Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy Birthday, Crack Monster!

According to my sources, Sesame Street's elusive "Crack Monster*" cartoon debuted thirty four years ago today, freaking out the few Generation X kids who saw him.  Then we grew up and wanted to see him again.
As I've written elsewhere, I got a chance to see it again this year, though I still know nothing about its history- who wrote/directed/animated it.  I'd sure like to know!
About once a month I'll get an email  like this:
"I remember that cartoon!  It freaked me out when I was a kid but now I'd like to see it again.  Except nobody seems to remember it and I couldn't find much about it but then I saw your blog..."
Yesterday I posted about Quasi at the Quackadero, another 1975 cartoon.  It was added to the National Film Registry  by the  Library of Congress  recently (to qualify, the film needs to be  "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".)  
I imagine the Crack Monster character is crumbling with envy, possibly thinking Why couldn't it have been "Crack Monster at the Crackadero?"  I coulda been a star!  An icon!  Grrrr....!

*The character, though described as "the monster," refers to himself as "Crack Master"  For continuity I've been calling him "Crack Monster".  Neither is the real name of the clip.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Quasi at the Quackadero & Little Nemo: National Film Registry 2009

Sally Cruikshank's "Quasi at the Quackadero" and  Winsor McCay's "Little Nemo"   have both been included in the 2009 National Film Registry.  This is great news.  My only quibble is that they weren't inducted years ago.
As I've posted before, I  love with "Quasi at the Quackadero"- it's one of my favorite cartoons.  It's cute (without being cloying), bizarre (without being pretentious or annoying), inventive, colorful, funny and very original.  This isn't a cartoon where you can guess what happens next.
As for Nemo, I've been familiar with the old comic strips since I was a kid, but saw the animated version a few years ago.  Amazing stuff.
While very different, these cartoons have some things in common:
Each was largely the creation of a single artist, who thought up the plot, created the characters, and did most (if not all) of the animation.  Also, note how both take advantage of the medium (a fancy way to say the creators realized  Hey, this is animation, so I can make  the characters do whatever I want!)  There's morphing, surreal craziness, fantastic creatures and unique details.
And both are fun to watch.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Secret of the Kraggler!

A goose kid tells us about a monster...

Since these are the Magic Geese, I originally was going to have the show they were watching presented in a magical context- appearing in a fireplace or a crystal ball. But it looked distracting and wasn't necessary for the story, so I dropped it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Medea the Mean*

(*Apologies to my late cockatiel, Quasi, who had a broken beak but was a peach)

Katella, (a gosling sorceress ) has trouble at wizard school.  Click each frame for larger image.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Magic Wandees

Here Ganderdalf's wizard nephew tells about a cool party favor.
Click images to make them larger.


It's a Bundyful Life

This here's the climatic scene from one of my holiday favorites:
The "Married with Children" episode that spoofs "It's a Wonderful Life."
It debuted 20 years ago this week.
In the episode, Al's plans to get presents for his family have been thwarted. He comes home empty handed and gets grief from his wife and kids. Alone and depressed, he wonders if he should have been born. Sam Kinison appears as his lunatic guardian angel. He offers to show Al what the world would be like if he'd never been born (video above starts here).
In this alternate universe, his family is obnoxiously content and loving. His wife happily prepares a big meal, his kids are well groomed and considerate. Alternate Dad appears, announcing they're to move to a much nicer house than this "hovel" they live in. The children assure him his love is more important than presents.
"Well this had been fun!" Al says, oozing sarcasm. (Who hasn't spent a holiday season or two feeling like someone watching everyone else have a great time?).
The Angel admits he can't find one reason why Al should have been born, griping that now he won't get his wings. Al interrupts that he wants his old family back:
"Look at them. They're happy. Not a care in the world. You think I'm gonna let that happen after all that grief they put me through!? I want to live!"

