Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cha-Ka vs. Sleestak

I had this illustration in mind for a long time, and I moved it to the front of the line so I could finish it before the new Land of the Lost movie came out and crapped all over my memories of the 1970s TV show.

It was inspired by the fact that the Sleestaks (the big lizard men on the TV show) were portrayed by UCLA basketball players, including a young Bill Laimbeer before he went on to the NBA! The minute I read that, this image popped into my head.

I loved Land of the Lost when I was a kid. It was one of my favorite Saturday morning shows. If you're too young to remember, it was about a father and his two kids who stumble into a strange, self-contained parallel world where dinosaurs still exist, along with an ancient lizard-men civilization and a less dangerous primitive ape-men tribe.

The writing on the TV series was far above average for a kid's show, and featured scripts by actual sci-fi writers, including David Gerrold, Larry Niven, Norman Spinrad, Ben Bova and even Walter Koenig (Star Trek's Chekov!).

It was a pretty elaborate show for Saturday morning TV, with fairly high production values, including huge jungle sets complete with caves and pools. It irks me when I hear people badmouth the show's special effects. Naturaly it looks cheesy when judged against today's standards, it's over 30 years old! But back in the 1970s it was quite advanced, especially for a Saturday morning program. I don't think any kid's show had ever attempted stop motion animation on a weekly basis before that time. I will admit that the scripts were sometimes a bit too ambitious for their limited budget though.

People also tend to dismiss LOTL as just another kiddie show. It was anything but! It had some very grown-up themes for a Saturday morning show. This wasn't a friendly jungle; the Marshall's world was a dangerous place. They were constantly in danger of being eaten alive by dinosaurs, captured by lizard men or dissected by aliens. They were also constantly foraging for food-- if they didn't find anything, then they didn't eat. Pretty serious stuff for a kid's show.

Many scenes stick in my mind to this day. In one episode, Will and Holly (the two Marshall children) are tied up in a pit in the Lost City, awaiting their sacrifice to the Sleestak "god" (some sort of unseen dinosaur, or worse). As their hopes for rescue begin to fade, Holly asks Will if he ever prays. "Sometimes," he admits. "Does it work?" she asks. "Sometimes," he says. That threw my 14 year old brain for a loop! You'd never get away with that on a kid's show today!

In another episode, Holly meets a mysterious shimmering woman who tells her how to rescue her family from some sort of danger. Eventually she finds out that the woman is in fact her adult self, who came from the future to help. As Future Holly leaves, she says, "Cherish your father and brother, Holly, because they won't always be around!" Yikes! Talk about ominous and unsettling!

The producers even hired a linguist to come up with a language for the Pakuni (Cha-Ka's people). They weren't just saying "Ooga booga," they were speaking actual words and phrases. You can see some of the Pakuni language here.

So as a big fan of the TV series, I was understandably excited when I heard there was going to be a LOTL movie. For years I've wished that someone would film a remake with a proper budget. Naturally, Hollywood jettisoned everything that made the original series special, and are taking the low road, turning it into a lowbrow "comedy." Typical.

Drawn in Photoshop on the graphic tablet.
Here are a couple of sketches I did for this drawing. This one fought me every step of the way. Cha-Ka (that's the official spelling) was pretty easy to draw, but I could not for the life of me get the pose of the Sleestak right. I went through dozens of sketches before I found one I could live with.

Part of the problem was that I don't think I've ever drawn a Sleestak before, and when I drew him from reference photos he kept coming out too "realistic" as it were, and didn't match the more cartoony Cha-Ka. So I had to learn to draw a Sleestak the normal way and then figure out how to "cartoon him up."

Then it wasn't enough to just draw a cartoony Sleestak, he had to look like he was actually guarding Cha-Ka and blocking his shot. So getting the pose right took a lot of effort too.

One more thing: it probably looks like a mistake, but it's not-- Cha-Ka's ears really were way above his eyes like that on the show!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

I'm A Grown Man And I Bought This: Space: 1999 Eagle Transport

You no doubt remember exactly what you were doing on September 13, 1999. The tragic day the Earth's moon was blasted out of its orbit by an enormous nuclear explosion, hurled into deep space and taking the crew of Moonbase Alpha on a strange and exciting journey through the stars.

