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U of M professor's fictional Facebook posts combined with city artist's illustrations... what's not to 'Like'?

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When George Toles signed on to Facebook in 2009, he heard the insistent voice of his long-deceased grandmother intrude on his thoughts.

"What are you going to do George, waste more time?" was the pointed inquiry that echoed through the mind of the University of Manitoba professor and screenwriting collaborator of filmmaker Guy Maddin.

His grandmother was a disciple of purposeful living and hard work. Somehow she also gained knowledge that social media could be a major time suck.

So instead of simply blabbering on about himself or catching up with former students on Facebook, Toles began penning daily status updates, not about his life, but about fictional peoples' days or situations. His posts, ranging in length from one sentence to a long paragraph, now number more than 2,000. He has 2,350 Facebook friends who have access to his posts.

His breakfast buddy, the visual artist Cliff Eyland, illustrated a couple of the status updates in 2011 and then decided to do them all. He ended his run last Dec. 31, having drawn a companion illustration for 1,688 of Toles' literary works.

Gurevich Fine Art has assembled a selection of the framed works for an exhibition called -- what else? -- Facebook Posts by George Toles, Illustrated by Cliff Eyland opening June 16 in the Prairie Ink restaurant at McNally Robinson Booksellers.

"I just picked some quirky thing about each of them and try to illustrate it," says Eyland, also a U of M professor, during a recent interview at Gurevich's Albert Street gallery. "Some are quite literal, others illusive and others barely connect with the story."

After talking at length about what he was attempting to accomplish and why, Toles stopped talking.

"OK, I'll come clean with you," says the American-born 65-year-old. "Sibling rivalry has a lot to do with this story."

He then went on to explain that his younger brother, Tom Toles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist with the Washington Post. In his head, he heard another female voice, this one belonging to their mother, who was fond of saying that Tom had the tougher job of the two, chained to his desk and forced to whip up a cartoon every "bloody" day whether he felt like it or not.

With a nod to Tom's daily duty, Toles decided to match it with a regularly produced status update, every day, no exceptions, not even for Christmas. His literary iron man streak runs over five years.

"I didn't want to use my usual perfectionist excuses that what I was writing wasn't ready," says Toles, who worked with Maddin on such films as The Saddest Music in the World, Brand Upon the Brain! and My Winnipeg. "I thought it would be good for my writing to force myself to throw something to an audience at a certain time every day whether I was totally satisfied with it or not. There would be instant response or instant indifference."

Some of the posts, which take him about 75 minutes to produce, succeed as witty entertainments, others as sharp social commentary or terse advice columns. He says the last thing he is trying to do is to provide anything resembling an answer to life's treachery.

"I'm very leery of pretending I know shit," says the esteemed professor, who has been teaching at U of M since 1976.

Toles had a young artist illustrate his postings, but the digital artwork too often came across as a movie voice-over, restating what the images were depicting. The only guidance he offered Eyland was to do anything but make it a direct illustration.

"I told him, 'Make it your thing that is just sitting on top of my thing and maybe they will have a dialogue of some sort,'" Toles says.

Eyland, 59, may be best known for his 2005 permanent installation of more 1,000 three-by five-inch paintings at Winnipeg's Millennium Library. The Halifax-born artist, who has been in Winnipeg since 1994, appears to possess an affinity for working with large numbers: he shot a nine-hour film consisting of one-minute studies of 500 of the illustrated Facebook posts.

"I've always wanted to have a film du Cliff Eyland," he says."Obviously nobody is going to watch it."

Toles would some day like to turn a selection of the pair's work into a more creatively titled book. His first choice was Penny Dreadfuls, a name recently scooped up by a new television horror series.

"Dreadfuls seem to have that promise of something lurid and cheap," Toles says. "I also like the title 'Cliffhangers.'"

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 12, 2014 C9

History

Updated on Thursday, June 12, 2014 at 12:32 PM CDT: Corrects George Toles' age.

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