Thursday, December 24, 2009

Fisher Price Little People Nativity

I don't remember how long ago I made this Nativity Scene, but it's Fisher Price Little People in a Nativity Scene. Since making this, Fisher Price has made their own version with the new Little People, and it's durn cute. Still, I like this version. Enjoy!

Backdrop: a stable with an inn on the right, and the surprisingly lush hills of Judea on the left.

A blurry picture of Baby Jesus. In a manger. Which manger caused one of the few arguments between me and my wife. Because we'll fight over Sacred Farm Implements, but won't fight over things like bills and funeral arrangements.

Joseph, Mary, and Baby Jesus. You need to include the "Baby" part.

Two shepherds in from the Hills, and the biggest sheep you ever done seen.

Three Wise Men, including Mr. Hooper. And who's to say he wasn't? He was able to ease Bert and Ernie's pain on Christmas Eve with some paper clips and a rubber duck; he could bring the frankincense!

Three angels. But not Charlie's Angels. Although that's not a bad idea for an update...

The whole scene good to go. Can you hear the choirs singing? In your head? Out of your head?

Other visitors come to adore the babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Including Marge Simpson, Gilligan, a Sleestak, the Scarecrow (Wizard of Oz, not Batman Villain), the White Rabbit, Darth Maul, Bender, R2-D2, Batman and Bullwinkle. Everyone needs redemption. Even Sleestaks.

Merry Christmas!

Muppet Snowman

In my opinion, the best Muppet merchandise to ever come out is the long-running series of action figures from Palisades Toys. They managed to make every major character from The Muppet Show in the span of a few years, and were able to make many minor ones as well. As always with an obsession, it wasn't enough for me, so I had to make others. Usually I'd take an existing action figure and make changes to it by cutting parts off, resculpting pieces out of Sculpey polymer clay, and then repainting the figure. A few times the new character's shape didn't fit an existing figure, so I'd try to make an entire figure from "scratch," out of Sculpey.

Is it cold enough out there for ya?

That's the case with this figure, a Muppet Snowman. He had a major part in the Muppet Family Christmas, where Fozzie Bear built him as the perfect comedy partner. He was funny, he made Fozzie funnier, and eventually ended up stealing some of Fozzie's thunder. Or snow. Or something. You can also see him for a split second in A Muppet Christmas Carol, when he dances a little jig during a verse of a song...up until his head falls off. Cute? Disturbing? Both?

I'd make a joke here about "snowballs," but that's too easy.

Really, he's a fairly simple figure, but I think he turned out well. Palisades would have done a better job with texture and durability, but for a little snowman made out of clay, I like him.

Snowman and Fozzie Bear, entertaining the troops. If the troops are penguins.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

LEGO: Gotham Allies

When LEGO first announced they'd be coming out with Batman playsets, minifigures, and video games, I figured it was too good to be true. They made some great sets, many of Batman's worst villains, and some of his allies like Butler Alfred Pennyworth, Nightwing (the "old Robin") and the new Robin.

But it wasn't enough. The toy line only lasted two years, which wasn't enough time to make all of the characters that were demonizing and defending Gotham City, so I had to take matters into my own hands. The first ally I made was one of my favorites, Commissioner James Gordon. Commissioner Gordon has been Batman's closest friend since forever, manning the Bat-signal from atop police headquarters. How could LEGO not make him. My first attempt just had Jim in a bow tie and suspenders; he ended up looking like an old Jimmy Olsen more than Gotham's police chief. I also made his daughter, Barbara Gordon. She used to be Batgirl--after a run-in with the Joker left her paralyzed, she kept fighting crime as the computer genius Oracle. I need to make a better wheelchair for her, and that shirt she's wearing, which was supposed to be a kind of sexy look, is more muffintop than I expected. She'll get an upgrade someday.
Commissioner Gordon (v 1.0) and Oracle
So I updated Commissioner Gordon, giving him a long tie instead of a bowtie. I still like his moustache and glasses, so I left those alone. Ideally, he'd be wearing a trenchcoat, but since LEGO hasn't ever made one of those, and I don't want to restrict his movement too much, I'll keep him in shirtsleeves for now. Alongside him is the new Batgirl, Cassandra Cain. She's got a black cowl and facemask that entirely covers her face, so that part was easy; I gave her a more slinky utility belt and an updated Bat-logo, more like what she wears in the comics--a sort of hand-stitched looking costume.

