Saturday, July 19, 2008


For the first time anywhere, I present a self-portrait showing full Mad Doctor mode... and despite the grimly fiendish expression, don't worry; I really do like other people. It's just that I can't always eat a whole one...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


We here in the Monster Shop are very stoked about the upcoming release of The Secret Saturdays, a new cartoon soon to debut on Cartoon Network. Created by Jay Stephens, this cool new show depicts the adventures of a family of cryptozoologists who strive to protect the world from ancient monsters and secrets, while simultaneously protecting said ancient monsters and secrets from greedy humans.

Cryptozoology, or the study of undiscovered animals, gets unjustly laughed at in scientific circles due to its concentration on what is known as "mega-fauna" cryptids. Mega-fauna cryptids are not things like undiscovered species of beetles or other insects, but big animals--in short, things like the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot. The earliest evidence of cryptozoological aspects in 'toons is most likely Hanna-Barbera's Jonny Quest, which is one of The Secret Saturdays' inspirations. Created by Doug Wildey, Jonny Quest details the adventures of the title character, a resourceful lad who travels with his father Dr. Benton Quest, pilot/adventurer Roger "Race" Bannon, Indian pal Haji and bulldog-pup Bandit on missions and adventures that span the globe and sometimes have them running into lost civilizations and ancient legends. Predating JQ, in the comic book format, was Jack Kirby's Challengers Of The Unknown, sometimes said to be a trial run for what would eventually become The Fantastic Four. The Challengers were a group of adventurers who, after miraculously surviving a plane crash unharmed, decide that they are living on borrowed time and band together for adventures that take them not only to battles with monsters and ancient beings, but to alternate universes and even across time and space. To be involved with a branch of what is known as "pseudo-science", the Saturdays have a hell of a cartoon pedigree.

Because there is no scientific proof that cryptids exist, and because most evidence for these creatures largely consists of unreliable eyewitness accounts, cryptoozoology is considered a pseudo-science. Yet at the same time, much of the Earth is still unexplored, especially its oceans and seas.

And one thing that is perennial about the human condition is that we have a need in our lives for monsters, myths, the supernatural, and the unexplained: things that cause us to suspect that there is another world beyond the one we know, things that fill the heart with wonder and the eyes with stars. Religion gets blamed, and often unfairly, for being the cause of unrest in the world, but even though every atheist I know would grind their teeth at this statement, we need a God. We need great big things like God, because sometimes we can hide under them from real evil. We need to know and believe there are forces for good in the world that work in our favor, and we need monsters to represent our worst fears and our greatest evils, or even to represent the evils in ourselves that we can't face.

And sometimes--many times, in fact, the monsters wind up being the good guys, or at least an indicator of our need and capacity for redemption. And never is this more present than in cartoons. Take the case of Hal Seeger's Milton The Monster, who showed up on Saturday morning screens back in 1965, but was actually in the production stages as far back as 1964, pre-dating both The Addams Family and The Munsters. Created by goofball mad scientists Professor Weirdo and Count Kook, Milton was an amiable Frankenstein who got overloaded on "tincture of tenderness" during his creation, making him sweet and lovable--and usually the victim of his creators' schemes. Other monster toons have proliferated as well; master cartoonist Alex Toth's The Herculoids were a team of super-powered creatures who protected their home planet of Quasar from encroaching aliens and outer-space bad guys. The Addams Family, depicted on TV as a clan of macabre and monsterlike individuals who were also the ultimate loving and cordial family, got their own Hanna-Barbera animated series in '73, traveling the country in a Victorian-styled RV and helping out folks in trouble. Though dismissed as a Scooby-Doo clone, the aptly-named Fangface was an actual werewolf who was on the side of good, and he and his gang of pals often ran into real strange creatures--not just crooks in monster suits but actual supernatural occurrences. And during the '80's there was the Drak Pack, in which the teenage descendants of legendary monsters, led by a reformed Count Dracula, used their supernatural abilities to atone for the sins of their ancestors by defending the world from evil.

So I think there's a need, if not a scientific basis, for
cryptozoology, for wonder, for anything that causes us to try to be better, braver, or smarter, or helps us deal with the unknown.

And cryptids are real. If you don't think so, then check this out.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


(Note: click on any picture to see it full-size.)

So. I was hoping to get some more website stuff done that day, but the rain came and then behind it came a thunderstorm, which meant that the computer, the Internet and so forth all got shut down
immediately to avoid getting fried by errant lightning. So I took advantage of this brown-out to spend some downtime putting together Dracula: A Toy Theatre By Edward Gorey, which I had hunted for and finally found, and then been unable to properly deal with because I'd gotten busy.

