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Foddy - the story

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The Origag Story

Whenever my new copy of British Origami arrives, I still have the feeling that it is going to fall open at the latest Origag. Of course, this is not likely to happen because the last Origag appeared as long ago as October 1984 and, indeed, I myself wrote its epitaph. But the Origags were so much a feature of British Origami that I still feel the magazine is not complete without the cartoon.

Much as I hoped that the Origags might some day be revived, this has never happened. There were plans for collecting all the Origags together in a BOS Booklet, but for some unforgivable reason this did not materialise. Nevertheless, the Origags remained there, hidden in the pages of old copies of British Origami patiently waiting for that spark which would bring them to life again.

And now it has happened but in another and wholly unexpected way! For this we have to thank the development of the new technology of the World Wide Web, which in 1984, was no more than the twinkle in the eyes of a few unknown boffins. The Origags are resurrected in Cyberspace for all who have electronic eyes to see and enjoy!

The first Origag appeared in British Origami no. 49 in September 1974, only a year after Roberto Morassi had become a member of Origami Fun. At that time he hadn't even attended a meeting of the BOS and how he had come to be a paperfolding enthusiast we could not imagine. But we later learnt that he was a lecturer in chemistry at Florence University and that he was an devotee of recreational mathematics, so this may have been the path which led to his discovering the fascinations of origami.

The Origags continued to grace the pages of British Origami in issue after issue and year after year. The fanciful paper animals who inhabited that curious world were usually the first things that caught your eye as you expectantly skimmed through the pages each new issue. As one Origag succeeded another we could not fail to be enchanted by this strange world of improbable animals and the whimsical kind of humour that they portrayed.

It was not long before we met this extraordinary Italian in person at last. It happened when Roberto came to London for the spring convention of the BOS in 1975. The fact that he was combining his visit to the BOS with a mission to scour the bookshops of London for books on recreational mathematics did not diminish the honour we felt. Roberto immediately became a friend of everyone. His warm acceptance was helped because he spoke fluent English even if none of us could speak Italian. And not only formal English. He spoke colloquial English and was fully at home with our convoluted English idioms.

Much is made about the different kinds of humour of different races. There are certainly differences (and not least, it may be said, between British and American humour), but I have always thought that humour is humour and the differences are merely marginal, not essential. After several visits to Italy, I have realised that in particular Italian humour is very close to the English. So it is with Roberto's humour. The whimsical ideas, the non-sequiturs,the big question marks are very English in spirit, but at the same time they surely have a universal appeal.

Roberto,is more than a mere observer or commentator. He has contributed novel and creative models to the repertoire of international origami. Roberto's own origami creations are scattered through books of origami throughout the world. His best-known model is his "Pearl in an Oyster", but there are many others and anyone looking for a wider view of his work should seek out "Modelli di Roberto Morassi", no.13 in the series "Quaderni di Quadrato Magico" issued by C.D.O. One of the founders of the Centro Diffusione Origami, he helped it to become the national origami society of Italy. It was one of the earliest of European origami societies.

During the summer of 1983, I and my wife were very fortunate to be able to stay in Bologna on a visit to my daughter who was then working there. Our visit coincided with the exhibition of the contributions at the Pinoccio international origami competition which was being held in Florence. My wife and I traveled to Florence and Roberto entertained us to a splendid al fresco lunch at a restaurant in the hills of Tuscany above Florence, something that that English people constantly dream about. We had the pleasure of the company of Roberto's wife, Laura and their young daughter, Liza. After the meal we visited their home in the fascinating town of Pistoia, not far from Florence and saw Roberto's magnificent collection of books about origami and recreational mathematics. Roberto accompanied us back into Florence, where he took us to visit the Pinocchio exhibition. Many paperfolders from all over the world had contributed, not least, Akira Yoshizawa. Although Yoshizawa did not entering the competition itself he sent a special and impressive panoramic display of scenes from the story of Pinocchio.

