Sunday, June 23, 2019

A Quick Look: LICENSE TO KILL (1989 - color)


   Timothy Dalton's second, and sadly final, turn as James Bond pushed the character into even grittier territory than before. LICENCE TO KILL finds our hero going rouge in order to infiltrate and destroy the gang of a drug lord played by Robert Davi, this in retaliation for the brute act of feeding Felix Leiter to a shark and murdering the fellow agent's new bride. Bond's adventure takes him to Mexico, where he manages to appeal to the enemy by posing as a private enforcer. This exchange includes the great line where Davi asks Bond if he's a problem solver and Bond responds "More of a problem eliminator." More a revenge story, one could almost see this one as a Mike Hammer vehicle rather than a Bond. This adventure is a pretty radical departure from the rest of the series, but it is in many ways the truest to Fleming. The title sequence features a lot of cameras because the guy who did the sequence wasn't aware that the iconic Bond opening represented a gun barrel and not a camera! It was following this release that James Bond fell into some sort of legal trouble which kept the franchise grounded for years. By the time the matter was settled, Dalton was doing other projects. It was now the 1990's, and a new Bond was about to appear...

Thursday, June 20, 2019

A Quick Look: THE GIANT CLAW (1958)


   From the better-than-it's-reputation file, THE GIANT CLAW had one of the best scripts of the era -filled with great dialog and sharp characters. Much of the derision against the film is due to the fact that Columbia farmed out the special effects to a company in Mexico. The monster they created is regarded as one of the goofiest creature designs in motion picture history (never mind that it's disturbingly life-like in it's movements and textures). The cast reportedly tried to hide in their seats during the premiere and snuck out early to avoid facing the audience. Jeff Morrow and Mara Corday head the cast, with perpetual military leader Morris Ankrum in support. Whatever it's flaws, it remains a solid 50's monster picture, and in many ways has become emblematic of the genre.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

CARTOON CUTIES stuff...

    Seeing issue 1 of Cartoon Cuties finally hit print (now for sale on Amazon) has really energized work on further issues. Here're some materials new and old. The top image is a tweaked pinup of Doris Flowers, who turns up in the second issue. Directly below is the ink sheet for another Flowers pinup, God willing to be used as the back cover of issue 3. I'm actually really pleased with this pinup, as everything seemed to come together perfectly. Still unsure what the planned dialog balloon should be, but I can easily picture as a running theme for back covers scenes from the studio dressing room like this.


   Now we have new characters to show off. So far, I've used sisters Beverly and Jeannie mostly for short single or two-page gags. These help me figure out the characters and their dynamic. Eventually, I'd like to give them longer stories (but with the materials already assembled, we'd possibly be looking at issue 11 or 12 before they could take center stage in any meaningful way). The basic idea here is a fairly old one. Beverly is something of a free spirit but more grounded than she usually appears -shallow but sweet, her sister Jeannie (the one with the pigtails) is intelligent but can be a bit scatterbrained. The solo page of Beverly (just below) may be published in issue 4 or 5. I'm looking forward to writing for these characters.




   Below are some materials I've had prepared for a while now. First up is a pinup I had planned for the first issue when it was to be a one-shot graphic novel about Crissy Carrots. The idea was to fill out the remainder of the book with pinup poses of the characters present, until it became a continuing series and I drew up "Stick Together" as a back-up story. Mala Winston is one of the heavies of the first issue. After drawing this pinup directly below, I saw that she had potential as a reformed character. She has a solo story in issue 2 regarding just that, and will become a major supporting player in the issues beyond. I'm looking forward to sharing those episodes with you.


   Daisy Poise, directly below, was my first "femanimal" character and I consider her one of the pillar characters of the franchise alongside Crissy Carrots and Minerva Mallen. This early pinup of the character captured a cute pose, though I've done better faces. Her ears are particularly huge here. I've since shrunk and stream-lined them a bit to make them easier to draw in the average panel. I'm not crazy about much of the earlier work I did on the series, but color certainly helps.


   Below are a couple of cats, because I figured there needed to be cats since one of my earlier commissions was to create a feline character akin to the work I'd done with Crissy Carrots. The result was Simone Grace, who is slated to appear in issue 2. Also appearing in issue 2 is Trudy Kitten, seen directly below. I don't really have a lot of material for Trudy as of yet. At this point she's more of a background character. Below her is Dixie North, who shows up quickly in issue 1. Dixie proved more difficult to draw than I expected, so she hasn't been utilized as much I originally thought she might be. She is slated to appear in future issues, however. Dixie is part of a comedy team with regular human being Trixie Hope, who has become one of my main characters.



