I remember once when I was back in junior school – so somewhere around 10 years old – the class was given an assignment that really fired up young me. I don’t remember the circumstances behind it, but we were told to draw what we thought an alien might look like.
As it happened, I was a giant nerd in my younger years (I am of course cool and “with it” now) who was very much into sci-fi. I don’t mean Star Wars tie-in novels either, I mean the real 60’s and 70’s what-will-the-future-hold stuff, primarily Isaac Asimov & Larry Niven. Looking back, it’s clear I have my dad to thank for this as it was his book collection I was going through and he was definitely guiding me towards the books that were thoughtful and optimistic and away from licensed dreck and the authors that couldn’t keep their fetishes in check (looking at you, Heinlein).
Anyway, as luck would have it a few weeks before the assignment I had read a book from the library. And not just any book! This was an illustrated encyclopedia of alien life, a collaboration between top sci-fi authors who imagined just how aliens could realistically develop and sci-fi artists who took the words and brought them to life on the page.
So, in a display of typical child-like cunning I plagarized the hell out of it, reasoning that my teacher was pretty unlikely to have read such an old book with so many pictures in (grown-ups preferred books that were entirely words). In a class filled with pictures of Jabba Hutt and stormtroopers and other pop culture aliens that are humans with stuff glued to their heads, I submitted the entry in the encyclopedia that had stood out to me most. For some bizarre reason, this was a floating gas bag that lived in the atmosphere of gas giants. I basically drew a sphere with a big mouth – to suck in lots of gas – and accompanied it with the half remembered theory behind how and why it would evolve.
Now, despite probably not having read the book the teacher was pretty suspicious that I’d come up with the idea myself. And as an art project…well, it was a sphere with a mouth. I don’t think I got a very good mark, but I didn’t care much. You see, I knew all about aliens and that’s much better than what they teach you at school.