Updated Commissioner Gordon with Batgirl

The final Bat-ally for now is Huntress, a more ruthless version of Batgirl who happens to be a school teacher during the day. Getting to take out her frustrations on punk kids by beating them after-hours sounds pretty good sometimes--no wonder she's so brutal. Her purple and black costume was pretty easy to make--simply a Severus Snape body from Harry Potter, with Dumbledore's purple cape. I added a large crucifix to her costume (a big part of the character at the time) and painted a mask on her li'l face. She turned out well, and I like her as an addition to the "set." There will be other additions to this set as I go on--new characters like Red Robin, Damian Wayne, and Misfit would all be easy enough to make. But this will do for now.

Huntress and Commissioner Gordon in front of Batman, Robin, and Nightwing

Friday, December 18, 2009

Fisher Price Cartoon: Family Dinner

Cartoons about Fisher Price Little People and why that mad-faced boy is so mad.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rubber Duckie in Germany 1993-94

Getting launched out of a cannon near Heidelberg

For all of 1993 and 1994 I was living in Germany. It was an amazing time to be there, and I learned a lot about the German language, people and culture. I also learned a lot about my Rubber Duckie, and that he enjoys being put into pictures. He's always got a nice smile, doesn't blink when the flash goes off, and fits nicely into hands of statues, the mouths of cannons, and just otherwise makes the already scenic more scenic. I went back to Germany in 2008 and took Rubber Duckie with me again; there will be a "Rubber Duckie in Germany 2008" post someday.

With a lovely lady in the gardens of the palace in Karlsruhe

On the banks of the Rhine River...just before he fell in, and I had to go in after him. Stupid duck.

Perched on a curious statue in Marienplatz, beneath Heidelberg Castle.

Looking out from Burg Frankenstein, just outside of Darmstadt.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

M*A*S*H Fisher Price Little People

One of the ways I know I've been successful in capturing the feel of a television series or movie when I'm making Fisher Price Little People is that, as I'm nearing the completion of the characters, I'll get the theme music for that show in my head. Today, as I've been rephotographing the Little People set from M*A*S*H, I've got that song in my head. "Suicide is Painless" might be the most depressing lyrics for a sitcom, but M*A*S*H wasn't your typical sitcom. It was one that I didn't "get" as a child, but my parents loved--by the time it went off the air, I was just starting to understand both the humorous and tragic moments in that great series. It was a great show. And it's in syndication all over the place, so at least at certain times of day, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a rerun.

Margaret, Hawkeye, BJ, Winchester

Because M*A*S*H ran for so long and had so many different characters, I decided to pick a time period and stick to it. So I aimed for shortly after Major Winchester arrived. Margaret was less ditzy, Radar was still around, Klinger was still wearing dresses now and then, and BJ had his moustache.

These were great characters, and I think I've done them justice with this set. My favorite details are often the simplest ones--for the M*A*S*H sets it's the dog tags you can see on Hawkeye, BJ and Radar. There's nothing printed on them--they're just rounded silver rectangles--but for me, they're what makes the figures work. That and the stubble on Klinger's face and legs.

Klinger, Col. Potter, Radar, Father Mulcahy

I can see myself revisiting M*A*S*H and making a set representing an earlier season--with Trapper, Col. Blake, and Frank Burns. All are excellent characters, and Col. Blake's Indiana sweater and fishing hat are just begging to be rendered in Quinnarama's Little People form. And then we'll probably need Klinger in a different outfit. Maybe Gone With the Wind. And Margaret in pigtails. And then a little signpost. And a set of them in surgery gear. And a little "Swamp" playset, complete with a little I have problems.

