Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I Go See the Cracks Again: Part Four

As I watched the cartoon over and over and sketched the characters, someone else entered the coffee shop. It was my old pal Rice*, whom I hadn't seen in years.
"Rice?" I called out. "Hey, Rice!"
The barista probably thought I was odd already, and now I was calling an Asian customer "Rice."
"This is my old friend, Rice," I told Jon. "We went to art school together. Rice, this is my pal Jon. We..."
Well this was going to be hard to explain. We both have an insane interest in an obscure cartoon? He drove out of his way between family gatherings to let me see it? I asked Rice if he'd seen "the Sesame Street cartoon where cracks came to life". He hadn't.
"I'll explain later," I told him.
Soon it was time to go. Rice had a bus to catch, and Jon and I had plans in opposite directions. If you're reading this, thanks Jon!

Some details about the cartoon:

  • It doesn't look like work from any big studio. I suspect it was either made by a small studio or an independent project, perhaps by a professional artist or cartoonist who dabbled in animation.
  • It's narrated (and partially sang) by a woman with a sweet Blossom Dearie-like voice.
  • The girl (whom I should have taken more time to sketch) is tall and pretty with a dark complexion. Her shirt (sweater?) is light pink, her pants dark green. Her feet are tiny. When she returns to her room she walks backward. Was this a whimsical touch? Or was the creator trying to save money by filming the walk cycle backwards?
  • The Camel Crack looks like a young child's drawing, with a semicircle for a body, a simple head/neck combo and long stick legs. He could easily have been Crack Turtle, Crack Horse, or Crack Brontosaurus. Crack Monkey and Crack Hen, while still line drawings, are more realistic.
  • Crack Master (the real one, not my reinterpretation) looks a lot like real cracks when he first appears. It wouldn't surprise me if he was based on actual cracks that the artist saw, who then thought Ya know, if I put eyes there and made that part his mouth...
  • Will it be seen again? Whomever gave it to Jon doesn't want it seen (we don't know why.) There's little chance he/she/they will post it themselves. Then again, my friend Sally, who's done animation for Sesame Street, says "The Street" buys the rights to show the cartoons, so they might have the final say. Maybe, just maybe, we'll see it someday in an official Sesame Street "Old School" dvd.
Just added (May 19, 2012)
A reader asked me what the other characters looked like, so I added this sketch.  They're not exact duplicates, but this is more or less what the Girl, Camel Crack, Crack Monkey and Crack Hen look like.

*That's really what he calls himself.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I Go See the Cracks Part Three:

I knew my battery was getting clunky, but I couldn't believe it would betray me like this.
Jon had brought a portable dvd player as backup, but this too needed an outlet. And there weren't any.
I asked the gal behind the counter where the plugs where. She pointed to the ceiling, and even provided a step ladder so the crazy cartoon people could plug in and watch the show.
The clip had no credits and in fact started with a few seconds of Ernie before fading into the cartoon.
There they were! The girl, Camel Crack, Crack Hen, Crack Monkey... hey, this was kinda cute.
Then came the the famous part. They friends walk "to where they'd never been..." The camera pans right "and in corner found a giant crack!" a shrill flutelike note sounds and we're facing him. Crack Monster!

Before I saw this I'd convinced myself he couldn't have been that frightening. Surly I'd been freaked out by something silly or benign. Not the case. Crack Monster (or, as he calls himself, "Crack Master") is startlingly creepy. He's cubist malevolence, with beady, mismatched eyes, a snarly cranky mouth, with cracks crossing his face and hanging from him like roots. Yeech. Good heavens, no wonder I'd been freaked.
And it gets worse! He "tries to make himself look very big and mean," growing more angry and qrotesque...

The narration tells us "then the wall plaster crumbled to the floor...," whereupon his features droop and melt off like something from a scary movie.
I watched it over and over and over. (Wow! It was really him!)
Jon claimed he'd shown it to a relative about our age who'd forgotten it until until now. She started crying! Startled by her reaction, she actually studied it frame by frame, convinced a that a subliminal horrors lurked somewhere. I think the explanation is more simple:
It's 1975. You're a little kid watching t.v. A crooked, scary face shows up, acts mean, gets scarier, then melts! You flip out.

Click here for Part Four.
Note- these pictures aren't from the cartoon. I sketched them. They're not exact replicas, and I don't think I've quite captured the creepyness of the original. Someone was a genius. I wish I knew more about them.

