29th September 2006

Just Meant To Be

The book has been in heavy production for some time now. I am working to meet a self-imposed deadline, which will be tough to accomplish.

One of the more difficult aspects of production is processing the thousands upon thousands of images. I’ve been stressing about the clipping paths (to silhouette the figures) for a long time.

Way back in May of this year, I got a nice Email from Dean Verge, who goes by the name Vrad on the Mego Museum Message Boards. Dean started contributing images for the book, as he is one of the lucky few who owns an example of the rare “Canvas Shorts” Batman outfit.

Then, on June 17, 2006, Dean casually Emailed me. “Just a thought, if you need any help cleaning up pix in Photoshop or whatnot, let me know and I’ll give you a hand if you need it.”

Given my concern about the sheer quantity of image processing before me, I was very interested. But being the anal task-master that I am, I pressed Dean. Hard. “Do you know how to create quality clipping paths?” I asked. “I shoot in RAW format, so you must have Photoshop CS2 to open the files,” I demeaned (like a total prick). Actually, Dean didn’t have CS2 at the time, but his offer was genuine. He even sent me a sample clipping path, which was wonderful.

I considered the offer for some time, and ultimately declined. Several generous and talented Mego heads had offered to help, and I passed graciously but uniformly.

On July 18, 2006, Dean Emailed me to say he’d acquired a copy of Photoshop CS2, and that he was still game. I finally acquiesced to an offer I just couldn’t refuse. Dean had proven himself to be a meticulous craftsman, and something told me I could trust him.

On July 27 2006, I Emailed Dean and told him I really wanted his assistance. In the Email, I expressed my concern over the hard work he would do for absolutely no compensation. I knew exactly how much work I would be throwing at him, and for what? I was convinced that he’d scream “Uncle!” shortly after commencing work, and I wouldn’t blame him a bit.

After firing off the Email, I decided I already knew Dean would say “let’s do it,” so I prepared a Zip archive of eight “revolution” (360 degree turns) shots of a Mego Thing. I named the archive “dean_thing360.zip” and awaited his response.

Dean replied exactly how I’d hoped, saying “Now shut up and shoot me over some pix. My wife loves Thing so shoot me a pic of him if you can. What you should do is put however many 360 shots together in a folder named: ‘Thing 360′ or something and load it on your FTP and I’ll drag the folder onto my computer and do one full set of pix.”

The coincidence was not lost on me. Right then and there, it was clear that this was meant to be. That night, I called Dean around 11pm, not realizing he lives in the furthest Eastern reaches of Canada; it was 3:00 in the morning for him. Oops. Way to make a good first impression, imp.

Robin HoodShockingly, Dean was up (I think his cat had run away, and he was on the hunt) so we talked.

I thought the “Thing” thing was weird, but during our conversation, Dean mentioned having done drawings for CoolJapaneseToys.com a few years earlier. Dean is an accomplished illustrator and graphic designer (note the ass-kickin’ Robin Hood drawing at right, that he recently drew).

Dean finished his thought, and I asked, “You know that I co-founded CoolJapaneseToys.com, right?” I struggled to reconcile why he’d mentioned it, but assumed he already knew about my involvement. It turns out Micronauts was his subject of choice in those drawings. He hadn’t known about my involvement. We talked about it and it simultaneously dawned on us that we had already worked together, years before. “Duuuude,” I whispered. “When you submitted drawings to Cool Japanese Toys, you sent those pictures to me.”

Dean laughed and said, “Well, I guess this is just meant to be.”

Indeed. Welcome aboard, Dean. Thank you for all of the hard work you have done, and continue to do.

Benjamin

posted in Acknowledgements | 1 Comment

28th September 2006

Nobody Walks in L.A.

I was driving down Santa Monica Boulevard during lunch today. Happily listening to former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones‘ radio show “Jonesie’s Jukebox,” I looked over and saw this big pick-up truck in the lane next to me. It cracked me up, so I snapped a shot with my camera phone.

Dog Driver

Nobody walks in L.A.

Benjamin

posted in Random Musings | 0 Comments

15th September 2006

The Fine Art of This Art: Part IV

Just a quick note to mention that Otto has just posted the final part of our “Bouncing Blog” series. From here on in, we’ll all have to watch Otto’s Blog to track his progress on the Captain America painting.

Read Otto’s Blog.

I’ll periodically post my reactions to Otto’s work, and anything about the status of our collaboration. But as of now we are officially “caught up” to the present and I, too, am an anxious spectator awaiting his “Mego Magic.”

Benjamin

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13th September 2006

The Fine Art of This Art: Part III

Part 1 of this Blog Series is available below this entry (see Saturday, September 9, 2006). If you missed the second part, Read Otto’s Blog to read that.