No? You don't remember that happening? Well, truth be told, neither do I. Maybe I was home sick that day.

But that was the premise of Space: 1999, one of the more odd sci-fi shows of the 1970s. Or any decade, for that matter.

When I was growing up in the 1970s, sci-fi TV shows were few and far between. Unlike now when there's an entire Sci-Fi Channel, back then we pretty much only had reruns of Star Trek. There was a Planet of the Apes TV series that aired in 1974, but it only lasted one season before it was canceled.

So I was very excited when Space: 1999 aired in 1975. Not only was it a brand new weekly sci-fi action/adventure show, but it looked great as well! Star Trek's special effects were fairly advanced for a weekly TV series in the 1960s, but Space: 1999 blew them out of the water. Every week they featured movie quality effects, comparable to those in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

But you can't have everything. Space featured some great actors (Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Barry Morse) but just didn't have any characters as appealing or iconic as Kirk and Spock. The series also suffered somewhat from some murky script writing and a glacial pace.

It also had a pretty preposterous premise. Earth begins storing nuclear waste in vast dumps on the moon. After a few years this stockpile of waste reaches critical mass and explodes, blasting the moon out of its orbit and into deep space. The crew of Moonbase Alpha (a large base built on the moon) have no choice but to go along for the ride. The entire moon, in essence, becomes their space ship. Somehow the moon ended up encountering a different alien race every week, despite the fact that even at the speed of light it would take decades for a space ship (or a moon!) to travel the vast distances between solar systems. The moon must have really been booking along!

One other little thing that always bugged me about the show was its time frame. It aired in 1975, so we were supposed to believe that in 24 short years we would have entire cities on the moon and regularly travel there as easily as we now fly to Vegas, along with artificial gravity and ray guns. This type of immediacy in science fiction has long been a pet peeve of mine. Note to screenwriters: when you're writing sci-fi, make sure your story is set far enough into the future that the current audience won't still be alive to see your predictions fall flat.

To make matters worse, the characters often referred to events like "The Jupiter Mission back in '79," the "Deep Space Probe in '85" or "The Mars Uprising of '92." Even a dumb kid like I was back then knew that there just wasn't enough time between then and 1999 for all that stuff to plausibly happen.

But even with its flaws, it was the only game in town back then, and I watched it religiously.

Probably my favorite thing about the series were the Eagle Transport Ships. They were an amazing mix of Apollo era space technology with just enough of a fantasy "cool" element thrown in. They were sci-fi, but looked like something that could really exist.

So when I saw this new Eagle One Transport vehicle, I had to buy it.

I bought it at WhoNA a while back. WhoNA is an online/warehouse store that mostly sells Doctor Who merchandise (along with items from a few other British sci-fi shows). That in itself isn't particularly amazing until you realize they're located in Indianapolis (!). How something as British as a Doctor Who store cropped up in the middle of the land of corn and basketball is anyone's guess.

Whona is primarily an online store and not open to the public. However, if you're ever in the area, if you call them and ask nicely they'll let you come in and shop. The owners are very friendly and helpful.

According to the box, the Eagle was manufactured by Product Enterprises. It's a fairly heavy piece; so it would probably be better to display it on a shelf rather than trying to hang it from the ceiling.

I'm not exactly sure what to call this type of item. It's not a model, as it came pre-painted and assembled. It's definitely not a toy though, as it's got lots of fragile details that wouldn't last 30 seconds in the hands of a kid. I suppose the best term for it is high end collectible.

The Eagle is very highly detailed, featuring lots of exhaust ports, access panels and other fiddly bits that make a model ship look real. I was very impressed that the makers took the time to include details underneath the support struts. Look at the photo above– just to the rear of the nose cone you'll see support struts that form "X" shapes. If you look closely, you'll see that there are small boxes & structures lying underneath those struts! Now that's attention to detail! I had a model kit of the Eagle that came out back in the 1970s, and it wasn't nearly as detailed. The X struts on the old model kit were flat, with nothing underneath. So I was very pleased and impressed that Product Enterprises took the time to add that little bit of extra detail.