   Lois Teppert I wrote about in a previous post, the character who became a star playing "Chickie Little" in a series of cartoon shorts. It seemed fitting to include a bird in the stable, given the volume of classic cartoons which feature birds (though their use as glamor characters has been few and far between, but there have been a couple so I figured I should include one). She pops up in issue 2 and then takes the spotlight in issue 3. She typically wears her hair pulled back. This is one of the few times I rendered her with her hair loose.


   Next we have Wendy Marco, who shows up in issue 1. Mostly, she serves as a sidekick to Minerva Mallen, both on and off the screen. She usually manages to be close to the action and has considerable coverage in most issues. The drawing below is supposed to be a candid snapshot which was printed in the local newspaper. This got her noticed by the studio brass and secured her a contract. Quite a bit of the series centers around Wendy, it turns out. She's a constant studio presence, Minerva's close friend, and her uncle is a fur salesman who sponsors programming on the local TV station. It points to how little I consider ethnicity that I made her a blonde of European descent and then gave her a Spanish Sir name! When her uncle pops up in issue 3, I drew him more swarthy to justify the name I gave her.


   One of the more interesting characters I came up with for the series is Louise Beaumont, who we meet in issue 2. Louise was inspired by an aging actress of the same name in an old episode of ALF. My Louise Beaumont brings in a bit of Hollywood history to the series, as she's been written as a classic starlet seeking to re-energize her faded career. Back in the 20's, she was the top female annie starlet (thus, her physical inspiration is as a cartoon version of Clara Bow/Louise Brooks). Her fame was eclipsed in the early 30's by the arrival of Betty Boop, who was only pen and ink (the concept being that some cartoon stars were flesh and blood and others strictly the invention of studio cartoonists). Since the real-life 1950's saw a renewed interest in 1920's film stars, the comic book finds Louise taking advantage of that and making efforts to re-establish herself as one of Creek Bend's stable of animated glamor starlets. Since annies don't age as normal people do, this means the projection of a youthful image like she once played to in her old cartoons. Below is a pinup shot which pushes Beaumont's status as a, as Mr. Moody once said of Lucy Carmichael, "teen-aged senior citizen." Louise is a bit opportunistic, and like many a starlet seems desperate to hold onto her youth and it's glory. Makes for some interesting story ideas. Another connection to Wendy Marco, Louise Beaumont is Wendy's grandmother. I need to tweak this drawing a little. Her hair needs to be bigger and rounder. The pose comes from an early 60's issue of Playboy, I think. It seemed to capture Louise perfectly.


   As noted last time, Sugar Chestnut is another rabbit who ties more closely to the movie studio than does Crissy Carrots. She's introduced in issue 2 and grabs the spotlight in issue 3. This pinup shot was based on a shot of 60's model and Playmate Lori Winston. The more human anatomy seems to offer the right look in suggesting that these characters live in the real world alongside the rest of us. There's also the fact that I began as a pinup cartoonist, so human anatomy is just more comfortable for me to draw. I never set out to draw cheesecake animals (in fact, given some of the weird communities that have risen in the internet age, I wanted to stay pretty far away from the theme). It seems a good fit for my particular skill set, however.

All art and characters (c) 2019 Rock Baker.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

A Quick Look: THE CHIPMUNK ADVENTURE (1987 - color)


    The 80's produced some fun animated movies. This one isn't remarkable, but it quickly established itself as one of my favorites when I watched the video on a lark after being given a collection of VHS tapes. Spun off of the updated Saturday morning cartoon series, this rather delightful feature follows Alvin and the Chipmunks (along with their female counterparts, the Chipettes) as they are tricked into embarking on a round-the-world race which really fronts for a diamond smuggling operation. Largely the episodic mini-adventures one would expect from another variation of Around The World In 80 Days, combined with several musical numbers, the results are quite entertaining. The humor is largely on the mark, the characters good, and the pace is swift, thanks to a very good script and solid direction. The animation itself is pretty advanced for this sort of thing, combining largely limited animation with some rather elaborate, Disney-esque fluidness during some of the musical numbers. The Chipmunks and the Chipettes seem of equal importance, rather than the supporting characters there just serve as back-up to the established stars, and we spend as much time with the girls as we do the boys. I hadn't seen the Saturday morning cartoons since first run. I had forgotten all about the Chipettes, who seem to've commanded the most attention from the animators at work here. This one is of the fun and breezy variety, and one of the few more modern (post-1960) animated movies I'd show to kids without reservation.

UPDATE - Be aware that the remastered Alvin's Diamond Edition DVD isn't as good as the 1998 VHS release. While the print is nice and the colors are vibrant, the soundtrack was remixed for stereo and as result there are several lines and sound effects missing (while some sound effects seem to've been added to a couple of the musical numbers). In addition, the aspect ratio has been artificially letterboxed for widescreen TV's by lopping portions of the picture off the top and bottom of the screen. Isn't it ironic how widescreen televisions were invented so movies didn't have to be cropped, but as result some movies have been cropped to fit widescreen sets?