Toward the end of July, Otto and I officially agreed to collaborate. Neither of us knew how to do it, but we were sure that his Fine Art would somehow make its way into the book. As Otto explained in his Blog, we originally considered a series of paintings, based upon the figure waves that Mego released. To that end, I sent him all four Super-Foes and the four original Super-Gals (i.e. not including Isis), as reference material.

On August 9th, 2006, everything changed. The legal issues surrounding the use of copyrighted characters brought the entire project to a screeching halt (see my Blog from Friday, August 9, 2006).

With the understanding that I could be held liable for legal action, I contacted the publisher and explained that I couldn’t move forward with the project, the way things stood at the time. They understood, and offered to work with me to resolve the issues.

The publisher agreed that we should seek permission to depict the characters, and they suggested I prepare a special pitch/presentation for each of the four license-holders. The biggest concern, at the time, was Marvel. It seemed they would be the most difficult to persuade. Further, I wanted to include Otto’s work in any such prototype, giving the licensors the option to nix the inclusion of his art.

In a panic, I called Otto to tell him that we needed to focus on Marvel.

“Dude. Put down the paint brush!”

“Relax. What’s going on?” he asked.

I explained the situation, and Otto nonchalantly said, “No problem. Who should I paint?”

We talked about the different Marvel characters available, and concluded that Captain America was the perfect choice. Otto never had Captain America as a child, so he was pleased with the decision. The next morning, I packed up a mint, loose Captain America and shipped it off to Georgia.

Captain AmericaOn August 24th, Otto Emailed me. “Hey Man,” it started. “I took a few hundred picks of Cap. Tell me if any of these appeal to you. I like the dynamic feet on some of these, but I really like the one of him standing up straight. Man, he looks like a real person in that one. I started drawing from these, and thought I might check first.”

I reviewed the photos and agreed with Otto’s assessment of the best reference photo (pictured at right). Otto and I talked until about 1:00 in the morning (that’s freakin’ 4:00am to him), and he concluded with, “Well, I gotta go, man. I’m makin’ some coffee and I got some paintin’ to do!”

On August 28th, I got an Email from Otto. “Hey man,” it began. “I’ve been listening to Shatner’s Star Trek Memories, and in it he was talking about all the angst in the show’s production. He said Roddenberry was pushed off until the last minute to get his special effects, and when he did…they sucked. My opinion was he should have been more pushy about seeing some work, but…”

The Email was actually about a Mego Captain America, but I also got Otto’s random opinion about the hypothetical mistakes of a television show producer. Oh, that is SO OTTO. For example, Otto expressed how much he enjoys working on this stuff, and that painting the shield gave him chills. That sentiment was followed immediately by the sentence, “I need to send you a copy of the ‘78 pilot for Captain America. It’s fucking horrible, and great too!”

That is SO OTTO. He writes exactly the way he speaks, and you need a speedometer to keep up with him. As you can imagine, he’s a blast to talk to.

“Behave, Otto.”

“I am bein’ hayve!”

I have had the privilege of seeing Otto’s preliminary work, and it’s fantastic. I’ll bounce the Blog over to him. Otto has promised to share his process, and keep us all updated on his progress. I, for one, cannot wait to see what he does.

Read Otto’s Blog.

Benjamin

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9th September 2006

The Fine Art of This Art

This is an experimental blog. Part 1 of a multi-part blog, this story will bounce between two authors’ blogs.

I’ll preface by reiterating that things are really happening on the book. A lot of wonderful things have occurred in the past three weeks, and my energy level is back near its original high.

With things looking up, I want to introduce everyone to an element of the book that has me giddy with excitement. It all started back on July 17, 2006, when Chris Johnson (Chris DVM on the Mego Museum message boards) posted a link to an unusual auction.

The item at auction was a peculiar, realist painting of a Mego Batman head. While some folks expressed bafflement at the decapitated rubber representation, I was mesmerized. Upon clicking the link and viewing the auction pictures, I released an involuntary, guttural “Uhhhh,” as if I’d been punched in the stomach.

It wasn’t just that the painting is exceptional, which it is. It was the artist’s choice of subject matter. In the 14th century, Renaissance painters regularly depicted scenes of religious import. The Pieta, for example, was vital imagery that meant everything to everyday people as well as aficionados of fine art. The subject outweighed technique, as a variety of artists and schools of art created magnificent works; the common theme being religion.

Otto's Batman

But here was a modern artist, painting in a classical style. And the chosen subject was Mego.

Batman DetailThe image is “painterly” yet realistic. The bold brushstrokes, evident only on close inspection, blend seamlessly when viewed from a normal distance. The mold’s topography is revealed in the detail of Batman’s left eye, and the artist presents the object for exactly what it is… even the flawed paint mask is evident.

