Fireball XL5 Re-boot: Oxygen Pills

2019-11-02 XL5 Thruster Pack Suit

As much as I love Fireball XL5 I have to admit that it was one of Sir Gerry’s earlier “sophomore” efforts and definitely aimed at young children, so there were often some rather broad liberties taken with actual science as in spacecraft speeds and most especially extra-vehicular activity.

(Even Sylvia Anderson groaned during an interview years later over the subject of “oxygen pills”.)

Well, this drawing will hopefully address some of those problems as I’ve incorporated aspects of the thruster packs with a life-support suit styled after the original pointy-shouldered World Space Patrol uniforms. The image is based on a sketchbook drawing I shared here a couple of years ago but there are two very important additions: The first and most obvious is the clear Plexiglas helmet while the second is the unit Steve is wearing on the lower right side of his harness used with the round disk held in his right hand – an “oxygen pill”

I’d like to say that I was the first one to think of a breathing unit based on an solid-form air supply but Wally Wood used it first in an updated SCUBA rig in his excellent apocalyptic adventure series M.A.R.S. PATROL /TOTAL WAR published by Gold Key Comics in the 1960s…but to be totally but to be totally fair Wally did some “borrowing” as well.

For several decades the United States Navy has used a breathing device that uses heat combined with potassium superoxide and sodium chlorate produce oxygen for personnel in fire-fighting operations. While it’s I’ve taken my own liberties with science in terms of the size and duration of the chemical air supply I think it solves the “Oxygen Pill” issue with a minimum of fuss

2019: Creative Volleyball

While all three of my children have a good measure of creative talent none of them chose to enter a creative field, a decision brought about by a lifetime of watching the hoops I had to continually jump through to collect on invoices. I can’t blame them as I’ve had similar sentiments, often wishing I’d stayed in the army for thirty or even stayed on a roustabout at Swanson River.

However, there are times when I’d liked to have seen one of my kids carry on the tradition.…which it makes me all that happier when I see one of my grandchildren pick up a pencil or start smashing clay around. All seven of them “make stuff” to some extent but Conrad’s middle son Henry shows the strongest creative inclination, and while I’ve sent drawings via post cards to all the kids Henry gets special treatment.

Henry's Lord of The Moon

Most recently he sent us a drawing of “The Lord of the Moon” and I felt compelled to respond in kind. I don’t know much about “The King of the Moon” but I have read couple of graphic novels about Marvel’s Batman-clone Moon Knight, so I came with a MK drawing to match Henry’s “Moon Lord”. I will be sending a couple copies to him this coming week to include a finished version colored with Prismacolor designers’ markers as well as a couple of plain B&W copies that Henry can color himself.

2019-11-01 Henry's Moon Knight

I may be a day’s drive away from most of my grandkids but I still try to be part of their lives.

A Different Perspective on Fireball XL5…

2019-10-04 VenusZuniRevision

Granted today isn’t a Saturday and even though some of what follows has previously seen print, what I’m writing today isn’t really a Saturday morning re-run. It’s no secret that I am a big Gerry Anderson fan and of all his productions Fireball XL5 is my favorite …but as I check my stats each day it appears that the adventures of Steve Zodiac and company are highly favored by a sizeable number of my readers as well.

…and as it can be a little difficult at times to pick out all the XL5 blog posts I’m putting together a dedicated portfolio for the topic with a link on my blog’s task bar to make it easier to access. The portfolio will include most of the polished conceptual work I’ve come up with along with selected text – including this rework of a Fireball XL5 review I did for Amazon.com several years ago:

 Fireball XL5 is one of Sir Gerry Anderson’s earlier “sophomore” shows produced before he hit it big with Thunderbirds and the prime-time live action shows like Space: 1999. It is not nearly as well-polished; indeed most commentaries refer to it has possessing a “naïve charm” but out of all his work it is hands-down my very favorite.

 Why?

 Great music: If the opening credits aren’t the best ever in the history of broadcast TV then they should at least be in the top ten. Classical brass orchestra music underlies Steve and Venus boarding the ship, then as the engine fires up the music breaks into a dirty bad saxophone measure as it accompanies Fireball as it is hurtling down the launch track and leaping into the sky.

  All ages appeal: I can share these shows with my grandkids without them getting either terrified or bored. There are lots of explosions and action, but any suspense in an episode is usually brought on by some sort of count-down rather than having some psycho armed with an ax chasing people through an old house.

Great eye candy: For the conditions under which it was filmed, Fireball XL5 is visually stunning. Even though I liked the stories the budding artist inside of me was fascinated with the design aspect. Despite the slim budget the quality of their work made it very evident that the model makers and special effects crew would be going on to bigger and better things – most big-budget work like the Bond movies

Positive message: As I mentioned before, Fireball XL5 doesn’t leave kids scared at the end of the episode. These shows were pre-Star Trek and pre- Lost in Space and at that time most other science fiction on the tube consisted of the rare ‘50s sci-fi movie shown at odd hours – and to be honest I didn’t care for most of those shows. The plots usually revolved around the monster (there was always a monster) killing and/or eating the secondary characters one by one until the hero saved the remaining crew members by killing the monster.

