Monday, November 29, 2004

The Jim Henson Special Edition Action Figure

Palisades Jim Henson Special Edition Action Figure PhotoNow you too can have your very own Jim Henson Action Figure. Well, I don't know if it's meant for much action, but you can pretend Jim is playing a favorite Muppet song on his Banjo, entertaining the world with 'The Rainbow Connection' or 'Movin' Right Along'.

Palisades Toys continues its award-winning line of Muppet figures, with a likeness of their legendary creator. Henson, who occasionally had a Muppet version of himself on The Muppet Show, is kept in scale with the rest of the Palisades Muppet figure line. Is a Frank Oz figure far behind?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Jack Kirby : The King of Comic Books

3 Jack Kirby Illustrated Comic Book Covers - Fantastic Four, Tales of Suspense, and The Incredible Hulk
The X-Men, The Fantastic Four, Captain America, Iron Man, The Silver Surfer, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Sub-Mariner, Daredevil, The Avengers, Galactus, Dr. Doom, Challengers Of The Unknown, Forever People, The New Gods, Mister Miracle, Kamandi, The Inhumans, Ka-Zar, Ant-Man, Giant-Man, The Black Panther, and even Devil Dinosaur. These fantastic characters and a universe more of the Super Heroes and Villains that we continue to enjoy in comic books, films, and television, owe a large part of their existance to one man: Jack "King" Kirby.

Jack Kirby Silver Surfer IllustrationWhether directly or through his influence, Jack Kirby's mind and pencil turned out more ideas than most publishers put together. Kirby was known to save his unused ideas, but if he didn't keep everything, he probably threw away more ideas than most creators came up with good ones. Even though Jack helped create what would become a billion-dollar industry with writer Stan Lee, in his later years, he would struggle to regain the dynamic art he created while at Marvel Comics. His artwork would inspire people of all ages, but it was mostly influential on the children and teens who would grow up to become today's most recognized creative professionals. Comic Book Artists, Film Directors, Actors, Producers, Writers, Paleontologists, Archeologists, Designers, and Sculptors often remark that Kirby's work was a big factor in their career choices. Or at the very least, a strong influence on their imagination. Ask any Comic Book artist, writer, or publisher who the single-most influential person on the industry was, and Jack's name would probably be the first out of many mouths. Challenge a friend to strike a 'Super Hero Pose' and you can probably trace that stance back to a drawing of his. Invite them to name a Comic Book hero or group, and you'll find that Kirby was probably linked to it at some time in his illustrious career. Even today, like other artists, his influence finds its way into my work in the form of an energetic, design element appropriately named 'Kirby Krackle.' It's a way for many of us to say 'Thanks, Jack!'

Jack Kirby PhotoI never got a chance to meet Mr. Kirby. He passed away in 1994, before I attended my first major Comic Book Convention, the San Diego Comic-Con in 1998. As is the case with Jim Henson and Walt Disney, Jack Kirby would be one of the top few creative people I would have immensely enjoyed meeting. If nothing more than to simply pass on my appreciation for all the heroes he brought to life that made my childhood such a fun time. To many of today's fans, we know Jack only by photos and drawings, but a recently discovered rare video interview with Kirby has been posted on TVParty.com. Jack discusses Captain America, The Fantastic Four, Thor, and the artists that influenced him. For most of us, this is the closest thing to being able to see and hear the creator discuss his career in his own words.

Thanks to the many great Comic Book Conventions and the Internet, Kirby continues to receives praise from legions of fans and professionals alike. I've collected some links which I hope will give you more insight into the man considered to be a God among Comic Book Creators, Jack "King" Kirby.

Jack Kirby Fantastic Four Illustration

The Jack Kirby Collector celebrates the life and career of the "King" of comics through interviews with Kirby and his contemporaries, feature articles, and rare & unseen Kirby artwork. Now in tabloid format, the magazine showcases Kirby's art at an even larger size.

Mark Evanier, a comic book, cartoon, and editorial writer whose credits include Groo the Wanderer, Scooby Doo, Plastic Man, and Thundarr the Barbarian, has a great sub-site of Jack Kirby information. Once there, you'll find not only the great photo of Kirby (above) but The Jack F.A.Q as well, and a touching memorial to 'The King.'

A small biography on Jack can be found at The Comic Art and Graffix Gallery.