The Eagle also features lots of neatly painted orange panels, and is covered with tiny Moonbase Alpha decals that my rapidly aging eyes can no longer discern.

There are no moving parts, but there is a detachable passenger pod.

The box proudly proclaims "Diecast Metal!" in several places. I'm stumped if I can figure out exactly what the metal parts are. I ran a magnet over the entire ship, and it didn't stick to anything. The nose cone and the passenger pod feel like they could be metal, but if they are they're a non-magnetic type. Actually, this is pretty much par for the course in the toy world. Japanese robot toys regularly boast they're made of diecast metal, but are usually 95% plastic. The presence of one small metal part is apparently enough to justify the diecast label. It's not a problem for me; metal or not, I'm very happy with the look and feel of the ship.

There are several different models of the Eagle available (most are the same except for the removable pod), but I chose the most identifiable and iconic one.

There's only one small feature that I wish they had added. On the TV series, when the Eagle would touch down, the landing gear would compress a bit, as if the weight of the ship was settling on shock absorbers. In a perfect world they would have included this feature in the model. But that's a minor issue, and overall I'm very pleased with the quality and detail of the Eagle Transport.

As I mentioned earlier, the Eagle is pretty solid, but there are a number of fragile plastic pipes and tubes on it. I wanted to display but also protect it from damage. I went to the local Hobby Lobby and bought a Plexiglass display case, the kind that are usually for displaying model cars. To customize it a bit, I found an image of the lunar surface online, printed it out and cut it to size. I placed the lunar photo on the bottom of the display case, set the Eagle inside and closed the lid. Instant customized Eagle display case!

Your best bet, should you want one, is to order one from an online store or comic shop. It's not the sort of thing you can swing down to Walmart to pick up.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sketchbook Pages

Looking through my posts, I noticed that I'm always talking about my sketchbooks and how most of my illustrations are based on doodles drawn inside them. So I thought I'd scan a few pages and post them. They might give you a "behind the scenes" glimpse into my thought process when I draw. Or you may well view them as a cry for help.

Those of you with small children may want to leave the room now.









Although they look like I used a pencil, they were all drawn with a plain old ball point pen.

These pages actually did come from a sketchbook, but the majority of my sketches are just scribbled on note pads, Post-Its or any other papers that hold still long enough for me to draw on. I've got folders full of loose pages of sketches in my file cabinet, waiting for me to have time to turn them into illustrations (although some of them should probably be tossed out!). Maybe now that I don't have cable TV anymore, I'll have more time for drawing.

Weary Moon

When the moon was in his awkward teen phase, did the other kids ever call him "crater face?" Thank you ladies and gentlemen, I'm here all week! Try the veal!

I've got kind of a half-baked idea for another Weary Moon piece, if I ever find the time.

Drawn in Photoshop on the graphic tablet.



Here's the original sketch of the moon. I didn't change much, other than cleaning up some of the lines.

Snip!

I finally did it.

As of Thursday, June 25, 2009, I am officially no longer a cable TV subscriber.

I've been loudly threatening to cut the cord for several months now, much to the annoyance of my friends, family and anyone within earshot. It's been a long time coming, but I finally took the box back to the cable company today at lunch (funny how they bring the box out to you, but you have to take it back when you don't want it anymore).

And you know what? The world is still here. It didn't end after I gave up cable.

There are a number of reasons why I decided to pull the plug. Cost was certainly a big factor. I got tired of paying $70 a month for 100+ channels that I never watch. The lack of viewing time was another reason. Lately I've been doing a lot more illustrating, as well as yard work & home improvement. I started noticing the amount of time I sat in front of the Idiot's Lantern was growing ever shorter.

I also grew weary of having to sit through at least 12 minutes of commercials in a supposedly 30 minute show. The networks can deny it all they want, but the number of commercials has mushroomed lately. Why should I even have to watch commercials on a TV network I'm paying to see?

