26 July 2006

Why Merchandising is Important pt. II

If you don't exercise a modicum of control over the conversation you practically forfeit your claim to the intellectual property (note: I said "practically" not "legally".) It's not necessary to bring down the iron fist of copyright lawsuits to "protect" your claim, although a fertile fanbase can still grow up around tightly controlled properties (Star Wars for instance. Lucas protects his property like a backwoods Southerner with a shotgun, yet Star Wars fanfilms set the standard for all other fanfilms.) What's necessary is giving the fans something to have, and letting them contribute back.

Sometimes it's as simple as selling the t-shirt.

A friend of mine, a guitarist for a punk band, once told me that his band would never sell t-shirts, because they didn't believe in profiteering off of their fans. I told him it's not profiteering if you sell a good product at a fair price. I told him "maybe your fans want to buy the t-shirt. Maybe they want to give something back to you in the form of money for the shirt and free advertising around town." They eventually started selling shirts for a very modest price. Around the same time they released their first cd , a 42 track disc that sold for $8.49. How's that for a marriage of capitalism and punk?!

The point is merchandising doesn't have to be crass and opportunistic. It can be a part of the greater conversation artists should be having with their audiences. It is a chance for fans to own a piece of what they love.

24 July 2006

Why Merchandising is Important pt. I

If you don't exercise creative control over your own intellectual property, someone else will.

That someone else may delight in seeing your intellectual property pissing on everything from Fords to . . . well, "everything".

I could blast Bill Watterson for being a punk-ass, whiney bitch who couldn't handle success (the poor guy) and took more delight in jousting with his management and syndicator than he did in his fans. I could. Actually, I kind of just did.

Watterson has all kinds of great reasons why he never saw round to licensing official Calvin and Hobbes merchandise. All kinds of great reasons. For some reason, he never seemed to understand the best reason to merchandise a property such as Calvin and Hobbes: The Fans.

Fans want to contribute back to the artists they love. Buying the merchandise is one way to do that. Look at sports fans. I rest my case.

Since Watterson didn't set the tone of the merchandising conversation, we will forever be cursed with Calvin pissing on all sorts of stuff. Hey, maybe he'll piss on Susie Derkins! That'd be cool!

Calvin also prays, in case you haven't noticed. To be honest, I'm not sure which version of Calvin is more insulting to the nature of the character. Calvin never really struck me as the prayerful type.

The last straw for me on this issue was a new version of the old pissing favorite:

Yep. That crazy tiger is pissing on the word "America". Charming.

The problem is a whole generation of people are growing up right now who will never know Calvin and Hobbes as the stars of a beautifully rendered, side-splittingly funny, and occasionally very moving comic strip. To them Calvin and Hobbes will be a couple of exhibitionistic urinators.
Mr. Watterson, if for some reason you're reading this blog, please give that some thought.

Low-Tech Solution to a High-Tech Problem

Remember last April when I was blog-whining (or "blining") about my comic strip "Up to Bat" not being seen at the coffee shop where I post it? I received and applied sage advice received from friends (for instance, someone suggested taking the strip down mid-week so that it's a little more obvious that a new strip has been put up on Sunday) and I kept the strips consistently weekly. Soon I had people asking me on Saturdays "where is the strip?" Cool beans!

I uploaded all the strips to www.uptobat.blogspot.com, and I've been uploading new strips on Monday mornings -- fairly consistently. I've also been promoting the weblog at the coffee house. I was getting around 10 hits a week. So I registered the strip with www.onlinecomics.net and the numbers doubled. I registered with www.thewebcomiclist.com and got another little boost in traffic.

I got cocky. I announced a t-shirt design contest. My wife entered her suggestion into the contest. She won by default.

Well, the latest development is I quit the part-time coffee house job. (I've been meaning to for about a year now, but it never seemed to be the right time. Yeah, it got to be the right time this past week.) I think it's safe to say the owner won't be open to me coming in on Sunday mornings and taping my strip next to the register anymore. So what now?

See the picture at the top of this entry. I thumbtacked it to the bulletin board at the coffee shop. I'm not selling a bicycle or house-sitting, I'm selling a comic strip. No one remembers URLs (let alone what "URL" stands for) so I put the web address on the little tear-tags. I'll check back next Monday and see how many have been torn off. How exciting! A project!

More Hilarity on The 5 Minute Show, with part 2 of Tex's appearance!

Go there now!

18 July 2006

Tex on The 5 Minute Show!