Monday, December 14, 2009

Slow Parking Lot Walkers

Maybe you're swinging by the store to pick up some bread. Or picking up dry cleaning. Or meeting a friend for lunch. There's plenty of parking, yet your path is blocked by Slow Parking Lot Walkers.
I'm not talking about someone who's slow because he has a bad knee.  I mean the average parking lot walker who strolls (or waddles) in front of your car, without looking.
I think, Let's go! 
I have two conflicting theories about them:
  1. They are evil, selfish boors who think they're more important than anyone else.
  2. Since they're approaching the store, they're preoccupied with what they need there (Okay, I need a can of coffee, burger buns, Sloppy Joe Mix...) and  what's going to happen when they get home (...when the food's simmering I can pay the bills and go over the checkbook etc...).  They don't notice there's a problem.
My second theory is the most likely. My evidence?
Once I park my car (after wishing childishly hateful things on the Slow Parking Lot Walkers,) I think things like Did I forget anything on the shopping list? Should I get fresh butter? Do I have enough soda? Do I want to cook dinner or just pop something in the microwave- shoot- gotta check my online statement to make sure... as I stroll to the store, slowly, not watching where I'm going.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Ganderdalf the Grey Tries out His New Wand

I had fun drawing this.
Then, before posting, I thought Aw come on. I bet both the name and the gag have been used a zillion times. You've committed cryptomnesia!
Then I ran both through Google.
One match for "Ganderdalf" as a throwaway joke on some message board. No matches for "wand kicks like a mule". In the Googleverse, wands seem to "kick ass," often near other things that "kick like a mule."
I think I'm safe.
Wait- have I seen those trees before??

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tiny Tim's Tongue

I can't act, but that didn't keep me out of a community theater adaptation of A Christmas Carol once. I'd volunteered to be an extra, but got a small speaking part when someone else backed out at the last minute.
The kid who played Tiny Tim could act, and was cute. He was also a brat. The best part of rehearsal was his death scene. If you remember the story, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge a bleak future, where innocent little Tiny Tim has died. The family gathers around his body. His father sobs "My poor little, little Tiny Tim!"
And poor, little , little Tiny Tim would stick his tongue out. Everyone cracked up laughing. His mom shouted for him to knock it off. Yet each time they practiced the scene, out came the tongue.
I'm not sure how they got him to play the scene straight in front of the audience. Maybe they chloroformed him.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Geek Hair

Work has kept me remarkably busy. Late nights, weekends, and every meal at my desk.
When this happens, I get Geek Hair. I don't have time to style it properly and end up looking like a wacked out mad scientist. It's all over the place. No clip, bobby pin or scrunchy will tame it.
Do you ever suffer from Geek Hair?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mr. Chicken

I created Mister Chicken as a joke.
It was 2001 and I shared an apartment with a vegetarian friend. He took it seriously, shunned leather, and even disliked Tofurkey (a turkey substitute made from tofu) because it "Tasted too much like flesh."
He surprised me one day by saying he'd gone out last night and eaten Hot Wings. Hot Wings! It was so out of character that I drew a chicken with hooks where his feet and wings should be. He glared out accusingly and said "I know what YOU did!"

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Face in the Corner

I quit ballet as a kindergartner. I told my folks I didn't like it. I lied.
I liked ballet lessons- the tights, the tutu, the little shoes. I could pretend I was pretty and graceful. I remember doing toe exercises at the bar as music played from an old record player with wooden parts. Each class ended with a mini hula lesson, complete with crunched plastic leis in crayon colors. Best of all, after each class you got a jelly bean! I loved it.
Then I saw The Face.
It was a quarter-sized flaw in a ceiling corner. A mix of peeled, paint, cracks, and water damage. It was puckered and scary looking. Each time we danced around the room, there it was! I was old enough to know it was harmless, that it was "only" plaster. Yet there it was, looking at me each time I passed it.