The whole 4077th. For now.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rubber Duckie at the Beach

For my 17th birthday, my little brother gave me a Rubber Duckie. He knew how much I love Sesame Street, and he since that moment, Rubber Duckie has gone with me on every trip I've been on. As a result, he's been to many places in North America and Europe that some of my own actual family members haven't been to, and I ended up with a habit of taking pictures of him in those places. This was before Flat Stanley or the Traveling Garden Gnome or some of the others. I have to assume they got the idea from me. Because I'm a superstar.

Rubber Duckie has been to a lot of places, but one thing that's pretty consistent with him is that he doesn't actually like the water. It probably goes back to an incident on the Rhine River when I almost lost the little guy--ever since, he hasn't really trusted water. Or me. He has nearly caused a few incidents, like when he was seen as a security threat in NYC, or when he made a security guard wet their pants in Washington DC, and I've gotten "the look" from several thousand people as I'm putting him into position near various landmarks. "The look" is basically, "what is that guy doing--oh. Oh. He has Special Needs. Don't stare, Beth--don't stare!"

These pictures are of Rubber Duckie on the beach at Del Mar, near San Diego. It's one of our favorite beach places to go as a family. We're about 800 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, but if we were closer, we'd totally be beach people. In between the water, the sun, and the sand...we can't stay away. Even Rubber Duckie splashed around a little bit. But not too much.

Reflections of a Duck

Each time we go to the beach, we build at least one super-sized sandcastle...this was Rubber Duckie's.

A duck's home is his castle. Or in this case, his castle is his home. More soon!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Aquaman LEGO

Ever since I was a pup, I've loved Aquaman. Back then, he was part of Saturday morning's SuperFriends cartoon. He was alongside Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin as an equal, and even though that show went through many rosters over the course of a decade, Aquaman was always a team player.

His superpowers are that he breathes underwater (and on land), he's got super-strength developed from living underwater, and he can use his aquatic telepathy to talk to fish and command them to help out from time to time.

Aquaman's biggest problem seems to be that comic book and television writers don't know what to do with him. So even when he does make it onto the page or the screen, he loses some of that coolness that he has from his Atlantean heritage.

His other problem is common to many superheroes--even the Man of Steel. That's his villains. Where some superheroes like Spider-Man or Batman are blessed with Rogues Galleries that go on into the dozens, Aquaman has only ever had one that made it into the big leagues. And that's the Legion of Doom's own resident waterboy, Black Manta. With a voice like Darth Vader combined with a sucking drain, Manta was cool enough on the cartoon, and evil enough in the comic books that he killed Aquaman's son. Yes, Black Manta killed Aquababy. That's pretty low, Manta.

My favorite version of Aquaman is still the way he was on SuperFriends: the orange shirt and green tights, short blond hair and a big golden "A" on his belt. He's cheesy, he's superpowered, and he's happy. DC Comics has done a lot of things to the character, including severing his arm, transforming him into a monster, killing him, and having Mera leave him. It's a messy life, but for me that's just symptomatic of the problems that writers have with the character--not the weakness of the character itself.

I like these characters enough that they were some of the first DC Comics superheroes that I made as LEGO minifigures: Aquaman and Black Manta came first, then I went ahead and made Aquaman's sidekick Aqualad, and then his wife, Queen Mera. The three of them make a happy trio, and even though they're relegated to the sidelines any time Superman or Batman decide to come to the party, I still love 'em. And the seahorses they rode in on.

Like many DC Comics superheroes, Aquaman's base of operations was in a cave for many years; my sons and I made this Aquacave about a year ago, and kept it intact until Black Manta succeeded with his nefarious plot to capture a magical trident. Or maybe it was Dentyne. It didn't have sugar in it, whatever it was. Without the protection of that magical LEGO piece, the Aquacave was no more, but is still preserved in this beautiful photo, and now on the blog.