As mentioned in an earlier post, Tex recently took the company limo down to participate in an episode of the lovingly acronymed t5MS! Tex is interviewed by ThePete, and develops a sort of giggly rapport with opera-diva sock-puppet Beverly Socks!

t5MS is very funny. I could probably do a whole "Tuesday's Artists I Love" featuring ThePete and SiSi, the married couple behind this gem of cyberspace.

Check it out here. My favorite episodes are 3 (ThePete on the deck of the Enterprise) 19 (Sister Mary Ignacious O'Bleary on God and politics -- sort of) 24 (Meet Gary TheIntern) and 28 (Gary TheIntern strikes back -- with R2D2!)

There have been some goings-on at www.daht.blogspot.com. Just cause the show's on hiatus doesn't mean nothings happening! Check it out.

16 July 2006

The Felties: Set Design part three and a half

(See also part one, part two, and part three.)

I sat down to draft the set for The Felties, and it occurred to me: I have no idea what scale these puppets are in. I've designed sets for people, but I've never designed sets for 18-inch-tall "people". Yikes! When I first started looking for a studio, I figured the set would be about 20 feet wide by about 10 to 15 feet deep. Just a guess, you know. Not really based so much in reality or upon actual observation.

So I did a little sketch to help sort this stuff out:

Hmm. These puppets are small! I mean, I know they are, but until you really put it down on paper and start attaching measurements to it, it's just an abstract notion. Okay. So I finally really observed the scale of the "people" for whom I was designing a space. I started drafting . . . and realized that I still had only a vague notion of scale. Great, so the puppets are 18 inches tall. What does that mean, really? I needed a better standard in order to wrap my head around it.

So I figured out the scale of a Felties-sized door, compared to a human-sized door:

This involved math, and you can see part of my chicken-scratch cross-multiplication in the upper lefthand portion of the above scan.

Eye opening sketch, huh? Wow. So I used the same little ratio-math equation thingy to figure out the size of the couch and chairs for the living room set. I cocked my head and made a face like the one my dog makes when she can't figure out what's going on, and roughed in a floorplan. As it turns out, the set will be 6 feet wide and 3 1/2 feet deep, or well less than half what I guessed it would be.

So what did I learn? Pay attention to scale and proportion. I've never wanted to just shoot this in my own living room; I want to create an environment that can only exist in episodes of The Felties. By keeping everything scaled down to "Felties-size" I think I will be well on my way to accomplishing that goal.

13 July 2006

UPDATE -- The Felties and DAHT


Those last few posts took a lot out of me. Seriously. My wife had an overnight shoot over the weekend, and I had "lack of spouse insomnia". It happens. So I kept busy through the night, burning the ol' midnight grindstone and churned out the three videos below.

I'm very happy with the camera tests. Originally, I had shot them for my own edification without any intent to share online (I recall writing here earlier that you'd all have to wait for the pilot premiere before you could see the finished puppets. Oh well. I also can't wait for Christmas before opening gifts.)

I'm very pleased with the pre-viz (that's short for "pre-visualization"). Like I've said a few times, I'm really trying to think this thing out and do it right.

So let's see. I need to wrap up the set design, blog about the interesting thing I discovered regarding proportion, and shoot camera tests of Pupsumoto, Cuzumoto and Kabuki. (If I can arrange a meeting with the ever busy, multi-talented, puppet builder extraordinaire Russ Walko.) I updated www.thefelties.com! (By pointing it to a lens over at Squidoo.) I think it's kind of neat. It's like a one-stop shop for all your Felties needs!

I uploaded all current episodes of Disembodied Animal Head Theatre to Google video, which means you can now download your favorites to your video iPod! Just click here. The other earlier OurMedia hosted episodes are now on YouTube, so I'll be embedding those videos on the DAHT blog sometime this week.

On Sunday, Tex took a trip down to ThePete Studios in beautiful Westwood, California to make an appearance on the long-running and very funny "The Five Minute Show" ("t5MS" for short). There's some very funny business between Tex and a sock puppet named Beverly Socks. Afterwards, we shot a "hiatus" episode of DAHT, featuring a scene from Romeo and Juliet with Tex and Ms. Socks. These two episodes will debut in the coming weeks - watch this spot for updates!

That's all for this rambling update!

08 July 2006

Camera Test 2, Mimey and Stan:

Let me know what you think about all this!
Camera Test 1, Clownie and Dully:

Thoughts? Opinions?
Here's a little video I threw together:

I'd really like to know what you think.