Soon, the Face in the Corner overshadowed the whole class. Who cared about fancy outfits, music, hula or jelly beans when there was that awful face waiting for me! I knew sharing this fear with adults would get me nowhere. Just a It's your imagination and it can't hurt you lecture. Instead I said I didn't want to be a ballerina anymore.
No more music, no more tutu, no more scary face in the corner.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Exception

There's an old notion that it's dangerous to stand near a speeding train because you'll get "sucked under the wheels." Not so, say the experts. I think they even did a Mythbusters episode where they parked a manikin near the tracks and let the trains roll. It survived.
Leave it to me to be the exception.
As a teen, my family sometimes took the train down to a day at the beach. I spent the day coasting the waves on a orange foam Boogie Board. It was almost as big as I was. A rubber and Velcro tether kept it leashed to my wrist. This came in handy: if a monster wave came I could duck under it without losing the board.
It was on dry land when things went wrong. We stood on the grass, waiting for the train home. One stopped, but when I got close I could see it wasn't the right one, and stepped back.
I didn't step back far enough. The train pulled away, creating a breeze that lifted my board like a kite. This was funny until I realized it was pulling me forward too. The train sped faster, and I found myself being tugged harder, hopping forward so as not to fall over.
I yelled and my dad pulled me away. I can't say for sure if I'd have been sucked under the train, but my board certainly would have. At the very least I'd have gone for a ride.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Don't Let the Train Hit You

"Be safe near the rails!" the public service message babbled over railroad sound effects.
Thanks for the warning, I thought. Who'd have guessed that crossing in front of a speeding freight train was, in fact, bad?
"Every two hours someone in the United States is struck by a train..." the add continued.
Every two hours? That's nuts!
A train isn't something that sneaks up on you. They're big and loud. They shake the ground. Their horn is an ear splitting bleat. Trains trigger bells and lights when they approach roads. If you still can't figure out a train is on the way, bowing crossbars are often proved.
Train don't go on chaotic rampages, like rogue elephants. Their path is predictable. They stay on the rails.
Why were people getting creamed by something so obvious? Every two hours?
I Googled some safety sites to find out.
Here's the scoop:

  • Humans are terrible at judging the speed of approaching objects. It's a dangerous illusion. One second the choo choo seems to be gliding along in the distance, a second later, Wham!
    A a camera's eye view of a approaching train demonstrates this:

  • Trains are not always noisy. Newer tracks lack the clickity clikity sound effect. Stealth trains.
  • They're much wider than the tracks. My source says they can stick out as much as three feet beyond the rails.
  • People aren't paying attention. I can see this. I'm walking (or driving) with my brain moored in the future*- what needs to be done, the lunch I'm looking forward to, should swing by the store to pick up a loaf of [insert sound of me being smacked by a train].
  • More than one set of tracks. People focus on getting around train A and get blindsided by train B.
  • People forget that something that weighs 5000+ tons and going 60 miles per hour can't stop the way a car does.

And, of course:
  • People can be reckless. This includes anyone who:
    • Tries to race the train.
    • Crosses or fishes from(!) railroad bridges.
    • Walks on the tracks (At one crossing I saw a guy wearing Walkman headphones as he strolled down the tracks. The lights were blinking, the bells were dinging, and the horn was blasting and he was oblivious! He noticed and got out of the way seconds before it roared by. )
    • People who drive around lowered gates. What are they thinking? I can't wait for a train now! If I'm late they'll kill me!
*"My brain is moored in the future"- hmmm... that line came to easy. I hope I didn't lift it with via cryptomnesia.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

It's Tough to be a Snake.

I was born without the "snakes are creepy" gene.
Silverfish are creepy. Centipedes are creepy. Worms are creepy.
Not snakes. Since I was little, they were colorful ribbons of wonder. As a kid, I didn't get why people disliked them.
I knew some snakes were trouble. Rattlesnakes, for example. They sometimes wandered into our quasi-rural yard and promptly got whacked by my dad's shovel. I felt a little bad for them, but their fang baring, tail buzzing shtick (and the fact that they could hurt you) didn't make them sympathetic.
What shocked me was that some neighbors gave any snake the shovel. I couldn't believe it. They know those aren't rattlesnakes. I thought. Why are they killing them? That's mean!
I checked out some snake books at the library. I discovered the truth.
Most of the world hated snakes.
The books pointed out that most were harmless, and in fact, beneficial. People either didn't understand this, or didn't care. One book had a realistic drawing of a man attacking a harmless one with a shovel. This upset me. That's not fair, I thought, fighting tears. The snake didn't do anything wrong!