   Reportedly, THE CHIPMUNK ADVENTURE was a failure at the box office. Another movie wouldn't turn up for a decade. The results, though, were far more entertaining than I expected. ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS MEET FRANKENSTEIN came to video in 1999 (supposedly, the 1998 video release of THE CHIPMUNK ADVENTURE did better than it's theatrical run, and even coincided with the release of a soundtrack album). Being a late 90's picture, the music isn't as good as it was in the first film, but the script is strong, and funny. Alvin and his brothers now find themselves performing at a movie studio theme park at the same time that Dr. Frankenstein has moved to town and rebuilt his monster. Being a Universal production, they even get to use the traditional Jack Pierce design of the monster. This one was sharp and funny, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The humor is a bit more cartoonish this time around, and I wonder if the then-recent Animaniacs television series was partly an influence (one can easily imagine from that show the exchange between Dr. Frankenstein and Alvin, whom the Doc plans to turn into a zombie: "Have you ever seen a mindless zombie?" "Are you kidding? I live in Hollywood!"). The film was followed in 2000 by another video release, ALVIN AND CHIPMUNKS MEET THE WOLFMAN! 



   Somewhat more subtle than the zaniness of the previous entry, there are still some chuckles and laughs as monster-obsessed Alvin is convinced the spooky new neighbor Mr. Talbot is a werewolf. The Chipettes are back, joining the boys in a school play based on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde. When Alvin proves too hyper and destructive, he's yanked from the lead role and replaced by the timid Theodore. When Theodore is bitten by a big dog, though, he develops a more confident attitude which turns into wildness as he begins transforming into a werewolf! This last film is a mixed bag, though it gets better with repeated viewing, being largely entertaining but somewhat lackluster after the first two films. That's not to talk it down, of course. It's got plenty of charm and the climax set during the performance of the play is pretty funny stuff. I would've welcomed more movies in the series, but the next time the franchise was used in a feature film it was for the radically different ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS (which set the dial to zero and made the chipmunks actual animals rather than David's adopted sons). This approach must've worked for audiences, though, because it resulted in a series of four films.   

Saturday, June 1, 2019

A Quick Look at TV: VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA


   Producer Irwin Allen became a staple of 60's imagi-fiction television, and it started with his small screen adaptation of his triumphant science fiction epic VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA. The TV Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea starred Richard Basehart as the inventor of the world's most sophisticated atomic submarine, the Seaview. Working in co-operation with, but not for, the US Navy, his chief security officer was David Hedison. Hedison's desire to do things by the book usually conflicted with Basehart's get-it-done, oft-speculative nature. Early on, the show was heavy with international espionage and intrigue, as spies and despots across the globe tried to get their hands on Seaview. Occasionally, the adventures were more science-fiction based, with the crew running across alien civilizations and strange phenomena. This approach was favored with viewers, so the series eventually developed into a monster-of-the-week format when Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea switched to full color. Gillmen, werewolves, voodoo, dinosaurs, ghosts, undersea giants, blobs, everything you could image was in Seaview's scope! While this approach endeared the series to viewers (particularly the kiddies) and embedded many a memory, it also served to annoy critics who favored the more adult situations of the early episodes. Said critics have been rather harsh on the resulting series and even those shows Allen followed up with (and even Allen himself, at times). All their carping, however, could never rob Allen of his standing with all those monster kids who grew up on his wares. His first series remains one of his most fondly remembered.

Monday, May 27, 2019

The first review of CARTOON CUTIES no.1 has been published!

Many thanks to Michael Housel for his kind words. Link below...

https://bizarrechats.blogspot.com/2019/05/rock-bakers-cartoon-cuties-cutie.html?fbclid=IwAR3XTVMNNJtNr_StOAPJEJH0cqBkbIe_gpb2OC_-D7yJUI36cwIl_cKIDVU

Sunday, May 26, 2019

More CARTOON CUTIES materials

Cover inks for issue 4. Minerva (right) will have a balloon reading "You better cool it down, girls, the lifeguard just swallowed his whistle!"
   For those interested, a few more bits and bobbles from my development of Cartoon Cuties as a continuing series now that the first issue is on sale through Amazon. We'll start with a few odds and ends...

Crissy doing housework around issue 10 or so.

A more finished ink sheet which was shown in-progress in an earlier post.

A Doris Flowers pinup, from early on in trying to find her character. The body is okay, but I think her head needs some work.

