The Wonder That Is Colin Furze!

I was actually indulging one of my secret vices (“Choosing Beggers” videos by YouTube content provider RSlash ) when I stumbled onto this young man’s work about a month ago. As I watched Furze document his creations via time-lapse video I was convinced that I was seeing some rather ambitious digital work but as I’ve gone through video after video I finally realized Colin is the person that I’ve always styled myself to be: the man who can make anything.

I’d like to say that Colin is a younger version of me – a 30+ year younger version but he has twice the skill-set I do, a rather hefty sponsorship from eBay and a physical presence I can only aspire to (think Bryan Adams with a Lincolnshire accent.) His life is the most compelling argument for young people to actively consider going into the trades as opposed to incurring crippling debt for a college degree.

I’m including just one of these video clips but there are plenty more to choose from.

Fireball XL5 Re-boot: Robert(a)

2019-12-01 Roberta the Robot

It seems only fitting that given the state of our current social/political world a little bit of gender-bending is in order for the synthetic member of the Fireball XL5 crew. As it is there’s plenty of room for change as Robert’s appearance was pretty bland to begin with and once you substitute Sylvia for Sir Gerry in the dialog department the aesthetic opportunities are almost limitless.

The biggest challenge would be to establish a feminine appearance without taking the Benny Hill route and resorting to chrome-plate T&A. Effective feminization required some basic research into the way evolution has hard-wired men to respond to feminine curves (hint: child-bearing and survival) and how that principle would apply to into cybernetic lifeforms (Hey Bay-bee! Will ya look at the power-cells on that one!) Just make sure that while studying the subject you DO NOT blindly Google “sexy robots” as the results will be most definitely NSFW.

However, if you were to type the name Hajime Sorayama to the search parameters you’ll find examples of sleek feminine form combined with gleaming chrome and streamlined automotive styling that made this Japanese artist the king of the sexy-robot field in the 1980s. He, along with the equally talented British artist Phillip Castle were powerful influences on airbrush artists and other illustrators of that decade but to be totally honest my inspiration was an artist whose work was popular even earlier than that.

His name was Russ Manning and he was a phenomenal illustrator who was tragically cut down in his fifties by Mean OId Mister Cancer. In the Sixties Manning bounced back and forth between advertising work and penciling Tarzan, Korak: Son of Tarzan and Brothers of the Spear for first Dell then Gold Key Comics but my personal favorite was Magnus: Robot Fighter , a kind of Tarzan-of-the-future who relied on martial arts (and the most totally bitching white go-go boots ever) to combat hordes of robotic enablers intent on weakening of humanity into a form of comfortable servitude.

Manning was a master of figure drawing and could draw a better figure with five lines than I could with fifty but was equally adept with mechanical figures prompting me to shamelessly hork the grace and form of his cybernetic aesthetic in every robot or android I’ve drawn … to include Robert(a)

One other important change: Robert was constructed out of Plexiglas but I’ve gone with an opaque exterior. It came to me that being able to see all Roberta’s inner, circuits, wires and structural components would be much like looking at my Beautiful Saxon Princess’s face and seeing all of the blood vessels, bones and sinus membranes under her skin…and while the ensuing suppressed gag reflex had me quickly changing my design I’ve had to work hard at keeping that yucky image out of my mind

…just like you will now be doing for the rest of this day!

XL5 Rework…with color added

xl5colorrework

I ran the black-and-white version of this drawing in 2016 but never got around to adding color. I’ve yet to decide if it was artistic vision that prompted a white fuselage or if I was just to lazy to work up all the reflections and shadows in a metallic look. I’m also not totally sold on the inset Gemini-style windows in Fireball Jr. Even as a ten year old I had a hard time buying off on a big bubble canopy but this configuration seems awfully cramped.

UFO: 1908 Moonbase Commander

The only thing better than the stuff Sir Gerry Anderson and his crew thought up is tweaking the details. I love retro-designing vehicles and costumes and when I was dusting some of my “trophies” in the sitting room I got the idea for a uniform for the Moonbase ladies had SHADO been organized in 1908 instead of 1980.

2018-12-03 UFO Moonbase 1908

 

 

Amazon Review “The Protectors”

(I make no secret of the fact that I am a fan of Sir Gerry Anderson’s work, both live-action shows like UFO and the Supermarionation programs like Thunderbirds.  The following is a piece I wrote for Amazon reviewing one of his lesser-known productions)

We don’t go out to eat often but when we do there is always a lively discussion involving restaurants and menu selections. My Beautiful Saxon Princess is a gourmet, savors her meals and is quick to try new tastes. To me food is fuel and I’m not one to experiment –when I acquire a taste for something like a cheeseburger I’ll order it quite often and feel no need to change.

