute to fantastic illustrator Lloyd K. Townsend. When I say ‘pay tribute to’, of course I mean ‘steal shamelessly from’. I’ve admired Townsend since I was a wee lad, seeing his paintings in National Geographic. One in particular, from 1979, shows the sunken Spanish treasure ship Tolosa. This was my—cough—inspiration for R is for Revenge. Hey, at least I turned the ship around to face the other way!

Herewith, work in progress:

Q is for Queen

Here is one of my favorites from P is for Pirate, the notorious Grace O’Malley—Irish queen & pirate captain. She was a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth I and reportedly had an interview with Gloriana (who, after all, had a soft spot for buccaneers).

Queen Grace has been the subject of songs, at least one play and even a musical. So far as I know the swashbuckling Maureen O’Hara never played her in a movie, but what perfect casting that would have been!

I show Queen Grace in an Errol Flynn pose with her ruffians behind her. In the sketch I thoughtlessly drew a baroque-looking ship like we’re used to seeing from piracy’s golden age. In the final painting I used the Mayflower—much closer in style to a ship from Queen Grace’s time—as reference. Same deal with the costumes: they’re Elizabethan. I first drew her in men’s clothes but thought she looks much cuter in a dress.

Henry on the wine dark sea!

How fun is this? Henry & the Crazed Chicken Pirates has been translated into Greek!  Kudos to the designer who morphed my title lettering into Greek characters.

UPDATE—my friend Trip (who is a pastor and studied Greek in seminary) says that last word ∏EIPATE∑ is pronounced ‘pay-ee-rah-tays’.  Turns out ‘pirate’ is originally a Greek word, from the verb ‘peira’, to attempt or attack.

Nibble Yer Greens!

For a truly rip-roaring sea-shanty singalong, you can’t beat this old buccaneer bunny favourite. Nautical rabbits have enjoyed this one for centuries, and can oft be heard belting out a chorus in lusty bunny voices (to the tune of Blow the Man Down):

Oh, Buccaneer Bunnies roam o’er the salt seas—
Yo-ho, nibble yer greens!
Our booty be cabbage and carrots and peas—
Wiggle yer ears and nibble yer greens!

Our lives short & merry, our ears long & soft—
Yo-ho, nibble yer greens!
We jump to the ratlines at “All hands aloft!”
Wiggle yer ears and nibble yer greens!

Come cheer up, me bunnies, to glory we sail—
Yo-ho, nibble yer greens!
Wi’ cutlass & pistols and white fluffy tails—
Wiggle yer ears and nibble yer greens!

Our clothes be expensive & jewelry’s dear—
Yo-ho, nibble yer greens!
At two bucks for earrings, that’s one buck an ear—
Wiggle yer ears and nibble yer greens!

So now I ups anchor & bids ye ‘adieu’—
Yo-ho, nibble yer greens!
I’ll drink your sweet health wi’ a flagon or two—
Wiggle yer ears and nibble yer greens!

March has been an incredible month for school visits.  For most of them I’ve dressed as a bunny pirate and read Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies, followed by a painting demonstration.  While I paint, we all sing Nibble Yer Greens.  A couple of students have asked me where the song came from.  The answer is: several places, mostly from sea-shanties sung by 19th-century British sailors.

Blow the Man Down provided the tune and the form for the refrain: ‘Blow the man down’ is imperative—it’s an order.  The phrase I needed also had to be imperative, so I came up with ‘nibble yer greens.’  Incidentally, Blow the Man Down was also the inspiration for the SpongeBob SquarePants theme song.  Fun fact: Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob, hails from my hometown of Syracuse, New York.  It’s rumored the pirate who sings the theme song is a tribute to cartoon show host Salty Sam, a star of local 1960s Syracuse television.  I remember Salty Sam well.

Back to Nibble Yer Greens.  Some of the lyrics come from Hearts of Oak:

Come cheer up, my lads! ’tis to glory we steer,
To add something more to this wonderful year;
To honour we call you, not press you like slaves,
For who are so free as the sons of the waves?

and Spanish Ladies:

Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies,
and adieu to you ladies of Spain,
For we’ve received orders to sail for old England,
And hope with good fortune to see you again.

We’ll rant and we’ll roar, like true British sailors,
We’ll rant and we’ll roar across the salt seas,
Until we strike soundings in the Channel of Old England,
From Ushant to Scilly is thirty-five leagues.

‘A short life & a merry one’ was the motto of Bartholomew Roberts.

The ‘buck an ear’ gag has been around at least since I was a kid.  I fleshed out the verse with help from Blood Red Roses:

Our boots and clothes are all in pawn
Go down, you blood red roses, Go down.
And its flamin’ drafty ’round Cape Horn,
Go down, you blood red roses, Go down.
Oh, you pinks and posies,
Go down, you blood red roses, Go down.

And now, adieu—

Let every man here drink up his full bumper,
Let every man here drink up his full glass,
We’ll drink and be jolly and drown melancholy,
And here’s to the health of each true-hearted lass.


Shiver me timbers, I forgot about my reason for writing this post in the first place!  Last month I visited Northwestern Elementary School, and was treated to a concert by the Second Grade classes.  Each class wrote new lyrics for Nibble Yer Greens—which they sang while their music teacher, Mr Fies, accompanied on the pianoforte.

Additional Words by Northwestern Elementary Second Grade Students

(Ms. Sell’s Class)

One bunny named Henry, who liked to read books.
Yo Ho! Nibble yer greens!
He read about weather and making neat things.
Wiggle yer ears and nibble yer greens!

(Mrs. McCloskey’s Class)

We swab the deck five times, we slipped only once.
Yo Ho! Nibble yer greens!
We climb up the ladders and jump to the sea.
Wiggle yer ears and nibble yer greens!

(Mrs. Bettler’s Class)

The hurricane came to wreck the salty carrot.
Yo Ho! Nibble yer greens!
It sunk all the jewlry, they started to scream
Wiggle yer ears and nibble yer greens!

(Ms. Mizak’s Class)

The Island’s sand is yellow and orange.
Yo Ho! Nibble yer greens!
They built a two-story house, made seaweed stew.
Wiggle yer ears and nibble yer greens!

And now, adieu!—I really mean it this time.

…and more pirates