By Eric Magnuson
On most days before 2007, you could walk down Saint-Laurent Boulevard in Montreal and find a fragile, bespectacled man working the crowd that often lined up outside of Schwartz’s Hebrew deli. As the smells of smoked meat wafted from the front door, the 50-something man who was known as the “unofficial” doorman at Schwartz’s would perform mime, do a dance, or make impromptu drawings for a Loonie or two. Other times he’d just hold out his hat and ask, “Sp-pare any change?”
Nearly forty years earlier, however, this loveable drunk without a permanent home was a 26-year-old Academy Award nominee for his psychedelic-influenced "Walking", a five-minute-long cartoon that’s been lauded as one of the most influential works in animation history. But that was a long, long time ago.
Throughout the 1990s and most of the 2000s, this man, Ryan Larkin, didn’t care that strangers could see him piss out on the street in broad daylight. The people of Montreal either knew him -- “I have people that expect me to be there in front of Schwartz’s restaurant,” Larkin said, “and I don’t want to disappoint them.” -- or they talked behind his back in agitated whispers: “I’ve seen that man scream at people when they refuse to give him money,” a woman said after her friend gave Larkin some change. He said that panhandling was “a job like any other job… You have to be there on time. You have to wear the right clothes. You have to be nice to your clients…” When his daily shift in front of Schwartz’s ended, he’d bury himself in his alcoholism by drinking beer after beer at the “far-from-hip” Copacabana Bar down the street. Then he’d be off to the Old Brewery Mission for the homeless once it was time to go to bed. The Academy Awards were a long time ago, indeed.
Ryan Larkin’s career in animation was brief---he only completed four short cartoons throughout his lifetime. His last was 1972’s "Street Musique", which he finished before turning 30. That incredibly brief oeuvre, however, is regularly described as “genius.” People who know animation still point to Larkin’s "Walking" for