Monday, November 02, 2009


A Wiggle-Gram is an animated gif of two alternating stereo images. The result enhances depth.
Here's some I made from old images I found on the web:

The first two are from autochromes (very early color pics) I found here:

Here's another autochrome from 1915

I like the last one the best. Part of my mind classifies 1915 as black and white fossilized age, of sorts, very different from the "real" world I live in. But Miss Autochrome in the chair looks as real as any of my neighbors and could have been photographed yesterday.

Like wigglegrams? Check out these ones someone put together from old stereo photos from Japan.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Phantom Footsteps (sorta)

You might think my place is haunted. Day and night you often hear the thump-thump-thump of people going up the steps. But no one's there!
Oh yeah, and there's no stairway at my place either.
There are lots of stairs on the building next door. We're separated by a fence and yard, but I can hear (and feel) my neighbors' footsteps clearly.
That being said, if my building did have steps, and if I believed in ghosts (I don't), it would be easy to think something spooky was going on. "I hear people going up and down the stairs all the time," I'd say. "but when I look, nobody is there."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Third Blogaversary

October 26th marked the third anniversary of Tail o' the Rat.
Over the past year I chased mice, was reunited with the Crack Monster (whom I hadn't seen in three decades), made a Flash cartoon, started another, and drew a bunch of pictures.
According to my stat counter, the blog has been visited 68,575 times by 52,826 unique visitors since it debuted ...
...okay, some of these visits were triggered by bots and search engine misfires.
I never said I was picky.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Secrets of the Green Fairy

Some call absinthe "la fée verte" or "The Green Fairy." Popular culture has personified the fairy as an enchanted muse who unlocks creativity:

Or ensures a mind bending good time*:

The magic ingredient is wormwood. More specifically, a chemical in wormwood called thujone. For years it was considered a hallucinogen. However, recent studies show:
1. Whoops, it's not a hallucinogen, and
2. Whoops, the old time versions of the drink didn't have that much thujone in the first place.

So what's with this Green Fairy stuff?
It's likely other additives- toxic green dyes, for example, caused hallucinations.
So is the drink's legendary magic reduced to bad artificial coloring? Perhaps the the psychedelic part is. But what about the creativity enhancement?
Traditionally, absinthe isn't something you drink like tequila shots or pour over ice. There's a near ceremony you're supposed to follow. Special glass. A special slotted spatula that fits on top of the glass that holds a sugar cube. You pour water over the cube, so sugar water trickles into the absinthe below. Or swap the water for fire. That's right. Spike the cube with some extra absinthe, light it on fire, and drop it into the drink (since the stuff can be up to 75% alcohol, well, good luck with that*...)
Does all this fancy prep prime your brain to think this stuff must be special! Do people experience creativity because they expect to experience it? It wouldn't surprise me. The Green Fairy could be the Placebo Fairy.

*Is it just me, or did they rip off this famous Robert Abel & Associates 7up commercial?

**in the unlikely even someone reads this, burns down the house and tries to sue me, I might add that setting flammable things on fire, is, in fact, dangerous. While I'm at it, stay off subway tracks, and don't tease anything with teeth.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Big Beak

When a strange, long beaked bird showed up at my window feeder, I thought a new species had touched town. Sparrows and House Finches were my regular customers. What bird was this?
I had a better look. He was a House finch with an overgrown lower beak. The top was tiny and misshapen. The bottom three inches long and stuck out like a sword.
I named him Big Beak. I suspect he'd damaged his upper bill long ago, so it wasn't big enough to provide the pressure to keep his lower beak trimmed. You'd think this would make it tough for him to eat. It didn't.
Anyone who maintains a feeder knows that the birds squabble over who gets to eat and who has to wait. Not Big Beak. All he'd do was brandish his pointy bill. Bullies backed off! He was free to eat all he wanted. He'd use his super-sized beak like a scoop to shovel up the cracked sunflower kernels.
I'm sure Big Beak didn't realize anything was wrong with him. He probably figured he was Alpha bird and that was that. If he thought like a human, he might obsess about how "stupid" his beak looked. How "everyone judged him" because of his beak. How his life was ruined because of his beak...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Painter Pattern Pen Basics.