07 July 2006

Amo l'Italia!

I was looking at the latest Site Meter stats for www.daht.blogspot.com, and noticed someone browsing from Italy spent enough time on the site to watch an episode! Whoever the mystery Italian is, he or she clicked in from Google.it, from the search phrase "Cesare Piazza".

Cesare Piazza is the name of the Giraffe. (He's actually named "Cheese Pizza", but the story behind that is too esoteric to bother explaining. DAHT is a crappy webseries starring $3 animal snappers and a rubber chicken. I have enough stacked against me to begin with, so I figured I'd just change his name to a more respectable Cesare Piazza.) Apparently, there is also a Caeser's Plaza somewhere in Italy. I hope my mystery guest found it!

How wonderfully random is that?

(Good luck to Italy on Sunday!)

Projects Update -

Today I'm using the old blog as a way to organize my life. Enjoy.


I've put DAHT on hiatus until the fall. It's been a great learning experience, but I need to make some space in my day-planner. I'll still post over there from time to time, to keep up the fiction of where the ensemble is and what Tex is up to. When I bring the series back, it will be more than just a crappy makeshift rubber chicken rod-puppet in front of a sheet of black foamcore. (I may switch to white foamcore.)


I'm updating on Monday mornings. I back date the posts to Sunday, because that's when the strip is actually "released" to the public (at Jennifer's Coffee Connection. If you're in the North Hollywood area, and can't wait for Monday morning, drop on by! The strip is posted at the cash register sometime before noon.)

I registered with www.onlinecomics.net and doubled my traffic in one day! Sounds impressive, huh? Yeah. Doubled from approximately 10-12 unique hits a week to 22 hits at last count. Woo hoo.

I'm going to do custom made t-shirt art for Up to Bat. I'll post more about this over the weekend, but the idea is to get those 10-12 hardcore Up to Bat fans to submit ideas for t-shirts, and then I'll create the art and slap it on CafePress. (BTW . . . I'm always trying to keep my ear to the ground on this sort of thing. If anyone knows of a cool on-demand service similar to CafePress [only better], let me know!)

I'm also planning a limited run, self-published compilation, sort of like what Joe Sayers does with his strips.

Timmy Tubesock

Remember Timmy? He's actually Pamela's brainchild. He has the dubious distinction of being our first stab at online content production. We're taking Timmy to Chinatown before summer's end and then he's off! We've received requests for Timmy from as far away as Australia and Israel. I'm pretty sure that we can also send him to Houston, Texas and Boston, Massachusetts and Tustin, California if we ask nicely enough.

Punch and Judy

This is in limbo! Weird, huh? I haven't heard back from the producer in a couple of weeks. Harumph! That's not the way you do it! I'm going ahead with building the puppets (I need to fool around with Sculpey anyway) so we'll see what happens.

Mad Theatrics

I'm finishing up a third draft of my new play "Sonny" and I'm looking at putting the thing on its feet at the end of August. Unless it becomes a multi-media extravaganza, then it may not happen until later this year.


I'm about halfway to having the artwork completed, and need to reestablish a good, solid communication line to Jimmy's family so that the book sees print by Thanksgiving. Along those lines, I need to contact the couple of people I know in the publishing industry, and see if they're interested in publishing a quirky little book of coffee house comic strips.

Last but not least, the reason for this blog, The Felties

I fooled around with Google SketchUp to see if that would be an easy way to render the set design. (Mad props as usual to "Buck Beaver" Andrew for being about 50 paces ahead of me and far more tech savvy than I can ever hope for; he recently pointed out Google SketchUp on his Bear Town Production blog.) It's a neat program, but it would take me longer to learn to use than it would to grab a piece of paper and draw out the finished plan. On a related note, I made an interesting discovery regarding puppet scale that I'll blog about in the coming days.

Still without a production home. I think I'll just set up in the middle of a public park and shoot. Actually, I should blog about what it's like trying to book a studio in Los Angeles when you have no money and few industry contacts.

I did video tests of the puppets I have, and they look just beautiful. I need to meet with Russ Walko and pick up Pupsumoto and Kabuki. I need to meet with my puppeteers and do a rehearsal/read-thru. And finally, I need to shoot the damn thing!

That's that for now.

03 July 2006

Tuesday's Artists I Love

A Eulogy for Rintrah

"Rintrah roars & shakes his fires in the burden'd air; Hungry clouds swag on the deep."