But the main reason I finally summoned the gumption to dump cable is because I just have no interest in what's on anymore. I don't like to watch sports on TV, so there goes a huge swath of the dial right there. I don't care for most modern sitcoms or all the autopsy dramas either. I don't really like to watch people cook, or eat and then describe what the food tastes like. And I have absolutely ZERO interest in any kind of Reality TV. I'd rather eat bees that sit down and watch "Dancing With The Stars" or "John & Kate Plus 8" and their endless ilk.

When I started thinking about it earlier this year, I realized that out of all the hundreds of TV shows on the air, I regularly watched only 4. Yep, FOUR. Battlestar Galactica, LOST, The Office and The Daily Show. Galactica is finished; it ended its run a few months ago so it's not even a consideration anymore. Thanks to hulu.com and the internet I can watch the other 3 shows online. For free. With fewer commericials. And I can watch them when I choose, not when the networks decide.

I got tired of my hard-earned money subsidizing shows and channels that I don't watch. That's just crazy.

So I already had plenty of reasons to cut the cord, but the absolute last straw came last weekend.

This past Sunday I watched a show called Parking Wars. If you haven't heard of it (and I envy you if you haven't), it's yet another reality TV show and is about... parking meter police. I kid you not. The cameras follow various meter men & women around different cities for a thrilling half hour as they write parking tickets and slap them on car windshields, much to the dismay of the agitated owners. Occasionally they spice things up a bit by following a citizen to the impound lot in an exciting attempt to wade through the bureaucracy and reclaim their car.

And that's it! That's all there is to the show. They literally follow a city employee around on their crappy job as they write parking tickets. No plot, no stars, and most of all, no point.

So it's come to this. This is what passes as television entertainment these days. As I sat there watching in amazement, I thought to myself, "Am I really seeing this? There's really a TV show about parking meters?"

So that's it. I'm out. If that's the best that the TV networks can manage to come up with in order to entertain me, then no thanks. I'll be just fine without cable. I have hundreds of DVDs I can watch, and tons of books to read, and thousands of illustrations I want to draw. Or better yet, I may just get out of the house and go for a walk.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Battle-STARE Galactica

As I like to keep pointing out, I work as a graphic designer in a marketing department, so I have more than an average interest in advertising and packaging design.

That's why when I see something like this cover for the Battlestar Galactica Season 4 DVD Boxset, I am totally and utterly astonished:
How does something like this happen?

Whenever I design something, it doesn't end with me. It has to be approved by my boss, various department heads, and a compliance officer. At least six or seven different people have to sign off and approve my ad before it's sent off to the printer.

So what excuse does Universal Studios Home Entertainment possibly have for this piece of work?

I'm sure the designer meant for Lee Adama there on the left side of the cover to be staring meaningfully into the distance, pondering the fate of his race. But instead, he ended up taking a long, hard look at Starbuck's ample rack.

Universal is a professional corporate entity that no doubt has hundreds, maybe even thousands of employees. A hundred people probably looked at the proofs of this box cover and approved it before it was printed. It boggles my mind that not even one of those people noticed Lee's inappropriate gaze and said, "Maybe we should use a different photo of him. One that's not quite so... sexual harrassmenty."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Poutbot™ 3000

As with any new technology, robotics is for now very a very practical science; its only purpose to serve and assist humanity. Robots currently perform dozens of useful functions in our society, such as building cars, vacuuming floors and dancing.

But as a technology matures and eventually fills all the useful niches, it tends to start producing products that no one needs nor asked for (the Snuggie, Slap Chop and Tater Mitts).

Enter the Poutbot™ 3000. Its sole purpose is to get its feelings hurt and then stalk off to its room where it will slam the door shut and sulk for a couple of hours. No amount of pleading or offerings of cookies and milk will get it to open the door; after a randomly generated time period it will get over its pout and silently emerge from its room, ready to start the cycle anew.

The Deluxe model will even tell its owners that it hates them and didn't ask to be born.

Drawn in Photoshop on the graphic tablet.


Here's the sketch for the Poutbot™ 300. As you can see the sketch was pretty rough, so I cleaned up the lines and made them look more machine-like.

