Portraits, sketches, caricatures of Joyce come to us in the highly verbal Finnegans Wake, a long circular self-confession, a picture always in words. But there exists one cartoon which translates his words and self-mockery his wobbly self-esteem into visual tracings.
One day, the Spanish painter César Abin came to do a sketch of Joyce for transition, Eugene Jolas's journal which was publishing portions of "Work in Progress". Abin drew a conventional man of letters, sitting on front of his books, with his pen in his hand, his eyes visionary. It was a tolerable if awkward likeness. The books, the pen, the entire drawing seemed to Joyce too solemn, too simple. He began telling Abin what to draw, and presently he was involved in a collaboration. At Joyce's instruction a different picture was drawn: Joyce was shown in a large semicircle as if he were doubled up by cramps, with his feet dangling among wisps of cloud. His body ended up shaped like a question mark the eternal enigma he regarded himself to be and was to himself as well as his audience. His blinker-like spectacles were on his nose and the tip of his nose collided with a star. Under Joyce's dangling feet Abin drew a terrestial globe labeled "Ireland". The globe was made to become the large dot completing the question mark. On the head of this free-floating Irishman among the clouds, suspended over Ireland and a large Dublin drawn as Ireland's heartland, was placed a battered cobwebbed Irish derby. There were cobwebs in the hollow of Joyce's chest that is, near the region of his heart. Shoved into the left pocket was some sheet music. The title printed on it was "Let Me Like a Soldier Fall." There were patches at the knees and a patch on the sleeve. Joyce's mouth is turned down. Stuck into the front of the bowler is the portentious figure 13.
For two weeks Joyce kept making suggestions to César Abin until he was satisfied. Eugene Jolas tells us that the star in front of the nose was inspired by a critic who called Joyce "a blue-nosed comedian." And so in this Icarus-like cartoon we may discern, behind its conscious humour and self-denigration, the Joycean comedian and the Joycean self-image. A patchwork cobwebbed Irishman, suspended over Dublin, and an enigma. The cobwebs are strategically placed, almost as if Joyce felt that his head was a cluttered attic and the region of his heart a cown of his superstitions. And he is a comedian who thought himself capable of Daedalus-like flight with wings of his own making. He is also Ulysses, the hero who must fall like a soldier, a hero who sings of his own glories, as Homer sang of Odysseus. He made himself into a question mark, Jolas told us, "because friends had told him once that his figure resembled a question mark, when seen standing meditatively on a street corner." This fell in with his own sense of being a maze-maker, an enigma-creator, enigmas he unfortunately had to explain to others, since no one understood them. Joyce leaked the method of Ulysses to Valéry Larbaud, and some of the secrets of Finnegan were divulged to Jolas, McAlmon, and other friends. They spread the good word of how clever Joyce had been. In this way we see behind the fun of caricature the conflicted, suffering, self-disparaging genius. The flaws in his personality are the flaws in his art and anyone who has carefully read Ulysses knows the quantities of cobwebs in that work.
Leon Edel, "Psychopathology of Shem", pp 112-115, Stuff of Sleep and Dreams: Experiments in Literary Psychology, 1982,