M is for Mattie Ross

I had a number of good possible choices for this week’s “M” AlphaBooks entry. The others on my “possibles” list for this week were Magwitch from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Moaning Myrtle from the Harry Potter series, The Misfit from Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find, and The Monster from Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. I’ve used up my Harry Potter character already and I have another Dickens character in mind for later, so here’s what I went with:

M is for Mattie Ross – From True Grit by Charles Portis

Charles Portis is one of my favorite writers and he’s thankfully gotten somewhat better known now than when I first got interested in him. It wasn’t too long ago that all of his books other than True Grit were out of print. Fortunately, sometime in the mid 90s they all got reprinted. I’d be hard pressed to come up with my definitlve favorite Portis novel, but my top three (in no particular order) are The Dog of the South, True Grit, and Masters of Atlantisand genre wise those are about as disparate as three works can be; the first is a contemporary road novel, the second an Old West adventure, and the third a conspiracy theory send-up.

True Grit has of course entered the spotlight again relatively recently due to the great Cohen Brothers adaptation of it. One really notable difference between the film and the book, though, is that the book is narrated in the first person by Mattie. I’d put True Grit among the best first person-narrated books I’ve ever read. In the film you get a lot of Mattie’s lines taken directly from the novel, but in the book you get her quirky, distinctive diction narrating everything.

Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie in the film version. Here she is:

When I set out to draw my version of Mattie, I couldn’t help but picture her, but as with all my other AlphaBooks entries, I tried to go back to the text for a description of her. Interestingly, though, the book really doesn’t contain a description of her since she’s narrating the story. I skimmed the text and really couldn’t even find much in the way of other characters remarking on her appearance.

One of the film Mattie’s most distinctive visual details are her pigtails and indeed when Chris Schweizer recently did a series of True Grit drawings, he gave her pigtails:

I got an ebook version of the book and searched for “pigtail,” “hair,” etc. and could turn up no references to Mattie’s hair other than her describing it as ruffled up at one point. I can only conclude that the Mattie-with-pigtails thing originates with this cover art from original edition of the book:I decided I wanted her to have pinstripes and in the process of coloring her, I found this really handy “stripe generator” that allows you to create little stripe swatches that you can use with Photoshop’s pattern stamp tool. That’s how I did her stripes here.

As usual, this drawing was done in my sketchbook in colored pencil, inked in Manga Studio, and colored in Photoshop.

Next week: “N”…

You can find all the AlphaBooks entries to-date at the AlphaBooks tumblr: http://alphabooks.tumblr.com. You can also follow many of the entries as they’re posted in real-time by following the #AlphaBooks hashtag on Twitter on Mondays.


  1. bluemoonpaul says:

    Nice drawing, character design, colors and post, Ben!
    Now I gotta read those other Portis books…

  2. Ben says:

    @bluemoonpaul – Thanks! All the Portis books are pretty good. Gringos and Norwood are the only other books he wrote–other than a small handful of short stories.

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