It’s a similar situation with The Protectors, a Gerry Anderson production that offered neither marionettes nor nubile young women wearing purple wigs and silver suits seemingly applied with spray paint – it’s definitely an acquired taste. Starring Robert Vaughn, Nyree Dawn Porter and Tony Anholt, The Protectors is one of that vanished breed of television programs that the British did so well: The half-hour action adventure series. It ran from 1971 to 1973 and  chronicled the activities of a loose network of agents that travelled across Europe fighting crime, defeating terrorism and generally being twentieth century Lone Rangers.

With only 22 minutes to work with there wasn’t much time for character development, though we did know that Harry Rule (Robert Vaughn) still cared very much for his ex-wife, Nyree Dawn Porter’s Contessa enjoyed the privileged life of widowed nobility but also held a very subtle candle for Harry Rule, and Tony Anholt managed to show loyalty and likeability though the façade of Paul Bouchet’s Gallic pride. Despite their brevity the stories were engaging , with occasional innovations in plot and camera work that were pioneering for early Seventies. For example the  pilot episode involved sky-diving but there were some interesting shots made via car mirrors that focused your attention in a very effective albeit low-tech manner.

If I had a complaint it would be budget. Sir Gerry wasn’t given much to work with and money was cut even further with the second series, causing the loss of the strength and wit of the Contessa’s chauffer Chino (played by Anderson regular Anthony Chinn).  Directors were also careful with location shooting, limiting Continental segments to Copenhagen, Paris, Venice, Malta or coastal Spain. At  each of these locations the crew would film exterior footage for several episodes then they would fly back to London for interior filming and editing. To the producers’ credit they spaced the shows out avoiding back-to-back adventures in the same city, but on a rainy day you can zip through your DVDs and piece together what was shot when. I particularly enjoyed the location shots as they let me see the real Europe rather than an idealized version as portrayed in shows like The Avengers that were tailored to appeal to what Americans thought the UK was like rather than how it really was.

So now we’re down  to my regular closing question: Does The Protectors consist of the finest visual literature?

No.

Is it fun?

That would be a resounding, echoing “YES” – but a qualified “yes”. The Protectors might not be everyone’s favorite, but if you have an appreciation for well-written short form video, a desire to see an honest glimpse of Europe forty years ago, or have a hankering to hear Robert Vaughn  deliver dialog in the way only he could, then The Protectors is the cheeseburger for you.

(Episodes of The Protectors are available from Amazon in both DVD and streaming format. YouTube clips are pretty sparse but I managed to find one episode – not my particular favorite of the lot but enough to give you an idea of what the series is like.)

Redesigned XL5 Jetbike

2017-12-02 Reworked XL5 Jetbike

They’re the first thing you see on an episode of Fireball XL5

“OK Venus?”  “OK Steve”  “Right…let’s go!”

SteveVenusJetbike

Some guys my age like to golf all the time. Other guys work in their gardens. Me – I like to re-design things just for the h*ll of it. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Fireball XL5, if nothing else but for the fact that it was my favorite show during 5th grade at Woodland Park Elementary in deepest, darkest Spenard…and it was time to give the jetbike a reworking….

Thank You, Gareth Hunt

NewAvengersTV

With chronic pain issues, sleep does not come easy to me, so I find that most of my television viewing happens late at night. There’s been some debate on the practice with most researchers coming down on the side of “NO” but I find that spending some time with Mike, Emma, Harry and Steve helps me simultaneously unwind from the tensions of the day and focus my attention away from the endless discomfort.

Mike, Emma, Harry and Steve?

Try Mike Gambit, Emma Peel, Harry Rule and Steve Zodiac – all characters from classic British adventure programs like the Avengers, The Protectors, and the dozen or so programs like Fireball XL5 or Space 1999  produced by Gerry Anderson, also a product of the United Kingdom.  While I thoroughly enjoy various domestic American classic television shows I find this particular group of British programs from the 1960’s and 1970’s to be (pardon the weak joke) just my cup of tea.

…but something else hit me last night as I turned off my little bedside DVD player. I had been watching one of the last episodes of The New Avengers and for some reason the thought occurred to me “No one intends to make only thirteen episodes of a TV series”. Everyone hopes that their show will be the next M*A*S*H or The Big Bang Theory with at least a decade-long run. Nobody plans to fail – but it happens.

For example – take The New Avengers in 1976-77.

I won’t say the show failed, but it wasn’t a smashing success either. It did gain enough of a cult following to generate brisk DVD sales when A&E released sets of both seasons in 2004.  It was put together by Albert Fennel and Brian Clemens, the producers of the original mid-60s series but New Avengers got much the same reaction as the younger sister of the hottest cheerleader in school – it was judged by an impossible standard. The show was always struggling for money and because of that it had to move production twice, first to France and then to Canada – which confused viewers even more so the show never made it beyond two seasons of 13 episodes apiece.

…but I like it, for the same reason I like my other “Brit” programs. The plots are interesting, the dialog witty and the “stronger” elements of the shows (sex and violence) stay within my comfort level. Bear in mind that genealogy on both sides of my family very quickly traces back to the British Isles so there is a family connection of sorts for me. It also gives me a chance to see a part of the world that I am intensely interested in but ever less likely to visit as time goes by.