Unused Boy Band Labels

Since the dawn of recorded history, there have always been Teen Boy Bands. Or maybe it's just been since the 1980s. Whenever they started, every boy band has legions of shrieking tween girls who follow their every movement and spend billions on any and all merchandise plastered with their sparkling grins.

Undoubtedly the most important part of every boy band are the labels. Each member has a short and descriptive label that sums up their superficial personality traits so that the fans can easily tell them apart. There's always "The Cute One, or "The Smart One, "The Funny One," "The Shy One," and so on.

But it seems there's a great untapped wilderness of labels that the bands haven't yet begun to use. As a public service, I present here a list of these Still Available Boy Band Member Labels:
  • The Sardonic One
  • The Morose One
  • The Regretful One
  • The Contagious One
  • The Moist One
  • The Morbidly Obese One
  • The Sticky One
  • The Binge & Purge One
  • The Tittering One
  • The Calciferous One
  • The Gangrenous One
  • The Standoffish One
  • The Virulent One
  • The Inflamed One
  • The Sullen One
  • The Fetid One
  • The Malignant One
  • The Ornery One
  • The Colicky One
  • The Toxic One
  • The Musty One
  • The Unsavory One
  • The Garlicky One
  • The Arthritic One
  • The Voluptuous One
  • The Swishy One
  • The Pallid One
  • The Seedy One
  • The Nine Toed One
  • The Clammy One
  • The Noisome One
  • The Tedious One
  • The Dingy One
  • The Mincing One
  • The Adulterous One
  • The Incontinent One
  • The Fleshy One
  • The Meaty One
  • The Effete One
  • The Living Dead One
  • The Pudgy One
  • The Convicted One
  • The Cursed One
  • The Excommunicated One
  • The Reanimated One
  • The Noxious One
  • The Sashaying One
  • The Executed One
  • The Moldering One
  • The Fictional One
  • The Tainted One
  • The Atrophied One
  • The Festering One
  • The Beefy One
  • The Puny One
  • The Delicate One
  • The Flaccid One
  • The Frail One
  • The Corpulent One
  • The Shaky One
  • The Sickly One
  • The Torpid One
  • The Flatulent One
  • The Decomposing One
  • The Prancing One
  • The Nervous One
  • The Palsied One
  • The Flabby One
  • The Feeble One
  • The Inaudible One
  • The Implausible One
  • The Bionic One
  • The Indisposed One
  • The Lily-Livered One
  • The Brittle One
  • The Cowering One
  • The Burly One
  • The Retired One
  • The Haggard One
  • The Senile One
  • The Leaky One
  • The Woozy One
  • The Limp One
  • The Litigious One
  • The Fabulous One
  • The Paunchy One
  • The Doddering One
  • The Jittery One
  • The Shrieking One
  • The Meek One
There are no doubt many more, but that will suffice for now. Boy bands, feel free to use as many of these labels as you want!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Percival Throckmorton Soppwilt III

Another quick little illustration (about an hour and a half). I tried to think of the puniest, most feeble name possible for him (I apologize in advance to anyone who may actually have this name).

I added the brown scratchy background on a layer behind him, then added some dirt and aging on a layer above, to give it an old timey daguerreotype look.

Drawn in Photoshop on the graphic tablet.



Here's the original sketch of Percy. Other than making the top of his hat a bit rounder and adding a cowlick, the final didn't change much from the sketch.

Zapp Boltington

That's one angry pickle!

I set out to draw a lumpy little monster, but when I finished him I thought he looked more like a pickle. That seems weirder and funnier to me, so pickle it is!

This was a pretty quick little illustration; around an hour and a half or so. I'm not totally happy with the white lightning bolt or the glow. I need to revisit this and redo the bolt one of these days.

Drawn in Photoshop on the graphic tablet.



Here's the original sketch for Zapp. The final drawing didn't change much.

Computer Art From The Stone Age

I found these images of some of the first computer art I ever did, and thought they were worth a look. Or more likely a laugh.

I bought my first computer circa 1988. It was an Amiga 500. I remember the big selling point of this model was that it was capable of displaying a whopping 4096 colors (!). I hear you chuckling, but at the time that really was the most advanced display available. All other home computers of that era were only capable of displaying 256 colors.

