2018: In Praise of Middles

My father said it best:

“Between the optimist and the pessimist

The difference is oh-so-droll

An optimist the doughnut sees

The pessimist: the hole”

That idea/meme (or slight variations of that idea) have popped up in countless other times and places in my life. My particular favorite version came from engineer and SMOF (Secret Master of Fandom) “Uncle” Timmy Bolgeo: “ An optimist may see a glass of water half-way full while a pessimist see it as being half-empty, but show that glass to an engineer and he’ll see a storage facility with 50% excess capacity”,

I’ve decided that I am neither a half-empty or half-full person.

I like things in the middle.

The thought came to me as I opened a little carton of yogurt this morning. Actually that wasn’t my first thought – my first impression was a feeling of annoyance with the French, because before they introduced their six-ounce containers of Yoplait to America in 1977 we were all happy with hefty eight-ounce cartons. I’ve always wondered if that six-ouncer was passive-aggressive retaliation for all the French jokes we told in New England, but I digress,

Open a carton of yogurt and the first thought is “Do I really want to eat this too or will the poached egg take me all the way to lunch”. Your last thought is mild annoyance as you try to scrape the last ½ ounce from the embossed risers and ribs on the bottom of the cup.

….but in the middle?

Mmmmm!

It’s the same way with vacations. We were blessed with a two-week vacation back home to Alaska during both the summer of 1997 and the summer of 1999. Both visits played out pretty much the same:

  • jet-lag and nostalgia over-dose for the first few days
  • packing-anxiety and teary-eyed anticipation of parting AGAIN for the last few…

…but for four or five days in the middle of our stay it was glorious. We still had plenty of money left in our trip-budget, our friends and family had finally been able to adjust schedules to accommodate individual visits and the specter of departure was too far away to loom very effectively.

I think it makes for a healthy philosophy for life in general. Rather than fuss about what I didn’t get in the past (half-empty) or what riches I might amass in the future (half-full) I think I’d rather concentrate on the blessings I have right now.

In the middle.

Easter Eggs and Retro-Design

I’m not the first artist to hide Easter Eggs in work, but I think I might be in contention for the title of “most obscure reference.”. Take the nice little pen & ink drawing I did in the summer of 1988 depicting a British tank crew on the Western Desert ca. 1941. In the foreground is the commander sipping a mug of tea, in the background was an-obviously-recently-shot-down pterodactyl and on the hull of the tank itself is painting the Cross of St. George.

ST George

Unfortunately it all worked out the way a  visiting friend predicted:  ” Nice drawing but no one will get the reference”

Today’s drawing falls into much the same category…

2018-10-01 SkyDiver 1939

Never mind the fact that the idea has been retro-designed to approximately TL 1939…

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….

Steve Zodiac w/ Thruster Pack

2017-08-04 XL5 Thruster Pack

My latest effort at re-designing Fireball XL5 involves the Thruster Packs used for either EVA outside of the ship or movement around a planetary surface.

Clunky technology is one of reasons I love Gerry Anderson’s work. The shows have vehicles and equipment that look futuristic but are in fact usually manifestations of a mature (dead-end) technology that will be tossed aside when the Next New Thing comes along. Think 8-track tape players or RCA Selectavision. The Hawker Hurricane vs. the Spitfire. – the  sort of thing I’ve referred to as “technodork” in other writings.

The search for a functional reason for those pointy-shouldered uniforms has bedeviled me since  1963 but other than aesthetics their main value was ease of construction and tailoring.   I left the pointy shoulders off the regular duty uniforms but incorporated them into the thruster pack design as a multifunctional breastplate of sorts  with concealed  mounts for accessories, mounting brackets for  propulsion units and foldable wings for fuel economy . It also provides  measure of protection while looking suitably “outer space-y” with the pointy shoulder features.

…now if I can just figure out how to make those “oxygen pills” work.

The Triads

2017-08-02 The Triads

No, this has nothing to do with Chinese street gangs. It’s the name of an episode of FIREBALL XL5, a Gerry Anderson Supermarionation production  that was my favorite TV show when I was in fifth grade. One of my more self-indulgent pastimes has been a re-design of the visual aspects of the show – this image depicting  a scene from The Triads, an adventure set on a world where everyone and everything is three times larger than their counterparts on Earth.

Strictly speaking the alien that Venus is trying to avoid is much larger than 3X normal, but the drama involved with this huge hand groping for our beautiful doctor of space medicine was just too good to pass up.

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.

 

Starfire 3rd Edition Rulebook

starfire3rded

This was another homage to Gerry Anderson’s work. I was constrained to an extent by pre-existing vessel design but when it came to insignia and color schemes I was left to my own devices. The art director was an expatriate Englishman living in Amarillo, Texas and every time we talked on the phone I got a Supermarionation//Century 21 vibe that couldn’t help but influence my palette. When I was done I had a scene that Supercar or Fireball XL5 would have looked ever so much at home in.

There is an interesting back story to this. The publisher had blown through their budget on another project but still needed the cover to fit their printing schedule – and as it  was right after New Years I had a hole in my schedule (as usual). Fortunately we came up with a nice compromise; the schedule of payments in the contract specified a 50% payment on delivery with the remaining 50% due on April 10th so I could comfortably cover self-employment taxes on my 1040.

 

LibertyCon X Program Book Cover

libertycontenlogoart

Lori and I were invited to be AGOH’s ( Artist’s Guests of Honor) at LibertyCon X (ten) – which was not quite twenty years ago. Normally the AGOH produces a painting to be used as both the cover to the program book and a convention T-shirt design. I was in the middle of my dimensional illustration phase so Uncle Timmy 7 crew got a sculpt instead of a painting.

The A&E DVD sets were still a couple of years in the future so it was a low point for ‘Fanderson” and other fan groups so I don’t think many people understood what I was trying to do – but this piece screams “Gerry Anderson”.

This image is not the best version of the art. I have extensive archives of all my work since 1970 but until 2009 they were slide versions. It wasn’t a problem as we had a place in town that could make copies…but they sold their machine last year. I have a converter on the way and will keep you posted on how it works out.