Toy theatres are pretty cool. Emerging with the rise of mass printing, these were originally sold at real performance or vaudeville theatres during the 18th and 19th centuries, and most of these were fairly elaborate
works of art and illustration. People took them home, put them together and performed their own little plays. Dracula showcases Edward Gorey's costume and set designs for the 1977 Broadway production of Dracula, which starred Frank Langella. Those of you who watch Mystery! are familiar with Gorey's work; the animated opening sequence is derived from his artwork.

The Gorey toy theatre includes three scenes, fifteen figures and props that you put together, plus a four-page booklet (more a pamphlet, actually) that outlines the basic action of the play and gives some background on Edward Gorey, all in a nice bookshelf-quality box. My familiarity with Dracula is not from the play, but mostly from Stoker's original novel and myriad movies, so I was kind of irritated that the female lead was Lucy Westenra, or rather Seward, as the play combines hers and Mina Harker's characters.** However, Mina writes a diary that composes half the novel, and if anyone has ever seen the beautiful if overwrought and somewhat ham-handed movie Bram Stoker's Dracula featuring Gary Oldman as Drac, then it's easy to call Lucy (played by Sadie Frost) the most obnoxious character, as she spends most of her onscreen time behaving like a total horndog and driving her suitors into various extended expressions of masculinity. Quincey Morris (Bill Campbell), presented in this movie as an Old West American, shows plenty of Ah-Luvs-Ya-Miz-Scawlet love, while Dr. Seward (Richard E. Grant) gets obsessive and shows Weird Geeky Intellectual Love, expressed by the scene where he shoots up with opium while giggling insanely and listening to hot classical music on his recording phonograph. Lord Godalming, played by Cary Elwes, is a stiff-upper-lip sort, so he doesn't do much besides be really British at her.

But I digress. The photo below shows the play props, all exquisitely and simply done, consisting of Lucy's Bed,
The Doctor's Couch, The Dank And Noisome Tomb,* and two Carpets For The Library And Boudoir. The Dank And Noisome Tomb was actually the easiest thing to put together, while The Doctor's Couch had me scratching my head and fumbling for a few minutes before I finally grokked how it was supposed to be folded.

The fifteen figures include the main characters: Jonathan Harker, Dr. Seward, Lucy Seward (who is Dr. Seward's daughter in the play), Professor Van Helsing, and Drac in various poses and costumes for the three acts that make up the play, plus Miss Wells the maid, the tortured and maddened mental patient and vampire stooge Renfield, and Butterworth, who is Renfield's keeper and generally looks like he'd like to beat the crap out of Renfield. As per the booklet, at the beginning of the first act, Mina has already been a light supper for Dracula, with plasma for afters.

All the costumes have a definite 1920's-30's Agatha Christie feel, which stands to reason since the 1931 Dracula with Bela Lugosi is pretty much in that time period. Still, the most curious of these were the figures for Act III, which (as per instructions) takes place in A Vault. I cannot see anyone going vampire hunting in evening dress.

There are three figures of Drac in different poses, which I dubbed Normal Drac (for when he's misleading people into thinking he's just an eccentric rich dude who lives in an old church and really likes his opera cape), Sleeping Drac (for those daytime naps after a night on the town), and Working Drac (pretty obvious). Sleeping Drac was a bit strange to me; I felt that instead of being in a stand like the others, there should be a tab-and-slot arrangement so it could fit on The Dank And Noisome Tomb for that added touch of realism.

A shot of the secondary characters: Miss Wells the maid, Renfield and Butterworth. I think Butterworth is a bit put out with Renfield.

After the props and figures were done, I did the scenery. This part was easy: you stand up the set pieces, fold down the floor and tape it together, then tape the three scenes together so that it forms a model that can be turned back and forth for each scene. I opted to leave the scenes separated, as I did not want Yet Another Dust-Catcher in my house, and wanted to store most of the stuff in the box. (I guess that Dank And Noisome Tomb will be a display piece.) I also reconfigured the floor taping so that a small crack was left in the floor seam, then taped both the top and underside of the floor, creating a hinge that made for easy refolding and storing in the box. A burnishing with the handle of my X-Acto knife made the invisible tape substantially more invisible.

Here is a shot of Act One, Dr. Seward's Library. As you can see, there is a repeated bat motif throughout the
scenery, suggesting the unseen presence of Dracula and Encroaching Evil.

Act Two, Lucy's Boudoir.

The bat motif gets really heavy in Act Three, A Vault. It would be hard to walk into this sort of place without having a "we're as doomed as doomed can be" feel, even if you're dressed in a snappy evening suit.

So there you go. At this point some imagination was bound to take over, so our last picture above is a scene from my own production of Dracula with set designs and costumes by Edward Gorey, in which an itinerant dragon, unimpressed with the cardboard performances of the actors and distressed by the liberties taken with Stoker's original work, seeks to dismantle the production in the middle of the third act. Further highjinks are sure to ensue.