The actual computer was built into the keyboard unit (with an internal floppy drive), and it came with a monitor and external floppy drive. There was no internal hard drive. They were available or course, but back then they were prohibitively expensive (for me, anyway), costing hundreds of dollars. It didn't come with a printer or a scanner either. Those were also extremely expensive items back then, far out of my reach.

Since I didn't have a hard drive, that meant that each time I wanted to use the computer I had to load the operating system into RAM. Amazingly, the entire operating system fit on one floppy disk (!). Let's just pause a moment and let that concept sink in, shall we?

Anyway, I bought the thing in order to start producing computer generated art. The system I bought came with a couple of graphic programs. One was called Deluxe Paint (I think, it's been a long time), and took advantage of the Amiga's 4096 color palette. There was another one called DigiPaint or something, that only let you use 256 colors, but they could be 256 of your own choosing.

Looking back, it's amazing I was able to draw anything on this system at all. As I said, scanners were the price of a used car back then, so if I wanted to draw an image from a sketch (something I do all the time now), I had to resort to several alternate methods. Sometimes I would draw a sketch on a piece of clear acetate, then tape it to the monitor and draw "under" it as it were. It worked about as well as you'd think. The other method was to use a water-based marker and sketch directly on the monitor screen (!), and again, draw under that image. My least favorite method was to just use the mouse and draw, erase and draw until the image on the screen was a reasonable facsimile of my sketch.

Because printers also cost more than the average house payment back then, I had no way to print out a hard copy of my art. Even if I could have afforded one, home printers of that era were all the horrible dot matrix kind-- you know, the noisy ones that printed one horizontal line of the image at a time and produced pale, washed out colors in terrible resolution. So, resourceful lad that I was I worked around my lack of a printer by taking a photo of the screen with a film camera (digital cameras were 20 years in the future) and having the film developed. Yeah, I know.

I remember producing a fair amount of art on the Amiga, and I remember that even the simplest of images took hours, sometimes days to produce. I didn't have a graphic tablet back then either, and as far as I know they didn't even exist. They were far in the future, like DVDs and personal jet packs.

Anyway, I found some of the photos I took of my (ahem) artwork from those dark days. Sorry about the quality, but remember these are scans of photos shot from a computer monitor!

Here we've got a cat posing in a "Tom & Jerry" type of cartoony background. The bizarre angles and perspective on the floor and cabinets were intentional. Really, they were.

One of the amazingly advanced features of this early graphic software was the ability to create your own patterns or textures, something I went way overboard with here. Note that the dog has the cliched "window pane highlight" on his nose, even though he's outside. I guess there must have been a floating window frame between him and the sun.

Wow. Obviously this was some sort of Max Headroom ripoff, er, I mean homage (ask your parents about him, kids!). Don't judge me too harshly, it was the 1980s after all. It looks like I was using that pattern generator here until it squealed "uncle."

I have no idea what's going on here. Some sort of cosmic doorman or egg-headed general, I suppose.

One thing that jumps out at me looking at these images is the extremely low resolution. You can see individual pixels from 3 feet away. These must have been about 36 dpi!

This one was drawn with the more advanced program that could utilize the 4096 colors. I can tell because of the relatively subtle shading. The only downside to using this program is that the shaded art tended to look a bit blurry on the screen. So you had two choices back then: 256 colors and a sharp image, or 4096 and a blurry one. Yes, it was a golden age.

This was a recreation (as best I could manage) of a colored pencil drawing I did. It was a character I used to doodle a lot back in the 1980s. It was my idea for a comic book, back in the days when it seemed like comics would be around forever. It was about a Rambo-esque space soldier who gets turned into a teddy bear. He was still a brutal killer, and was always furious that no one took him seriously because he looked so cuddly. I can't remember the main character's name; it's been too many years.

Although that looks like Iron Man just above the bear's head, it's supposed to be some sort of alien wizard. If I remember right (I haven't looked at or thought about this stuff for years) he's the one who cast the spell that turned the Soldier into a teddy bear. Maybe I should try and resurrect this image and redraw it.

Nice shading on the gun, I guess.