None of that victim crap with Steve Zodiac. First off, Fireball XL5 (the ship itself) looked, flew and fought like a freaking F104 Starfighter rather than wallowing around helplessly like most other cinematic spacecraft at the time. Colonel Zodiac wasn’t above packing heat himself and dropped more than one alien foolish enough to try and see who would blink first – though I found it odd that his sidearm was extremely versatile, being able to fire any kind of ray or projectile the script required in a particular scene.

The only problem I had with the show as the stilted manner in which the marionettes moved. Personally my innate obsessive-compulsive behavior prevented me from a simple suspension of disbelief so I concocted a back-story about a galaxy-wide epidemic that left victims with arthritic joints – which caused the aforementioned stilted and stiff movements – but to each his own.

Out of the entire series Invasion: Earth is my favorite episode – for a very special reason. I belong to a very select group of people called The Fireball XL5 Club. It doesn’t sound like it would be that exclusive, but this particular Fireball XL5 Club is made up of people who were watching the show when the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964 hit. It was this specific episode that was playing – but for years I didn’t know how it ended; as the tremors hit our TV tipped over, pulling the plug out and cutting the episode off with about ten minutes to go. I spent the next twenty years wondering how Steve and the gang handled the vaguely Oriental-sounding invaders but then I found a fourth-generation bootleg VHS that carried me over until A&E released the DVD set.

I love the show and I while I wouldn’t have changed a thing “back in the day” it’s been fun to tweak details and exercise creative muscles. From the first time I saw Jim Ringo’s armored bat-suit worn by Michael Keaton in the 1989 Batman movie I’ve been a fan of tweaking details. For example in today’s post I’ve re-imagined Zoonie not as a goofy sidekick but rather the vital crew member Zuni, ready to lend the muscle where needed, but retaining the original character’s good nature, just as my “Chris Rock” post yesterday put Lieutenant Ninety in a much different light.

Fireball XL5 Re-boot: LT Ninety

He gave us orcs, ents and halflings but I’ve always thought the phrase ‘the story grew in the telling” to be one of the most magnificent creations John Ronald Reuel Tolkien gave to the world. For me it neatly describes the convoluted trails the process of creation can follow…and my reimagined Lieutenant Ninety is an excellent example of that concept.

As I’ve written elsewhere FIREBALL XL5 is the Gerry Anderson program that I will always love the best. I’ve designed new vehicles and uniforms that echo the classic design and I’ve even compiled a list of suggested actors for a rebooted live-action series, but as I was reviewing that list it occurred to me that I’d come up with a group of people similar in composition to Ivory Soap (99 and 44/100 Caucasian). That prompted me to make some changes, not as a measure of political correctness but to stay close to Sir Gerry’s vision which was much more diverse than usual for the times.

…so out went Rob Schneider and in came Chris Rock.

I also wanted a dress uniform for the World Space Patrol and was favoring the long-tailed mess blues that the United States Army used up until recently, but it was a photo of Levar Burton as LT Geordie LaForge wearing that contrived piece of craptacular tailoring that passed for a Starfleet formal dress uniform that snapped the last creative Lego in place for me – add an outsized fedora and a couple of chains and –voila – you have a zoot suit.

It’s a concept that might not be all that far off as what goes around usually comes around. I swore in 1973 that I’d be wearing bell-bottom pants for the rest of my life, and I’ve seen halter-tops cycle in and out of women’s fashion a couple of times. Who’s to say that a “reet pleat” won’t be the height of military fashion in 2119?

2019-10-03a LT Ninety 2019-10-3b LT90 Color

Thank You Again Kent Gardner

No, your eyes aren’t magically getting better. Good friend and graphics guru Kent Gardner has once again come to the rescue and cleaned up an image for me. The original painting entitled “Middle-Aged” sold to a collector less than six weeks after I finished it and unfortunately the only reference image I had was a one of a run of  mini-prints we’d made before the sale…which was why the previous image was lacking in quality.

Thanks again “Gahd-nah!”

An Indirect Route to Cartoons-ville

Conventions were never a big money-maker for us. When we’d go to cons as a family ini the 1990s we’d run a table in the dealers room in addition to hanging work in the art show – and between the two we would normally cover at least our expenses – and sometimes more. One notable exception was DRAGONCON 1993 when we went $500 in the hole even though I swept the art show in three-dimensional work.  However in spite that loss I was glad we went to the con because it was there I got to meet Duck Edwing.

Edwing worked for MAD magazine for 49 years, contributing his own cartoons as well as writing for Don Martin and Paul J. Coker. I loved his work and was fortunate enough to spend thirty minutes talking to him in the dealer’s room, but when we traded portfolios he got a little edgy when I started gushing over his work – I suspect that after seeing my polished cover illustrations Duck may have thought I was being condescending and it took most of that half-hour to convince him that I was sincere – I loved his cartoons because it was something I could not do.