*No, it really is called that on the back of the box.

**This same type of compression also happens in the theatrical version of
Frankenstein, which I have read, and which has no monster creation scene and confines the lab to a single door on the stage. Sorry, but if I was directing it we'd have that laboratory set and that creation scene, and the audience would just have to hunker down. Some things are sacred.

Special thanks to Claudia and Charlie White, who let me use their digital camera and helped with this photo essay.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Hello, everybody! Frankie Franken reporting here with news on an awesome new cartoon coming out this fall on Cartoon Network--The Secret Saturdays!

The Secret Saturdays
details the adventures of a cryptozoological team who travel the
world to protect ancient secrets and monsters (called "cryptids") from humans who would otherwise destroy or exploit them. Consisting of Doc, Drew and Zak Saturday, and accompanied by loyal cryptids Fiskerton and Komodo, the Saturdays team tries to stay one step ahead of madman cryptid hunter V.V. Argost in their exploits. The cartoon was created by Jay Stephens, who also is drawing and writing comic stories featuring the Saturdays that will appear in every other issue of DC Comics' Cartoon Network Action Pack until the show's premiere in the fall. The latest issue, #26, features the first of these stories, showcasing Stephens' excellent character designs and artwork.

We're excited about this cool new show, and we hope you will be too! Stay tuned here for more news on the upcoming Secret Saturdays!

Monday, July 07, 2008


I miss Cartoon Network.

You may think that's a silly thing to say as the channel still exists, but the Cartoon Network I was turned on to is not around anymore. That honor now goes to Boomerang, which is where most of the cartoons I grew up with now appear, and which is beginning to fall by the wayside too. There was not as much good stuff on there the last time I was at my parents' home, which is where I see Boomerang because the cable company in my hometown is run by Philistines, who see fit to have two feeds for BET and two religious networks featuring People With Big Hair and Joel Osteen, but cannot bring themselves to add BBC America and Boomerang to compensate.

But I digress. CN once had shows like Teen Titans, Justice League Unlimited, Megas XLR and so on; now they show anime almost exclusively as part of their adventure lineup (though they are doing Spider-Man and Transformers). Their "cartoons" consist of horribly drawn, eye-wateringly stylistic characters with no heart or soul that aren't funny. (Don't get me started on the rehash of George Of The Jungle. That rumbling you hear is Jay Ward doing doughnuts in his grave.) It almost makes me want to go to Youtube and watch old 1930's animation, which is so frenetic that it usually drives me nuts, just to see a character that someone has built out of an actual shape, as opposed to some effed-up-looking abstract idea thing.

Some hope may be at hand this fall, though, with the release of The Secret Saturdays. Created by Jay Stephens, this cool-looking cartoon depicts the adventures of a family of cryptozoologists who travel the globe on various missions tracking down ancient mysteries and fighting monsters. Unlike its predecessors such as Jonny Quest and Challengers Of the Unknown (which both cast a long shadow over this series), TSS takes more of a quasi-environmentalist stance, concerned with not only protecting the world from Things Man Was Not Meant To Know, but also protecting those very same Things from those who would exploit them for nefarious purposes. The Saturdays team consists of eminent scientist and adventurer/cryptozoologist Doc Saturday, his true-believer wife Drew (who serves as a Mulder figure to Doc's Scully-like "hard facts" stance) and their son Zak, who comes across as Jonny Quest with an X-Games attitude, throwing himself into missions with gusto. The mascot of the team is Fiskerton, a strange-looking but intelligent "gorilla-cat" creature who is comic relief and pet/protector/older brother to Zak.

The Secret Saturdays has so far gotten good word-of-mouth from those in the know, and was once the subject of a clumsy name change from Cartoon Network (who wanted the generic-sounding title The Secret Adventures Of Zak Saturday; fortunately, common sense and coolness prevailed). For my own part, I am looking forward to TSS. The characters are very likable and personable, the style is pleasingly retro (atomic science is always more fun than nuclear science), and we haven't had a good Jonny Quest-style adventure series on TV since, well, Jonny Quest. Plus there are monsters, and if you've seen my own stuff you know I likes me some monsters, so hopefully this will hang around for quite a while.

A preview of the treats this series has to offer may be seen not only at Cartoon Network's website but also in the DC comic Cartoon Network Action Pack. The latest issue, #26, features the Saturdays as its cover story, and according to Stephens' blog Monsterama, Saturdays tales will appear in every other issue until its premiere in the fall. Personally, my money's on this one as my new fave for this fall season. I have already caught a bit of The Marvelous Misadventures Of Flapjack, and I just wanna say this... Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ with pliers, Cartoon Network needs help! Viva Saturdays!