In more recent years, Roberto has taken a less active part in running the C.D.O., but he has continued to be an active member and recently he has become its unofficial archivist and has compiled and impressive collection of documents and photographs which record the history of C.D.O in fascinating detail. He still continues to come to England from time to time to attend conventions of the B.O.S., and, no doubt, to look for more books on recreational mathematics.

Today, Roberto is a frequent contributor to the Origami List on the Internet. As might be expected from a man of his talents he has absorbed the skills of the computer and he carries on an extensive private international correspondence by e-mail.

Fifty-nine Origags were published in British Origami over a period of ten years. There would have been sixty, but the subtle nuances of English tabooed words misled even Roberto, so one Origag was censored by the then editor. Sadly no trace of it seems to have been preserved and that is our loss. But what an astounding achievement! I can only look on with admiration as cartoonists relentlessly contribute to newspapers, day after day and year after year. How do they do it? When I was a student in 1952, my landlady kindly let me read her copy of the morning paper over breakfast. Each day without exception I enjoyed one particular cartoon. I have not regularly read that paper in the forty-seven years that have passed since then, but If ever I do come across a copy, I find an instalment of the same cartoon, a fresh as ever and its characters not a day older. The cartoonist must be an older man by now, but his ideas are as new as ever. How does he do it? How did Alfred Bestall write and draw the Rupert cartoon for thirty years? We have to accept that such career cartoonists are very exceptional.

Roberto contributed the Origags only six times a year and for only ten years, but the task and his achievement must never be underestimated; where did he find all his ideas? How did he meet the copy dates? I doubt if even Roberto knows.

Not only the tabloid newspapers, but also the "quality" newspapers all have their cartoons. It seems that they are a vital part of a healthy newspaper. This is probably because a single picture can convey an idea much more effectively than thousands of words. Words have to be processed by our minds but we can immediately enter and become part of a picture. So, Roberto's Origags are often more than mere jokes. Some of them are a satirical comment on our preconceptions and prejudices in the world of paperfolding. Others point to some of the fundamental mysteries of origami and make us ask questions.

My own favourite Origag is no. 9, where the chicken(if that is what the creature is) asks "What is Foddy's opinion about paper cutting?" and the duck(?) replies: "As a rule, cutting is not admitted unless it adds significantly to the value of the model". I wonder how many readers of British Origami realised that this was a satirical comment on the attempt in the Constitution of the young BOS to define "Origami" and its relationship to cutting? I particularly felt this barbed shaft because it was I who thought up the words. Or consider no. 54, with its comment on "three-legged animals" It was no less than Yoshizawa who said that had he folded thousands of three-legged quadrupeds and then destroyed them all because they did not meet his standards for worthy origami creatures! And again, doesn't the flip-flop action between the preliminary fold and the waterbomb base in no. 25 tell us something about the mysterious transformation of the one form to the other, so similar in one way, but so different in another? Does no. 39 draw attention to the limitations of the silver rectangle, whatever merits it may otherwise have? Surely, in the final Origag, no. 60, Roberto is poking fun at himself and all other "mathematical" paperfolders, where the chicken (?) explains that Foddy is studying mathematics to study his own creativity. When the dog(?)asks what is his latest model, the reply is just a complex and impressive, but to the non-mathematician (and for all I know, for the mathematician too!), a completely incomprehensible mathematical formula.

"Foddy" appears by verbal reference or by implication in many of the cartoons. But whenever actually appears and never speaks. Foddy is, of course, Roberto himself and the interactive instrument is his pair of tweezers. The tweezers are the bridge between the real world and this whimsical world of origami animals and birds. The drawings are no more than lines of ink which depict the illusion of folded paper animals, yet they have personalities and even facial expressions and minds of their own. In fact, they live. This is Roberto's genius and the reason why his Origags were so popular. Since they were drawn, a new generation of paperfolder has been born and grown up, none of whom has previously had the opportunity to enter this curious, microcosmic world. Today they are as likely as not to be children of the Internet so that it is wholly appropriate that the Origags should be reissued in the pages of the World Wide Web. It is my hope that not only they, but also those older folders for whom the Origags remain a lively memory, will find not only enjoyment but also new perspectives in their resurrection.

David Lister
12th December, 1999.

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