More of the blurry 4096 color program. That's a lovely font there too!

As crude as it is, I have to say I'm impressed that it almost looks like a three dimensional rendered object. I just got lucky that day.

God help me, I don't know. I guess this was supposed to be like a sci-fi novel cover? Who knows, it's been twenty years.

If you can stand to look closely, you'll see the faint features of a face there behind his glasses. Deluxe Paint had the amazing ability to utilize transparency, which back then was technology rivaled only by time travel. So I think I was trying to figure out a use for the transparency function and create some sort of semi-invisible soldier... person.

I like his gun though, if I do say so myself.

You know, if you take the basic shape and look of a Smurf and change its color, you'll have a completely new and different character!

In my defense I think I was copying the Smurfs on purpose, trying to create some sort of evil anti-Smurf. That's what I'm telling the judge, anyway.

Drawn in the blurry program again.

This was a recreation, sort of, of the first issue of Frank Miller's "Wolverine" miniseries he did for Marvel back in the 1980s.

I had a crude Amiga animation program, so the plan was to create a short animation of Wolverine's claws popping out, and his left index finger beckoning in a "Bring it on!" gesture (note he's missing said finger on his left hand). This project was scrapped when I discovered that making ten or so frames of animation was far beyond the meager amount of memory my Amiga had (I think it had maybe one meg of internal memory). Oh well.

Dear Cartoon Network: These Are Not Cartoons

I was lying bleary-eyed on the couch early this morning, watching the excellent "Batman: Brave And The Bold" show (check it out!) on Cartoon Network. Interspersed throughout the show were numerous commercials for Cartoon Network's new line of "CN Real" live action shows. That's right, I said live action.

Um... hey CN, last time I checked, a live show is not a cartoon. Just sayin' is all.

CN Real is a block of four shows, including:

· The Othersiders, which appears to be a tween version of SciFi Channel's "Ghost Hunters."

· Brainrush, which looks to be some sort of "extreme" sports thing, I think.

· Destroy, Build, Destroy, which is similar to "Robot Wars" from a few years back.

· Survive This, which obviously is "Survivor" for tweens.

There's no doubt in my mind that these four shows are being produced as a cost cutting measure. Cartoons are expensive to produce, even when they use cheap Korean labor. The fact that all four of these new shows are some form of reality TV is all the evidence you need that it's a case of simple economics. There's a reason the majority of shows these days are reality TV: It's a lot cheaper to produce shows of people singing karoke, dancing, remodeling houses or pretending to hear ghosts than to produce scripted dramas starring professional actors.

I shouldn't be surprised by this; it's been going on for years. Plus, Cartoon Network is made for kids and I should be doing better things with my time than watching it anyway. It just bugs me because it's yet another example of the Homogenization of TV Networks.

There was a time when you tuned in to SciFi Channel and you would see an actual sci-fi program, not wrestling. TV Land used to broadcast classic TV shows, not reality TV and heavily edited 1980s movies as they do now. Sometime in the past few years the TV execs started noticing that their niche networks didn't generate the ratings that a mainstream network gets, so they began moving from specialized to catchall programming.

So today the name of a network means little or nothing. They might as well stop calling themselves Cartoon Network and Comedy Central and label themselves "Indistiguishable TV Network #427" and "Indistiguishable TV Network #583."

Just one more reason to cancel cable and have more time for illustrating!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Office Shark

Did they ever really put water coolers in offices? In all the places I've worked, I can't remember ever seeing a single one. I suppose they must have had them somewhere or it wouldn't have become such a cliche.

Maybe water coolers are one of those things that only appear in comics, like bags of money with a dollar sign on them or a burglar wearing a pork pie hat and domino mask.

For some reason I like drawing uptight, humorless cartoony bosses.

Drawn in Photoshop on the graphic tablet.

Here's the original sketch. If you look closely, you'll notice the line work on the shark looks much different than the boss and the water cooler. That's because the original sketchbook doodle consisted of the shark only. After I scanned him in and started drawing him, I felt like there needed to be something more. I thought about it for a minute and got the idea to show him next to the water cooler with an angry boss looking on. So the boss and the cooler were sketched out onscreen, rather than on paper.