Monday, April 27, 2009

I Go See the Cracks Again: Part Two

We shook hands.
"You really showed up," I said. "Part of me didn't expect anyone to drive out of the way to show a cartoon to a stranger."
"Now do you think I have it?" he said, as I set up my laptop.
"I think so"
"By what percentage are you sure?"
I answered about ninety six percent now that he was here, then came the questions:
"Can you tell me where it's from? What studio? Who made it?"
He didn't know. (After he'd signed faxed paperwork promising it wouldn't post it anywhere, it had shown up in his mailbox- one of the barmy sounding details that made people question his story.)
I put the dvd in my laptop. A plain menu popped up. A lone thumbnail image showed something I hadn't seen in over three decades.
"It's him!" I said, like a crazy kid. "It's really him!"
Then something else popped up. The low battery warning on my laptop. I looked around. There were absolutely no outlets. Would I be able to watch the cartoon before my battery died?
Click here for Part Three...

I Go See the Cracks Again: Part One

You're crazy, I told myself, sitting alone in the coffee house. This is ridiculous....
It was 7:29 am, Sunday morning. It was here that Jon and I agreed to meet so he could show me his copy of the so-called "Crack Monster"cartoon: a long lost clip from Sesame Street that only aired a few times, yet managed to thoroughly freak out kids who saw it.
The internet buzz from those who did see it was consistently "Oh, that terrified me... ...never forgot it... ...where can I see it again!?"
Months, then years passed...
Then, Jon, got a copy! At least that's what he said.
He also said that he was forbidden to post it. No video, no pictures, no sound. The story of how he got is was strange too. Fellow searchers got suspicious. Sure he said he had it, but did he really have it?
Months ago he promised that he'd show it to me the next time he was in town.
Sure, I thought. A stranger is going to go out of his way to meet you and show you a cartoon. ..
Then the emails came. He was visiting family in Los Angeles and "bringing his crack friends" with him. We'd meet at 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf...
How long should I wait?, I thought, as I sketched, glancing up at the empty parking lot every few minutes. This has to be some kind of prank...
Then a tall man came in with a bag.
In the bag there was a dvd...

Click here for Part Two

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Crack that Roared

Most people never saw the Sesame Street cartoon where cracks on the wall come to life:

Those of us who did see it as kids had remarkably similar reactions:
  • "Crack Master," the mean crack, terrified us!
  • We've never forgot the cartoon, and now would absolutely love to see it again.
Various comments about the clip:
"...not nearly as scary as the cartoon with the talking crack in the wall. That still haunts me." -Ann Arbor, Michigan1

"... that **** cartoon with the crack in the wall that came to life (btw, i *REALLY* want to see that so if anyone has it, please let me know!)"-Illinois2

"--One I have NEVER forgotten is the 'crack' video... ...I remember both anticipating and dreading the possibility of watching it every time SS came on. if anybody [finds it], POST POST POST!!!"3

"Good God, I have periodically searched for "crack, camel, master crack" for years .... ...This has to exist somewhere. God, I can't imagine how normal I might have been if I hadn't been exposed to [it]as a 3 year old?"4

"This is so strange. I thought I was alone in how this one little cartoon freaked me out and has stayed with me ever since... ...Anyway, if anyone does find it, please please share with the rest of us so we can finally close this chapter."5

" I was Googling around and found your reference to the Sesame Street "crack" cartoon, and I was wondering if you have ever found it? I am SO very relieved to see that it either really existed, or we all have some kind of mass psychosis! Seriously, I have been looking for this clip forever, because it scared me so much as a kid and I need closure! :)"
(email to me)

"...a child looking up at the cracks in the ceiling and spotting various animals. Suddenly... a horrible face appears in the wall and says something like 'I am Crack Master!' - But just then the wall plaster crumbled to the floor... 'He'd destroyed himself, being mean.' Yeeergh, that still gives me the shivers."- United Kingdom 6

"When I was a kid, there was an animated Sesame Street vignette that absolutely scared the living crap out of me. [It featured] a big evil-looking face composed of cracks behind some door. I'd run out of the room when it came on. I was terrified of cracks until I was about twelve. I'd pay good money to see this vignette today and see what scared me so much..."7

"When I was a kid, there was an animated skit that used to have me screaming and running from the TV... ... It was about this girl sitting in her room on a rainy day. She has a whole bunch of cracks on the walls in her room (I guess she had plaster walls). As she's sitting there, her imagination starts to go wild, and she sees the cracks form into different shapes, mostly animal shapes, and they start to come to life. There's a camel, and a monkey...
...and behind it is a horrible looking splinter crack monster in the plaster with a really scary face! ...It claims that it is the crack master... ...I remember when the skit started, I was like "Oh no!" And started to scream and then when the face appeared I became hysterical! I had horrible re-occurring nightmares based on it for the entire time it was on the show. I've been trying to find it ..." -Iowa x
An impressive legacy for a cartoon that aired less than a dozen times in the late 1970s and then vanished*.

