Could the origin of all musical instruments possibly be traced to previously unknown species of fish lurking about on the ocean floor?
Only in the wildly creative mind of Will Santino, a studio art major from Bowling Green, Ohio, who lays out just such a scenario in his forthcoming graphic novel Fish That Don’t Exist, which will also serve as his senior Independent Study project.
One of Santino’s planned five chapters is based on what he calls “retromusicology,” a fictional theory that every musical instrument ever created is an accidental approximation of a now-extinct fish. (Thus, in 1841, Adolphe Sax, without knowing it, modeled his brass instrument off of the proboscis of an extinct order of seahorse.)
Santino says Walter Zurko, professor of art and his adviser for junior I.S., has been a great mentor through the creative process thus far. “Professor Zurko is awesome, his enthusiasm and wide range of knowledge and experience is extremely helpful.”
How Santino arrived at this point in his life is almost as remarkable as his fertile imagination. As a child, he was tested for ADHD, dyslexia, and several other learning disabilities because of his struggles to pay attention in class and focus on the subject matter. “Everyone thought there was something wrong with me,” he said. “I got dismal grades.”
One of his most distracting and seemingly counterproductive habits was his propensity to doodle during class. “It got so bad at one point,” he said, “my teachers refused to grade any thing with a doodle on it.”
Despite neglecting homework to write short stories, Santino was able to make it through high school, but his guidance counselor told him not to be too disappointed if he did not get into the college of his choice, especially the one at the top of his list — Wooster.
“My mother [a professor at Bowling Green State University, as is his father] thought that Wooster would be a good fit for me because of my love of writing,” said Santino, who wrote his 400-plus page first novel, The Trial of the Hummingbird, in high school. “She also thought that the Independent Study program would be a great experience for someone like me.”
So he applied and, not surprisingly, was quickly denied because of his “abhorrent” grade point average. Fortunately, he was given a second chance and asked to submit an essay. His literary skills caught the collective eye of Wooster’s admissions staff, and the college agreed to take a chance on the budding young novelist.
His mother’s instincts turned out to be right on target. Santino has flourished in Wooster’s liberal arts environment where the mentored, independent pursuit of intellectual curiosity is championed. As a first-year student, Santino registered for an introductory writing course taught by visiting professor Neil Carpathios, as well as an advanced fiction writing class taught by Professor of English Dan Bourne. “Those two classes taught me a lot,” he said. “Both professors really helped me.”
As a sophomore, he made the acquaintance of Peter Havholm, professor of English, who agreed to take him on for a one-on-one tutorial in fiction.
“Over the summer we each chose five books, and we read and discussed them in the fall,” said Santino, who cites Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Michael Chabon among his favorite authors. “We looked at how authors use dialogue to bring life to their characters.” During the course of the class, Santino wrote his second novel, titled And I Slide and I Slide.
“Professor Havholm was unbelievable,” said Santino. “I learned more in that tutorial than I did in four years of high school.”
Outside the classroom, Santino fed his voracious appetite for writing by contributing pieces to the college’s literary magazines. His freshman year, he had two stories published in The Goliard and five poems included in Year One.
Now, he continues to work on his “fish story,” which led him to delve into massive books about marine biology, conchology, musicology, and “basically any ‘ology’ I could get my hands on.” How ironic: the student who barely passed science in high school was now consuming advanced resources in the library. Not only that, but he was also a regular on the Dean’s List, appearing at least once every year.
Meanwhile, his current project continues to play out beneath the surface where a skyscraper-sized seashell (Symphostracan stridulatum) filled with musical sea creatures turns out beautiful music that attracts whales and other forms of life to what Santino describes as “the first concert hall.”
Santino sometimes finds himself floating in this imaginary world where he transforms sense into nonsense. Fortunately, he has found a way to channel his creativity through his faculty mentors at Wooster, and build a foundation for what could become a promising career as a novelist.
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