Animal Instincts

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Sigmund Freud was not much of a presence in my early childhood. His name never came up in conversations at home. My parents instead owned several child-rearing books, including my favorite, “What to Tell Your Children About Sex When They Ask About It,” which I read secretly on my own, triggering preadolescent bombs to explode in my undeveloped brain. To avoid boring you with those details, the upshot was that my parents, neither of whom were ever in analysis or psychotherapy, decided to send me, at age 15, to a Freudian for some reprogramming and self-examination. It worked, I think.

At least I didn’t have the bone-crushing emotional ailments that many of my peers endured, although I had a acquired a few tics and neuroses that continue over 50 years later. But enough about me (for now).

Bunnyman and Boxer

When I was art director at The New York Times Book Review, at some point in the middle of my 30-year tenure, one of my favorite editors there, Sarah Boxer, was assigned to handle the science and psych books. The Times is known for the intellectual rigor of its editing staff (for the most part) but to my pleasant surprise, Harvard educated Boxer was more than an exceedingly smart editor, she was closet cartoonist with a sharp wit.

Sarah Boxer created Dr. Floyd, a psychologist bird.

Times editors did a lot of things on the side (one moonlighted as a comedian, another sang professionally, a third was a hand model), but to my knowledge none were cartoonists. She even developed a comic character, Dr. Floyd, a psychoanalytic bird, with a supporting cast based on the real Dr. Freud’s own case studies.

Sarah Boxer created Dr. Floyd, a psychologist bird.

“I was lead into the Floydian world by Mr. Bunnyman,” Sarah Boxer explains in the introduction to In The Floyd Archives: A Psycho-Bestiary, one of two books recently published by International Psychoanalytic Books. The Bunnyman alter ego tells Dr. Floyd that he is being chased by a wolf. “Dr. Floyd thinks that the wolf is a paranoid fantasy brought on by Mr. Bunnyman’s attachment to his mother. But lo-and-behold there is a wolf at the door “and he decides to stay for his own treatment.”

Freud and Floyd

The wolf’s alter-ego Lambskin also demands treatment and so the comic begins to take shape as sessions in the pipe-smoking (a cigar is not a cigar, ce n’est pas une pipe) Dr. Floyd’s office. There are other characters based on a Freudian studies, like Rat Ma’am (based on Ratman a case based on obsessional neurosis).

Sarah Boxer created Dr. Floyd, a psychologist bird.

Drawn in a light R.O. Blechman-like squiggly line style, Boxer bases many of her comic situations on books, papers, and theories by and about Dr. Freud, most notably In The Freud Archives, from which her Floyd Archives title derives. There is just enough Freudian ballast to keep her strips from sinking into the depths of total absurdity (at the end of the book, Boxer includes case notes on Freud’s own patients that are incredibly fascinating), yet enough skepticism and sarcasm to keep both serious Freudian veterans and casual dabblers completely amused.

It takes a Freud scholar to unravel the layers of Freud’s genius and missteps. Although Boxer claims Floyd is not Freud (and it’s true; for example, Freud was not a bird). Boxer’s intellectually stimulating and comically entertaining strips lean towards the metaphysical.

English Mother

The second book, Mother May I? does not delve into Freud’s case studies. At the finale of the first book, Dr. Floyd flew the coup. You’ll have to read it to find out why. In Mother May I?, Boxer turns from Freud to Melanie Klein and D.W. Winnicot, the British psychoanalysts “who followed in his wake and developed what is now known as object relations theory,” Sarah Boxer writes.

Sarah Boxer created Dr. Floyd, a psychologist bird.

This book is a fantasy that explores a world were her “poor little animals” are at sea, and the Floydian animals begin to establish a new society and find answers (and more questions) in the land of psychic health.

About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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