Click here to find out how I finally saw it again.

*It's not on any dvd that's for sale. I've never seen it mentioned in books or articles about animation. It's not on the internet in any form (and probably never will be.) I'd buy it in a minute if it was legitimately for sale. Production art too!

Phantasia at the Old Towne Mall

If you scaled down Disneyland's Main Street U.S.A. and added a low ceiling, you'd have the long-vanished Old Towne Mall. I spent a lot of time there when I was little. Instead of the staples of most 1970s malls (the organ store, the fashion shops, the record store etc...) it had gift and hobby shops, a double decker carousel and two dark rides.
The dark rides were The Castle* and Phantasia. The former was a spookhouse ride ( which I rode twice, with my eyes shut). Phantasia was kid friendly. A chairlift took you through fairy tale scenes. The climax was a glowing green spinning tunnel. People who were older at the time remember the ride as "cheesy" and "cheap." My second-grade self thought otherwise. It was a ride! It took you into another world!
I'm not sure what went wrong. Maybe bored teenagers broke things. Maybe the mall (which had trouble staying afloat) couldn't afford to maintain it. Possibly both. Phantasia began to fall apart.
I was too little to understand why anyone could neglect or damage a ride. I was still in the It's another world! mode....
...and my other world was getting creepy! Why was it falling apart? Why was the main character in the scene slumped over his window like he was dead? It spooked me. I couldn't get the "dead guy" out of my head for a long time.

*Possibly Dracula's Castle or Count Dracula's Castle.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

More Flash Preview

Other people go out to lunch, I stay in and work on my flash cartoon for forty minutes. I can't believe a two minute cartoon can take so long to crank out. From the impatient look on the tomato guy, he can't believe it either.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

It's a Bird!

As an animation fiend, I can't believe I've never seen or heard of this before. It was done in the 1930s by cartoonist/comedian Charles Bowers. I'm impressed!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Cartoon Update

Still working on that blankety-blank cartoon in my spare time. My real job is encroaching into weekends and evenings, so I work on the 'toon on my lunch break.
It took me longer than I'd like to admit to get the purple guy to reach up and grab his horns. Early attempts looked like he was being electrocuted. A lot of the time I can get away with animating jointed symbols but here I had to redraw his wings/arms/hands for each frame to get the look I wanted.
Pictured above is a frame from that part.
I just realized, that, out of context, it'd be harder to find a blander, more clinched pose. Believe me, he doesn't spend most of the cartoon staring at the camera with his hands in the air.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


Everyone has some details about themselves that make them different. Maybe they're allergic to wheat and soy. Maybe they know someone famous. Maybe they survived smallpox when they were five. Some people bring these tidbits up once or twice. Others find excuses to cram them into any conversation:
  • "Your kid has a fever? That's nothing. I had smallpox when I was five...!"
  • "You went to Disneyworld when you were five? Heck. WhenIwas five, I had smallpox!
  • "You're worried that the six inch gash over your eye will leave a scar? Hell, when I was little I had smallpox and my parents were totally worried I'd end up spotted like a leopard but I only got a few pockmarks near my butt. Wanna see 'em?"
Deloris didn't have smallpox. She did have diabetes. She was a master at working it into any conversation. Had we watched Neil Armstrong land on the moon together, she'd probably interrupt the "One small step for a man," speech with "If I went to the moon I'd have to bring insulin with me because I could die if I didn't have it."
Other people I knew with the same condition were discrete. They might mention it once or twice, but it wasn't something the babbled on and on about. Deloris was different. Not only did she talk about it, she made sure she got her daily fix in front of as many people as possible. Heaven forbid she shoot up in another room most people did. Anyone who questioned her etiquette got a lecture about how "insensitive" they were to her plight.
She complained about other symptoms too. This hurt. That hurt. She often carried a book of symptoms with her so she could read up on what might be wrong with her. A "maybe I have [condition X] or [disease Y] because [body part z] is bothering me!" statement would follow.
It was ridiculous. It was annoying. Her You should feel sorry for me act slowly coaxed my evil side to speak up. "I don't care what's wrong with you and I don't want to hear about it any more." I blurted.
"You're insensitive!" she huffed.