   Since this all began with Crissy Carrots, most of the supporting characters I developed early on were also rabbits. I also dabbled a bit on developing a larger backstory for Crissy, for which I drew the first image below. As the series took shape, however, Crissy's rather subdued previous life hasn't had much chance to take center stage. I did figure she might've been a cheerleader in her school days, though. In fact, I originally planned a prequel book which would do a sort of Archie aesthetic with my femanimal characters as high-schoolers. I thought better of it, though, and realized further adventures were more interesting than earlier ones.

A yearbook shot of Crissy?

An early Crissy pinup

   Crissy, I was originally concerned, might be mistaken by some as a play on Lola Bunny, a character who boasts a bit of a following despite being generally under-used by her owners. When I saw SPACE JAM again, I saw I had nothing to worry about (in truth, Crissy owes a lot more to the similarly under-used Minerva Mink, and in fact boasts similar coloring in acknowledgement of that). Sugar Chestnut was a rabbit character who I felt could offer some differences from Crissy -chiefly in that Sugar would be an established annie starlet and live closer to town, where as Crissy really wasn't interested in a film career and preferred her privacy. When I designed Sugar, I did notice some similarities to Lola Bunny (mostly in her short hair and huge bangs). My original plans to make her a blonde were subsequently changed to make her a brunette. It was in designing this character, though, that I noticed every character in the series likely draws inspiration and influence from some established character I might've seen at some time or other. The fact is, there are so many cartoon characters that some similarities are going to be inevitable. Of course, the Cuties depart pretty radically from most of the characters who might've inspired them -having skin instead of fur and a full compliment of fingers, so when all was said and done, Sugar here bore little resemblance to Lola. What makes Sugar interesting is the domestic situations she offers, being married to a rabbit who is a star in his own right. This allows for the sort of industry inside talk that I've always enjoyed. This spot illustration will likely be used either as a back cover, or as a bug on the copyright information/contents page which opens a future issue.

Sugar Chestnut

   Crissy's Irish cousin Rosie plays a fair part in issue 1, but since she was only on vacation to the States I haven't had a lot of chances to bring her back for more stories. These pinup pages should keep her visible until I find an excuse to move her to the States. Of course, I don't know yet if readers are even keen on Rosie. Feedback from readers will be instrumental in telling me what directions I should go in and what characters to take with me.



   Below is an early pinup of Minerva Mallen. It will likely be used as a spot illustration for the contents page of issue 2. Although one of the featured players, I did find she didn't command as much of my attention as I expected her to. I thought she'd be my main focus in the book, what with her being one of the more original characters (or so I'd think, as I don't immediately recall a lot of pulchritudinous cartoon skunks). Indeed, as I've found enjoyment in creating more and more characters and expanding the run of the series, my 'main' characters aren't the ones I've been tinkering with as much as I figured would be the case. Still, she plays a fairly large role in the first few issues.


   Now we get to some new characters previously unmentioned, and at this point still without names. During the early development of Cartoon Cuties, I made a conscious decision not to do any female duck characters lest readers think I'm making reference to Daisy Duck. When the design for this duck came to me, though, I decided to go ahead and use it because I wanted another bird-based character who didn't look just like Chickie Little. (When it came to crowd scenes, I found I used a lot of male duck characters to represent the annies working at the movie studio, so including a female duck seemed an obvious choice.) I'm not sure yet what the dialog for these two pages are, but I've slated them for issue 2, God willing. There's something vaguely familiar about this design, though I can't place it. Did I draw an original, or was I influenced by some obscure character I've forgotten?



   Finally, a character who is my latest, and God willing subject to a special future issue (in a story I was so fond of I moved her spotlight from issue 11 up to issue 6). As yet unnamed -though I'm leaning toward something like Tina Pebble, the character has been developed with animation in mind rather than a comic book (but that's sort of fitting, since the comic book is about starlets of animation). Hence, the focus on music. She's a singer who has come to feel trapped in her role as "the Rock And Roll Teenager" in a string of one-reel cartoons. Unlike the other characters in the book, she actually has more cartoon qualities like being very short and sporting a squeaky, high-pitched voice. Her efforts to escape her child-like type-casting makes for a fresh scenario in the series, and the idea is to feature her up front and center in the sixth issue. Below are the planned cover inks and an interior page showing the same scene.



   This spot illo below shows her in character from her cartoons.


   Lastly, we have what was actually my first drawing of the character. I did try to make her look shorter than most of the other characters of my book, which was a challenge since several of the characters are already pretty short. I hadn't yet the hang of it when I drew this, and in subsequent pages her nose has gotten even shorter and her curls bigger. Still, this gave me an idea of who the character was and how she would work. The resulting storyline I have in place is actually one of my favorites so far (and finally clears up the mystery of the annies). I look forward to sharing it with you.