UGO.com's "A Tribute To Jack Kirby" features Kirby's last interview, an industry tribute, and a retro review of the 1976 Captain America Annual.

One of the coolest Kirby links, Monster Blog showcases Kirby's lesser known, but equally amazing creations, the monsters of titles like: Amazing Adventures, Strange Tales, and Journey into Mystery. There's a great image archive of cover scans and a descriptive 'Meet the Monsters' section.

Even the spiritual symbolism in the work of Jack Kirby is explored at scienceandreligion.com. Using The Fantastic Four, The Silver Surfer, and Forever People, the site attempts to demonstrate Kirby's influences from the Bible.

Jack Kirby X-Men Cover IllustrationThe Words & Pictures Museum of Fine Sequential Art presented a tribute to Jack Kirby from April 6 to May 7, 1994 and among many of his works of art, quotes from Kirby were on display. Perhaps none were more relevant to his career than this one: "Comics are a universal product. They have no boundaries. You can use them in a very serious manner or just for laughs. Comics can be used to educate, to entertain or to provoke deep thought. A well-read person will one day produce a classic epic in comics, one that everybody will remember. I wanted to do that, but I think that's going to be somebody else's job. I'm happy that I got the chance to accomplish what I did."

Little did Jack know, that the 'well-read person' would turn out to be himself, creating those epic stories that have become the basis for today's modern mythologies.

Update: Thanks to Palaeoblog for providing a link to the Kirby Comics blog. Head over there to discover articles, artwork, and tributes to the comic book legend.

Amazon.com | Amazon.ca purchase links:
Purchase Jack Kirby Books | Purchase Jack Kirby Books
Purchase Marvel Comics Books | Purchase Marvel Comic Books
Purchase X-Men Books | Purchase X-Men Books
Purchase Fantastic Four Books | Purchase Fantastic Four Books
Purchase Iron Man Books | Purchase Iron Man Books
Purchase Silver Surfer Books | Purchase Silver Surfer Books
Purchase Incredible Hulk Books | Purchase Incredible Hulk Books
Purchase Captain America Books | Purchase Captain America Books

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Dolphins Save Swimmers From Shark

Here's a link to a fantastic news story about a pod of dolphins protecting New Zealand lifeguards from a 10-foot Great White Shark.

Friday, November 19, 2004

What's Up With The Muppets

Apple Think Different Poster - Jim Henson and Kermit the FrogJim Henson was a creative genius. He collaborated with not only Writer / Director George Lucas, but also music legend David Bowie, fantasy illustrator Brian Froud, and The Walt Disney Company. His legacy includes the worlds of The Muppets, Sesame Street, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, The Fraggles, The Storyteller, and many other fantastic characters and franchises. In a documentary about Jim, his son Brian accurately remarked: "His vision was a very simple one about life and about people and a very honest one.  The vision of the world of Muppets, and the world of Dark Crystal, and the world of Labyrinth, and world, and world, and world.  How many worlds can a guy have in his head?  He had a lot, and they were still coming fast and furious."

The Muppets, including the puppets on Sesame Street remain his most popular creations, and they are recognized all over the world. Many adults today, can thank Kermit and company for their early literary and artistic comprehension skills. Despite the solid history of The Muppets, there have been ownership transfers since Jim's death in 1990. The Jim Henson Company, including all of their creations, were sold to a European media corporation, EM.TV, eventually purchased back by Jim's children (to the delight of many fans) and a year ago, sold to The Walt Disney Company. The Jim Henson Company assured us the move was done to follow Jim's wishes of keeping the characters 'evergreen', and only one company, Disney, really had the power to do that. In fact, years ago, when Henson was still alive, The Walt Disney Company was in discussions with Jim Henson regarding a partnership, and perhaps even an outright purchase of The Muppet characters.

Some feared that Disney CEO Michael Eisner, only acquired The Muppets to boost his sagging ratings with Disney shareholders and that the characters would continue to be pawns in a game. Another major issue was that it would possibly be years before the fans were able to see a new Muppet television show or film. Disney assured the fans, that they would do everything in their power to focus on Henson's wish of keeping The Muppets alive. To date, The Muppets have made a few guest appearances on talk and award shows, even co-hosting in some cases, appeared in a music video with Weezer, television commercials with Jessica Simpson, and are about to take center stage in a Muppet-ized version of The Wizard of Oz.