However, it is the human element that interests me the most. In my creative career I have worked on several properties (belonging to both other parties and myself) that gave all the indications of being extremely successful…but weren’t. It’s hard to deal with; for example I spent most of 1996 devoting all my spare time to a proposal for a line of collectible figurines to be sold in gift and card shops.  The idea involved ethnically diverse mermaids based on sea creatures from those pertinent ethnic areas and I shopped it around to a dozen companies which was no mean feat in pre-Internet days. The project was well-received and garnered many compliments for the concept and quality but it was ultimately turned down – -everyone wanted a pre-sold property with a book series, television show or toy line already in place.  They all wanted to lead from the middle of the pack so that by appealing to the lowest common denominator they could avoid any risk.

It was hard to accept and I had to move on with my life – but as I was looking at The New Avengers DVD case the other night I had an insight. I had just watched one of the last episodes in which the character Mike Gambit is trailing a suspect. Even though at the time Gareth Hunt knew the show wasn’t going to continue, he turned in a solid professional performance – and I really had to respect that. I also felt a bit of kinship as well:  While shows like The New Avengers, The Protectors and UFO have their own set of fans, they are quirky and definitely do not appeal to the lowest common denominator…but their creators still gave their best.  .

I understand that better than I did when I was young – and while most of those creators have passed on, I still feel like they deserve some recognition for their creativity.

Thank you Mike, Emma, Harry and Steve…or should I say Gareth Hunt, Diana Rigg, Robert Vaughn and Paul Maxwell  – and the series’ creative teams – for giving your best shot despite the outcome.

 

Casting a Live-action Fireball XL5 Movie!

. After getting tooth shrapnel removed from my jaw one shard at a time I avoid driving as much as possible, using sharp implements or buying anything with a price tag over $20. I’m not the kind of person to just idle way the extra time freed up during recovery so I look for meaningful activities to keep me busy.

….like casting a live-action Fireball XL5 motion picture.

Hey – it could work. It would be great simply because that terrible reboot of Thunderbirds we had to endure a dozen years ago set the bar fairly low, but to be honest I doubt the following people would work for just scale.

My suggestions:

william-h-macy          steve_zodiac

William H. Macy / Steve Zodiac

pamela-anderson           Venus

Pamela Anderson /  Venus

john-lithgow     professor-matthew-matic

John Lithgow / Matthew Matic

kurtwoodsmithxl5    commander-zero-fireball-xl5-2_47

Kurtwood Smith / Commander Zero

robschniederxl51    lt-ninety

Rob Schnieder / Lieutenant Ninety

What does this all mean? It means I’ve had too much spare time on my hands – but it is still a fun idea. Who would you cast – and what about the other roles like Zoony, Robert the Robot, Mrs. Ninety, Jock the mechanic and the Chief Subterrain from Planet 46.

 

XL5 Re-Design Notes

reworkxl5aftWhen it comes to gaming legend Steve Jackson there are as many opinions as there are gaming professionals , but I will tell you this:

  1.  He knows the business
  2. He knows his market

I’ve not always felt that way and didn’t shy away from saying so.  We spent two weeks arguing via long-distance phone calls over the best weapons mix for an armed ground-effect vehicle: To my line of thinking a combat capable GEV wouldn’t  look much like the ones we see now and would depend on weapons mounted on remote-control turrets or in vertical launch system boxes.  Steve disagreed, maintaining that gamers would be more likely to buy a product with recognizable vehicles and  hand-held swivel weapons like those used by the B-17 waist-gunners we saw on Twelve O’clock High .

He was right.

I adapted that JLC (just looks cool) concept for my creative tool box. Sometimes when I design I strive to be as real-world as possible but sometimes I just try to make things that appeal to my inner fifth-grader. Such is the case with  my reworked XL5.  As I wrote in an earlier post:  “ None of that victim crap with Steve Zodiac…Fireball XL5 (the ship itself) looked, flew, and fought like a freaking F104 Starfighter jet rather than wallowing around helplessly like most other cinematic spacecraft at the time” – which is why I came up with the wing-mounted weapons and a manned turret covering the aft quarter , both of which continue  the JLC  line of thinking.  In the original series the ship’s main weapons were missiles oddly dubbed “interceptors” but I have tweaked that idea changing the interceptors into recon probes with folding wings that can be sent out to the edge of sensor range to increase  the area of observation.

…and the transparent globe-y thing in back?  Graham Bleathman’s marvelous cross-section drawing of Fireball XL5 includes a “Velot Space-fold hyperdrive generator” which is a transparent globe-y thing just under the trailing edge of the main fuselage vertical fin. It was such an interesting image that it seemed a shame to hide it so I gave it an exterior mounting , the technical aspects of which will no doubt be explained to me by countless numbers of convention attendees after trapping me in front of my panels in the art show.

My inner fifth-grader just thinks it looks cool.