I'm A Grown Man And I Bought This: Mezco Underdog Figures

A couple of weeks ago I was browsing in a used book/comic/DVD and came across a set of these cool Underdog action figures (well, almost the whole set).

I picked up three of the four figures in the set; Underdog, Simon Barsinister and Riff Raff. The only one I didn't get was Sweet Polly Purebread. That's not surprising, because she's a dumb old girl, and kids don't like girl figures. Sadly, I'm not making that up; every toy company in America is apparently run by secretary-chasing middle aged men who truly believe that old trope, so on the rare occasion they deign to make a female figure at all, they usually pack it one per case, making it virtually impossible to find.

These figures actually came out a couple of years ago, and I remember seeing them but passing because of their outrageous price tag of $15 each. The ones I found were on sale for half price, so I decided to take the plunge.

If you're not an action figure collector of if you don't have kids, then you're probably unaware of the recent ridiculous price gouging phenomenon currently going on in the action figure world. When I first started collecting in the early 1990s, figures like these in the Underdog series were a reasonable $5 each. Now the average figure is $12 to $13, and some are even going for $18 or $19 a pop! It's put a definite crimp in my collecting habit (which probably isn't a bad thing). I can't justify that kind of expenditure on a toy anymore, especially in this time of economic hardship and woe. It makes me wonder-- I'm an adult with a full time job and I can't afford to buy action figures anymore. So how do the toy companies expect a kid to buy them?

There are several theories as to what's causing this rise in price. Since plastic is made from petroleum, some have suggested the price increase is tied to the ever-rising cost of crude oil. Others think it's due to Chinese workers (where most of the toys are manufactured) finally standing up and demanding a living wage. Some think that since kids have so many other distractions these days, they're not into action figures any more and the toy companies are manufacturing smaller runs, which drives up the cost per unit. Whatever the reason, they're in real danger of pricing themselves out of business.

Anyway, enough of that. On with the review. Underdog wasn't my favorite cartoon, but I remember liking it well enough and watching it when I was a kid (back in prehistoric times when we had TWO TV channels, three when the weather conditions were right). These figures are very well sculpted and excellent representations of the characters. It's often difficult to translate a simple 2D character drawing into a 3 dimensional figure, but Mezco has done an excellent job here.

Each figure comes with a variety of accessories, including extra hands in various poses. The paint jobs are very well done too; which is often not the case with mass produced figures.

Best of all the figures have no trouble standing. You have no idea how many figures I have that can't stand up by themselves for more than a couple of minutes. It's really frustrating to have to have to pick them up off the floor every morning and stack them back on the shelves. In fact recently I've taking to using poster putty to stick my figures to the shelves. When I first saw those skinny little legs on the Simon Barsinister figure, I expected him to topple over immediately. I mean look at how top heavy he is; it doesn't look like there's any way he, or any of the figures for that matter, could possibly stand. But to my great surprise, all the figures are extremely stable and have no trouble standing.

That's the way it ought to be! I don't think it's too much to ask for an action figure to be able to stand upright under its own power for more than a few seconds. In fact I think it should be a law. I urge you to write your Congressman and demand it.






Underdog comes with two extra posed arms, and an extra set of lower legs in "flight pose."





Simon Barsinister comes with extra hands (one of which is holding some kind of electronic doohickey) and a poster that says "Simon for Dictator).





Riff Raff comes with extra hands (one of which is holding a blackjack!) and a pile of loot. I love that he comes with a revolver and a cigar. You don't see a lot of toys with smoking accessories these days.



Here's the family portrait. The scale of Underdog and Simon seems about right; I'm pretty sure Simon is supposed to be shorter. Riff Raff is a lot larger than the other two though. I honestly don't know if this is just a mistake, or if he's really supposed to be that big. It's been too many years since I've seen it. It's not a deal breaker though.

Overall I'm very impressed with these figures and like them a lot (Now I need to start looking for the Polly figure to complete the set). At their original price of $15 a pop I couldn't recommend them, but if you ever see them on clearance, they're definitely worth picking up.
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