Recently, Disney launched their new Muppet website. Not all of the content is live, and the site requires a decent computer and internet connection to work efficiently, but at the very least, The Muppets are again providing official content on the World Wide Web. However, even before Disney's new portal, admirers of the characters have kept the information flowing on the Internet through various fan sites and web communities.

Muppet Central is an established Muppet fan site, with information on everything from Kermit to Doozers. There you can find the latest news on film and tv productions, DVD releases, collectibles, and toys and games. There's even a forum for Muppet fans to interact with one another.

The Muppets FAQ answers questions like 'What is a Muppet?' and offers explanations such as the reasoning behind most Muppet characters being left-handed!

If you want to see the incredible amount of Muppet merchandise and advertising, or find an episode and character guide for The Muppet Show, then make sure to spend some time at Kermitage.com. You can look at some of the fantastic promotional items for movies like Muppet Treasure Island and even marvel at some of the Jim Henson Company Christmas cards.

The Muppet Movie Screenshot - The Muppet Gang

Matthew Springer at Jim Hill Media wrote a nice article about why The Muppet Movie remains one of the best of any film featuring the characters. He attests to the way the characters feel 'alive' and how it "allowed Jim Henson's unique, unforgettable blend of emotional punch, endearing characters, and hilarious jokes to find its greatest expression."

While many animation companies today strive to bring 2D characters like Mickey Mouse and Popeye into the third dimension, Jim Henson accomplished the task better than any of them could. Imagine a two-dimensional animated cartoon character, only real, and you can see The Muppets enduring hold on children and adults alike. Though he later 'toyed' with computerized versions of some of the characters and found new ways to showcase them, his creations existed mainly as crafted puppets. It didn't require high-end 3D animation software and an entire render farm to bring Jim's drawings to life; it took only the talented imaginations and hands of the many loyal 'Muppeteers' who stood behind his ideas.

If The Muppets' Wizard of Oz fares well, it will likely mean more new material from Kermit, Fozzie, Piggy, Gonzo, and Rowlf in the future. With an African-American lead cast that includes Ashanti Douglas as Dorothy, Queen Latifah as Aunt Em, and David Alan Grier as Uncle Henry, Disney looks to be pushing some cultural casting boundaries. Maybe the choices will bring a diverse audience and good ratings, which is ultimately what The Muppets will need on the Disney-owned network, ABC.

In the immortal words of Kermit the Frog: "It ain't easy being green." Whether you're the money used to buy the puppet, or the puppet itself, you're bound to change hands eventually. Let's hope the gang has found a good fit this time.

Amazon.com purchase links:
Buy Jim Henson Films and TV Shows on DVD
Buy Jim Henson Books
Buy Brian Froud Books
Buy George Lucas Films on DVD

Amazon.ca purchase links:
Buy Jim Henson Films and TV Shows on DVD
Buy Jim Henson: The Works Book
Buy Jim Henson's Designs and Doodles Book

Monday, November 15, 2004

Lost city of Atlantis found?

Atlantis Remains Computer Graphic Rendering - Created by Chad Kerychuk
After a nice surprise birthday gathering, I decided to rent Disney's Atlantis: Milo's Return last night. Later, as I was browsing the web, I just happened to notice this article about yet another possible site of the Lost Continent of Atlantis.

Many explorers, scholars, and scientists have claimed to know the resting place of the fabled city - first described by the ancient philosopher, Plato - however, no definitive proof has been presented. From speculated locations such as The Azores, Iceland, The Bahamas, Ireland, Cuba, and recently, the island of Cyprus, perhaps no other 'myth' has stirred the imaginations of people around the world. I'm fascinated by the whole Atlantis mythlogy and any new theory or discovery peaks my interest.

If you type 'Atlantis' into an Internet search engine, you come up with an incredible number of results. So trying to get information that seems plausible can be challenging and leave you a little bit 'lost' yourself. If you find that happening, then perhaps a vacation at the Atlantis Resort is what you need?

Sunday, November 14, 2004

AnySoldier.com

Anysolider.com GraphicThanks to my friend Rick Cortes over at The Drawing Board for letting me know about AnySoldier.com. It's a great website dedicated to providing information on sending care packages to US Soldiers based on their needs or requests. It's updated as often as the military contacts can get information sent in, and there are requests from Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine personnel.