Yes, you read correctly – I am not very good at cartoons. While it is true that the graphic nature of my work can often resemble a cartoonists’ style there is something about the economy of line and conceptual precision that I’ve never been able to master and I usually end up overworking any such attempt, but last week I decided to try again – not with cartoons per se, but with a cartoon style I’ve found in a line of toys.

In the mid 00’s superhero merchandizing was overcome with an epidemic of cuteness. Marvel came out with a line of whimsical versions of their heroes called Superhero Squad while DC came out with a similar line of figures in a tie-in with the animated series Batman: The Brave and The Bold. That connection along with a more stylized look had me favoring the DC figures over Marvel line and I was quite pleased when Mattel continued the line under the Action League banner.

A non-functioning knee has in effect exiled from my second-story studio for almost a month now so my creative work has been limited to drawing tools and designer’s markers. I was putting the finishing touches on a postcard for my granddaughter Heron when I happened to glance at one of the aforementioned DC figures sitting on a shelf next to my Big Papa Chair.

BINGO!

I ended up drawing three figures – and while I used existing figures for reference I drew characters that have NOT been manufactured as part of the toy line:

  • Adam Strange
  • Blackhawk
  • Blue Beetle

In each case I went “retro”: Adam Strange is wearing his original Murphy Anderson designed rocket suit, Blackhawk is wear the short-lived mid-60s red-jacketed uniform and Blue Beetle is my favorite Ted Kord incarnation…which I’ve subsequently discovered had actually been created but never actually released as a part of the Action League series. I don’t know if anything will ever come of these drawings, but it was a good exercise in developing a more stylized “cartoony” look without getting too cutesy.

2019-09-02 DC Action League 1

2010: Aces High

2010-02-01a Aces High 2010-02-01b Aces High 3D

This is starting to take on psychoanalytic significance. Three of my best cut-paper sculpts involve a platinum-tressed beauty rejecting/striking/spurning/ignoring a male. It’s a mystery – I grew up as the only son in a family of seven and I’ve been happily married for over forty-two years so as a rule I’m comfortable around the double X component of the human race. I am baffled to think that some unresolved gender-related issue is chipping away at my subconscious mind.

This composition dates back ten years ago when I was teaching at Nossi College of Art when it started out as a demonstration for an alternative mediums class. I really didn’t set out with a set composition or theme other than poking fun at the whole 1960’s macho secret agent motif.

( …mostly I just wanted to make something that looked cool!)

 Technical notes: cut-paper sculpture measuring 14”X20” (my favorite format/size for CPS). The red bustier is made from paper I’d marbleized during a previous class demonstration. The image on the left has been shot in the anaglyphic process so if you have a pair of those red/blue glasses the image will appear dimensional .This work also has the dubious distinction of being the last CPS I was able to make without worrying overmuch about paper stock. While the Nashville metro area is much larger than Knoxville the smaller city has better sources for paper – it was only after we’d lived her for three years that I started running low on my favorite materials.

 

1972:Vintage Bat-Vehicles

1970sBatStuff0003

I read once that time is something God created to keep everything from happening at once but right now that invention doesn’t seem to be working. Everything IS happening at once, at least several items of great impact on my life. Right as we’re trying to get the Midnight Son Kickstarter campaign set up my knee has gone out – and not in a minor manner. Lori thinks I have a torn meniscus but all I know is that even the most minor movement to my knee brings on excruciating pain.

…which means I haven’t been able to finish the tongue-in-cheek write-up meant to accompany this “vintage” drawing that  incidentally documents two important discoveries/purchases  I made in 1972:

  1. A hard-bound reprint collection of Batman stories from debut in 1939 to 1971
  2. A set of Higgins ink comprised of ten colors and opaque white

I’d just finished my first year of college and while I was intent on changing my major to art I had yet to take a college art class – or any other kind of art class for that matter. I was just having the time of my life drawing  my favorite images, which in this case included 1940’s era Bat Vehicles

…counting down the days…

Midnight Son Draft Cover v4-2 Front 6x9 72dpi

…as my former brother-in-law Bobby used to say “It’s like being nibbled to death by a duck”

I am referring of course to the protracted production process involved in getting Midnight Son into print. Subtitled “Growing up in 1960’s Alaska” the book will include edited/expanded posts from this blog along with new material such as maps, illustrations and bonus text that will see print for the first time in this volume.

At this point I find it had to keep from hopping up and down on one foot or rubbing my hands together in glee – It’s taken more time and a LOT more work than I had anticipated (hence the opening quote) but the initial print run through Kickstarter will go live by September 1st so keep an eye out for the official announcements.

You also need to know if you want an autographed print copy of the book you’ll need to jump on the initial Kickstarter campaign. I hate those “limited time only // not sold in stores” advertising slams as much as you do but unfortunately I’m working against some very real physical limitations.

Midnnight Son Cover Art