- William Blake,
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Magnus Johnson was one of the first non-theatre majors I met at college. He worked in the bookstore and helped me find what I was looking for. I introduced myself as Andrew and he said "Ah, Andy. You're mentioned in the Bible." I politely smiled, thinking he meant the Apostle Andrew. "'Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me'" he punfully quoted, a huge smile spilling across his lined face. Chuckling, he walked back to the counter.

Magnus told me that same joke no fewer than three times.

Magnus was, I believe, an English major. I seem to recall he had plans to pursue graduate studies in Divinity or Philosophy. At any rate, he was a staple of the English department, and highly regarded by the young Beat influenced poets. Here, after all, was a Vietnam Veteran, a man who had truly done much and seen more. He possessed the wealth of worldly experience that we all desired in the Humanities Department.

He was a nice guy to boot; dependable, trustworthy, and always good for an interesting conversation. I worked with him over the summer doing maintenance at the college. We talked about poetry, theatre, politics . . . you name it. I recall his explanation of the power of words -- the mystical power of words. He held that a word like "THOR" had more inherent power than a word like "carrot". If said with enough conviction, one could bring down the thunder.

We talked about plays and dramatic literature, and he expressed an active interest in writing a play for us crazy misfits in the theatre department to produce guerilla style. It never happened (I wish it had) but Magnus went on to write a couple of dramatic literature-style prose poems that were published in the school's literature magazine the following year.

Here's one of them:

The Northern Powers
for Sigurd and Freya
Heart Dragon
[a spirit of war appearing, wearing Northern battle attire in the
Master's chamber of a forgotten Northern Lord.]
To have been born a pupa;
yet to have gone on-
to become a butterfly!
ah, to have lived to fight
like the ancient Dragons
once did in the skies at night,
Yes, if only as a butterfly-
is to have become a dragon of the heart.
Here spirit force waxes strong
still in the collective will
here character encourages word, deed, and
Match after match have I been in
it is the humble who truly win;
time after time,
again and again.
--Magnus Johnson
Magnus died July 9th, 2004 at the age of 50. I like to think that he is in Valhalla right now, shouting down Thor, and preparing to stage a gallant last stand at Ragnarok.

(I'm interested in starting some kind of Yahoo Group to bring together copies of his extant work, and post rememberances of him, etc. If you're a fan and friend of Magnus, drop me a line!)

02 July 2006

The Felties vs. Music Videos

I'm proudly a member of the MTV Generation. And they said all those music videos would rot our brains. Ha! If anything, the efforts of so many talented short-short feature moviemakers has given a boost to our visual vocabulary.

Okay, okay, there's a lot of crapola out there. Quite often jump cuts, meaningless flash and bootylicious babes make up for a lack of true visual panache. But the gems, when you find them, can excite and entertain like no other media form can. The old show Night Flight excavated those gems and put them on display. I like what the Wikipedia has to say about the show:

Night Flight was also one of the first American television shows to display the music
as an art form, rather than purely as a promotional tool for the artists.

And an artform it trulcomparableprable to microfiction.

I've described The Felties as a web-comic and a live action cartoon on this blog. Today, I want to reflect upon The Felties as music video.

Here is "Human Behavior", song by Bjork, video by Michel Gondry (about a decade before Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind):

Bjork lends herself well to music videos; she and her music are vibrant and fun. Gondry capturmischievousnessousness at the core of this quirky little song and delivers up a dreamscape of shifting proportions and location shots that feel like studio shots -- or is that the other way around?

I really admire Gondry's command of on-camera space. Everything is right where it needs to be, and every shot is composed like an individual painting. Mise en scene = w00+! In storyboarding The Felties, I've pushed myself to tell as much of the story as possible with each frame, to not just go for the obvious set-up.

Another example of Gondry's virtuosity in this medium is his video for "Lucas with the Lid Off", song by the mononymic Lucas:

I've seen this video so many times, I've lost count. It blew my socks off the first time I saw it, and it still does! Obviously, I'm not going to pack as much detail into episodes of The Felties as Gondry packs into this video, but there is a kinetic energy here that I want to explore.

Kinetic energy and well controlled mise en scene -- these are the things I like to see in a music video. These are the things I see in The Felties. I want each five minute episode to sweep past the viewer like a song, fascinate and entertain the viewer, and cause the viewer to reach for the mouse and click "replay". Fifteen years after the episode has been viewed, I want the viewer to search YouTube (or whatevequivalentivilent is by then) trying to find that really cool puppet video they saw back in high school. Yeah. That'd be neat!