It dawned on me immediately that this artist had accomplished (in a single painting), all that I have endeavored to accomplish with the book. This painting depicts a ratty old Mego head as a veritable “objet d’art,” transcendent of toys, of nostalgia, and of childhood itself.

Working in oils, the artist took this random object and placed it in an entirely different context. To me, Mego has always represented much more than a toy. It represents home… heritage…. childhood… comfort and safety. I’ve been photographing images for this book for almost three years now. I am in a never-ending quest to capture what these toys mean to me. Yet in one single, seemingly effortless image, the artist validated my belief and adoration.

The artist is Otto Lange.

I was determined to win this auction at all cost. Uncontested, I won the auction for its starting bid ($100). Several Mego heads contacted me, after the auction’s close, to say they had seen my name as high bidder and stepped aside. To each of you, I express my gratitude for not “bidding me up.” There was no way in Hell I was going to lose this auction.

In making payment, I reached out to Otto, testing his level of interest in participating in the book.

Visit Otto’s Blog for Part II, written from Otto’s perspective. If it’s not up yet, it will be shortly. After I read his blog, I’ll post another Blog. The goal is to tell the ongoing story of this exhilerating development.

Benjamin

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8th September 2006

TOOL: A Concert Review

It was a surreal experience, and the fans are a unique type of ravenous creature. They’re more like disciples, the band messianic. Upon entering the venue, I immediately sensed a hippie vibe, which was odd to me. I’ve always thought of TOOL as a straight-forward metal band. But that is entirely inaccurate. Live, they are a “jam” band, and the fans (who evidently follow the band from town to town) are strikingly reminscent of those who used to follow PHISH or THE GRATEFUL DEAD (I always wondered what became of those people!). I witnessed women in the throes of animated expression… a strange cross between testifying and orgasm.

The show itself is dark and disconcerting.

The imagery is just… sad. It’s often broken and hurt, filled with disjointed, expressionless puppets (often without mouths) who wander aimlessly through enclosed environments. In fact, one windowless rooms depicted was an actual tomb, complete with puppet corpses. It’s Pink Floyd’s The Wall, except we never get “Outside The Wall.” There is no release, no chance to pick up the pieces and put it all back together again. The puppets “pick” at themselves, contort and suffer. There’s a prevailing sense of self-loathing.

If the entire show were a Rorschach test before me, my response would be:

“Victim. Sexual abuse victim.”

I am sure that such a specific take on the show would not resonate with most fans, but there is something sinister being discussed, celebrated and hopefully released. I can only assume the shows are cathartic for the fans, regardless of what demons they harbor.

Frankly, my reaction is similar to that of my first viewing of THE WALL and I don’t doubt that the band themselves are big Pink Floyd fans. The lights, the videos, and now lasers (reportedly a recent addition to TOOL shows) all owe a great debt to The House That Waters Built.

As players, the band is in a class by themselves. Truly astonishing musicians. I must say that I enjoyed the show, but I found the experience to be very disquieting.

Benjamin

posted in Random Musings | 0 Comments

7th September 2006

Rainbows and Butterflies

I’ve been listening to Mum’s first full-length album, Yesterday Was Dramatic — Today Is OK lately. Mum is a Minimalist Glitch Pop band from Iceland. It’s a great soundtrack for working on the book. The first album is definitely more “glitch” and less “pop” than their second album Finally We Are No One, but I adore it.

I’ve also been listening to a lot of The Carpenters. I stream my personalized radio station on LaunchCast, at home and at work. No one else listens to music at work, so my co-workers let me play music through speakers. The classic Carpenters song We’ve Only Just Begun starts playing, and the co-worker ridicule sets in immediately. “Dude. We go from Ministry to The Carpenters?!”

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Allen works for another company but is in my office. He is my age, and is the only person who “gets” my 70s nostalgia. I remarked to him, “You know, this music is like a soundtrack for the book.” I explained that it instantly takes me back to the local pool of my childhood (Fuller Pool, for those who know Ann Arbor). Listening to We’ve Only Just Begun, I can just smell the bright chlorine on a hot, lazy summer day. I remember scrounging for that extra nickel to buy a Hostess Fruit Pie from the snack stand (they cost $0.35). All the while, loudpeakers blasting Air Supply or The Carpenters.

Finishing my explanation to Allen, I added, “That’s the effect I want the book to have on people. When you open it, I want rainbows and butterflies to just fly out of the book.”

Allen looked at me stone-faced for a moment. Then, shaking his head with a smirk he asked rhetorically:

“And I’m the one who’s gay?!”

Benjamin

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