My aunt, my wife, and myself gathered some items to send to a group overseas in the hope of cheering them up during the holiday season and in appreciation for doing a job they may not agree with politically, but one they are trying to do good with regardless. Thanks to the efforts of the numerous women and men, many children can go to school for the first time and civilians can enjoy a freedom to criticize current administrations without fear of torture.

The past few days have been spent gathering items to send, but I finally was able to mail it today. A 20 pound package cost $35.00 Canadian to send and should arrive within 30 days. Hopefully just in time for the holidays. We decided against sending food items though, since it could cause more delay at US Customs. We did include things that they asked for, as well as some wool stocking caps (or toques as we call them up here), flip-top gloves, and Christmas decorations and gifts to reinvigorate their morale.

We may not agree with all of the military actions around the world, or the actions of the US leaders, but the soldiers have a number among them who have never been away from family during Christmas. Many of the soldiers do not even receive mail or letters from home. If a package we send can help ease the loneliness and stress over there, then it's the least we can do. If you can put aside your political beliefs and think of the soldiers as people that could have easily been your or I, then it might help you in deciding to send something to lift their spirits.

I couldn't find information for Canadian, British or other soldiers, but if you know somebody serving in the military, or just thought about sending something to boost morale, now is as good a time as any to find out how. There is no guarantee it will get there, but as with anything requiring effort, there's always hope.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Disneyland Aerial Photo

Disneyland Aerial PhotoEver wonder what The Magic Kingdom looks like from the air? My wife and I have yet to experience Walt's California creation, but perhaps you'll recognize parts of the park you've been to. Thanks to the US Geological Survey, aerial photos from 2003 have been merged together to provide a stunning overhead view of the layout and size of Disneyland. If you're on a high-speed connection, I recommend the 10 MB file for optimum quality viewing.

I wish I could've seen the park in its original condition, with the great design work of the 50's and 60's era and rides like 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. It seems Disneyland is undergoing constant renovations, with old rides being dismantled and modern ones erected in their place. This is all in order to attract new visitors and entice previous visitors to experience the park again. You never know if your favorite ride will be around for your next visit. Thankfully, with numerous photos and articles, the good folks at MiceAge.com keep us informed of the perpetual facelifts and upgrades at 'The Happiest Place On Earth.'

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Amazing Incredibles

The Incredibles Still Image
I had the chance to see The Incredibles twice today and it was...well, 'Incredible!' Action abounds when a domesticized family of 'Supers' comes out of hiding to fight the ever-present Super Villains that inhabit their Comic Book Metropolis. This film combines the 50's era coolness of Brad Bird's animated classic The Iron Giant along with Pixar's engrossing style of Toy Story.

There's a great backstory and transitionary period that pokes fun at the bureaucracy, tedium, and thanklessness of today's society and as with any Pixar film, no matter what the character is made of, we can't help but sympathize with them. Mr. Incredible's evolution is fun to watch, and I can imagine every young boy wanting a Mr. Incredible figure as much as they wanted a Buzz Lightyear in 1995. There's more cartoon violence than in Pixar's other films, but the few kids in the showing I attended this afternoon, didn't seem frightened - and the positive messages are definitely not pushed aside.

Elastigirl and Mrs. Incredible ImagesThe voice acting is excellent and Samuel L. Jackson's Frozone nearly steals the show. As 'hip' as this movie is, I only wish we were able to see more of him because he really is that cool. Pixar has always had great female voice actresses as well, but Holly Hunter did an outstanding job as Elastigirl / Mrs. Incredible. Possibly the best match for a lead female animated character yet. She has all the right emotions a wife, mother, and Super-powered woman would have and with her genuinely caring attitude and fluid-like movements, she really is a hero that females can look up to.

The Incredibles stylized graphicAs usual, one of the elements that really stands out in a Pixar film, is the Design. From the characters to the environments to the opening and closing credits, the style and quality are breathtaking. In my opinion, the closing credits for The Incredibles is only matched by the opening titles for Monsters, Inc. Even elements like the living quarters of the main characters undergo as much design considerations as they characters themselves. Where other computer animated films show homes and enemy lairs that look as if they are made from digital cookie cutters, the ones in The Incredibles are both unique and familiar, blending in perfectly with the overall style. The design work for this film is so well done, you immediately get the homages to other movies and genres. From The Fantastic Four to James Bond and Spider-Man, to The Super Friends and The X-Men, with bits of Star Wars and Indiana Jones blended in, I was grinning from ear to ear at how Pixar put together another really great 'tribute' film. This is another set of characters that Pixar has potential to make more stories with, and I know like today, I'd be there opening day if they do!
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Amazon.com purchase links:

Purchase The Art of The Incredibles
Purchase Books About The Incredibles
Purchase The Incredibles Video Game
Purchase Pixar-related Books
Purchase Pixar Movies
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Amazon.ca purchase links:
cover
Purchase The Art of The Incredibles
Purchase The Incredibles Video Game and Books
Purchase Pixar-related Products

Monday, November 01, 2004

Incredible Jack O' Lantern

Mr. Incredible Still ImageI hope you had a great All Hallow's Eve and filled your pails, pillow sacks, and treat bags with assorted goodies! I had a nice dinner with a grandmother and handed out treats at her place (occassionally sneaking a few for myself) as I have done in previous years. After the kids had stopped coming to the door, I helped her clean up and headed home to finally carve my 2004 Jack O' Lantern. I couldn't accomplish this earlier in the day, because when I went looking for a pumpkin, every major grocery store on the south side of Edmonton was apparently sold out. As I would discover later, the reason had something to do with pumpkins rotting in the growing fields and not being fit for sale. So what little they did have sold earlier in the week.

Not one to easily give up, I thought back to High School Art Class and how we created clay pumpkins for an assignment. As I recall, I was pleased with the way mine turned out (carved flames coming out of the tops of the eyes, nose, and mouth) but so was the art teacher. He asked to keep many of them and since he was such a nice guy, we couldn't refuse. However, today I knew I didn't have time to make a clay Jack O' Lantern, and I remembered reading about artificial 'Craft Pumpkins' in a flyer a week ago. These allow you to carve your design into a foam-based pumpkin and keep your art rather than throwing it out before it rots. So I drove over to a Michaels Arts and Crafts store to take a look.

Outside in front of the shop, they had a bin marked 50% off - even then, it seemed a bit overpriced for the quality - but I didn't want to miss out on one of my favorite Halloween activities. They also don't look as good as the ones available on the Funkins website, but those have to be ordered and would arrive 7-10 days after Halloween. Michaels had their pumpkins available here in the city. Another drawback is that there are seams visible on the outside and inside of the Michaels ones. If you're picky visually about such things, this can throw off the look of your Jack O' Lantern if not carved carefully.

Just as important to remember is that these artificial ones are flammable. That's right; don't put a candle or too-hot light source underneath, or you'll not only lose your Jack O' Lantern, but there's a good chance you could seriously burn yourself or your house down along with it. To light them up, you can buy ready-made craft lights that have lower-wattage, or use a glow stick such as the kind kids wear on Halloween.

There's almost no more thrilling sight on Halloween than Jack O' Lanterns. As if each one possesses a unique 'spirit', they glow magically, and manage to both invite and scare you off at the same time. Many people don't realize how long it takes to do a more intricate carving job and how much patience you must have. Thankfully I've done this a few times already so I knew I'd be at this one a while. Because the Craft Pumpkins aren't as easy to cut as one might think, I had to use not only my trusty Pumpkin Masters Carving Tools, but an X-Acto knife as well. Even with that, it was still not easy going through the foam. I think real pumpkins are actually easier to carve than this particular craft brand, but they still only last a week at best. I spent a total of about 6 hours on carving the Jack O' Lantern but I know it will last longer than a week.

Mr. Incredible Jack O' Lantern PhotoAs for the carving pattern, I'm a Pixar fan, so I thought I'd like to do one of their characters. With the upcoming release of The Incredibles, there was an opportunity to create a new Jack O' Lantern design - one that hadn't been seen before. I found an image of Mr. Incredible thanks to the wonderful Pixar blog, Luxo, and then proceeded to make it carveable by changing the image to black and white and refining details to make it a semi-rigid design. When I had achieved approximately the look I wanted, I printed out an inverted black and white image (making the pattern's black areas the ones to carve), attached it to the pumpkin with tape, and began the carving process.

Despite the quality of the Craft Pumpkin, and the time to complete the project, I think the final product turned out pretty cool. Now I just have to look for a low-wattage light socket base and I'll have a handcarved, reusable, electric pumpkin - unless I give it away of course. And I hope the folks at Pixar enjoy what I've done because like the kids collecting candy last night, I'm awaiting my treat in the form of their film, The Incredibles.