Some of you were curious about Corel Painter's Pattern Pens, and how I used them.
Here's the scoop.
The pen takes a pattern:

And spreads lit along your brush stroke as if you were unrolling wallpaper:

But this wallpaper can do curves.
It can grow and shrink depending on how hard you press:

Painter comes with default patterns.
Here's some from Painter 8:

And here are some custom ones I made:

They're pretty easy to make.
Launch Corel Painter. Open an existing image or create a new one.
Then select the part you want to be your pattern.
In the example below (click for larger image), I selected the "hello", then I opened the pattern window (control F9), clicked the little triangle in the upper right corner, and picked "capture pattern".
A new menu appears, asking you to name the pattern. Type a name. You're done.

From the brush selection menu, pick Pattern Pens > Pattern Pen.
Then select your new pattern in the pattern menu.
Play around with the pen. You'll notice left to right strokes reproduce it right side up.
(Right to left strokes put it upside down!)

This works great on a white background, but if you put it in front of a darker background, you'll see the white background is part of the pattern too.

There's several ways to save your pattern without the background.
The easiest way is to select the white area (be sure contiguous isn't selected,) then invert the selection (Shift+Control I). Then go back to the Patterns menu and select "Capture Pattern."
Then, in the brush selection area, switch from Pattern Pen to Pattern Pen Masked.
The "background" is gone!

If you look closely, you'll notice this pattern has white edges. Some of the background is leaking in!

If it bothers you, here's the workaround:

Go back to the original "hello" image and select the white area (as you did before), and invert the selection. Now select none (Control+D) and fill your entire image with the same color as your pattern*
The image should look like a red rectangle, but if you reselect (Ctrl+Shift+D), your outline will reappear. Capture it as a pattern. You're in business!

The latter technique only works with Pattern Pen Masked. The regular pattern pen will draw it as a red ribbon.

*Also note that the deselect-fill-reselect-capture trick works best when your pattern is either one color or composed of similar colors. There's ways to get rid of the white edge for more colorful masked patterns. I'll tell you if you're curious.

Dumb Dream at 5003 Feet.

Terrifying dreams are called nightmares.
Annoying dreams should be called night jackasses.
Those happen all the time. They're stale, inconsistent, confusing, rambling. They tumble on like a bad joke with no punchline. The car won't steer. The phone won't dial. Teeth crumble. Details change. Things seem off. Yet you rarely think, Gee, this makes no sense. I bet it's a dream!
For example:
A little boy was stuck in a runaway hot air balloon. How would they get him down? Would he freeze? Crash? Then it wasn't a hot air balloon but a flying mushroom. But now it was crooked and scraping the ground. How could a kid fit in there? Except he wasn't in there. He'd vanished. Then he hadn't vanished!
He was everywhere!
Each time I turned the T.V. or radio, there was the kid who was supposed to be in the balloon but wasn't, and his creepy family. Except now they were the family from a television show. Huh?
Inexplicably, the they wouldn't go away! Television, radio and the internet were infested. Mumbling and puking sounds were prominent. Dad mentioned lizard people. What nonsense was this!?
I think I understand why I don't notice that I'm dreaming.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Louis Wain Tribute II

I drew another tribute to Louis Wain, who specialized in drawing cats. He's best remembered for artsy ones he designed with wallpaper patterns. For decades it was speculated that he had schizophrenia, but I always thought the intense detail in his "wallpaper" drawings suggested some type of autistic disorder.
Sure enough, Many now believe he had Asperger's syndrome.
See? SEE?
"...Louis Wain did not have schizophrenia but Asperger’s syndrome. It is very easy to confuse somebody with odd beliefs with schizophrenia and to think that these odd beliefs are formal thought disorder...
...There is little doubt that he was a very eccentric if brilliant artist. He was also interested in mathematics, insects, bird skins, perceptual motion, science, and mechanical objects...
...He was bullied in school as many people with Asperger’s syndrome are. He spoke with an unusual tone of voice. He had preservation of sameness. He was interested in music and was very obsessional. He was very naïve. He did go through a paranoid psychotic period just like Isaac Newton but the fundamental diagnosis was Asperger’s syndrome. "

-from the above link (scroll down to second article to see it).