Long Live Aquaman!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sesame Street Fisher Price Little People

(Sesame Street Little People Playset, mid-1970s)

The Sesame Street Little People are to be blamed for my psychosis. I grew out of the Fisher Price Little People in the late seventies when I was supposed to, just like the other people in my Gen-X-ish cohort. We moved on to Star Wars figures and G.I. Joe and blowing things up with firecrackers and torturing ants and other wholesome activities. So I "grew up," started college, and went into the real world.

I was innocently working at my job at the newspaper in downtown Salt Lake City, when a friend named Janet brought in a handful of the old Sesame Street Fisher Price Little People to show me. I was known around the office for my love of Sesame Street and Muppets, and she just thought she'd show them to me. Well, at the time, being unattached and not having any children, and with eBay just hitting its stride, I decided I needed to Collect Them All. There was no big "twang" sound of something inside my brain snapping, no wide-eyed bloodlust across my youthful countenance...but something certainly changed that day.

In between eBay and a local swap meet with a startlingly scratchy-voiced woman who was very sweet, I started picking up Sesame Street and other Little People. And soon I had, indeed, collected them all. The Sesame Street Playset, which recreated the famous apartment building at 123 Sesame Street plus the courtyard, Hooper's Store, the Fix-It Shop and Big Bird's nest was mine. Produced more than thirty years ago, I still think it's the best representation of Sesame Street in toy form...someone needs to step up. Fisher Price? Hasbro? Anyone?

I also picked up the Sesame Street Clubhouse, which was never seen on the show, but has a lot of play features like a revolving door, tire swing, slide, and trapdoor. Plus scandalous grafitti, like "David Loves Maria" and "Bert Loves Pigeons" and "Cookie Monster for President." Coming out of the Nixon years, we would have elected pretty much anybody.

Ernie and Bert with updated stripes

Super Grover

Mr. Johnson and Waiter Grover (poor guy never got a decent meal...)

My old Little Bird (circa 1997) and my new Little Bird (circa this morning)

Grungetta, Oscar the Grouch, and Slimey the Worm

Of course the real appeal of these toys for me wasn't the buildings, but the Little People themselves. Bert, Ernie, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Grover, Count Von Count, Oscar the Grouch, Mr. Hooper, Gordon and Susan were all pretty easy to find...the more obscure ones, like Snuffleupagus, Roosevelt Franklin, Prairie Dawn, Sherlock Hemlock and Herry Monster all took more time and money. It's amazing today to think that Fisher Price even made those characters, but the seventies were a magical time. For everything but music. Anyway, back to the Little People. Within about two months of Janet showing me her collection, I had equaled it. It wasn't enough.

The Amazing Mumford, Barkley, Betty Lou, Farley, and Guy Smiley, with Lefty and Little Bird on the stairs.

Forgetful Jones, Telly, Count (with updated tux), "Yip-Yip" Martians, Kermit the Frog

This was roughly the same time the Tickle Me Elmo craze hit stores, and even though I wasn't Elmo's Number One Fan, I liked the little guy. So I made him. And then Zoe. And then Kermit the Frog and Telly and the Amazing Mumford and...a lot more. I tripled the number of the original Sesame Street Fisher Price Little People.

Rosita, Big Bird, Abby Cadabby, Elmo, Zoe, Baby Natasha, Baby Bear

This first foray into customizing Little People wouldn't stop for several years, and by the end of it, I had made over 700 Fisher Price Little People into my own creations. There was a bit of a learning curve, and in many ways the Sesame Street Little People I made were some of the worst. I hadn't ever used Sculpey or any other kind of modeling clay since elementary school, and I was learning how to sculpt at the same time I was learning to paint. So there are some pretty crude renditions of characters there. But I was having a great time doing it. Hopefully you'll enjoy seeing what else I've created; I've certainly had fun making them.

The whole Sesame Street Gang, with the exception of a few MIAs (Cookie Monster, Snuffleupagus, a few others). I blame children. They'll turn up. Right? You get bonus imaginary points if you spot the Twiddlebugs in that photo.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Why Fisher Price Little People?

As obsessions go, I'd say butchering and reconstituting Fisher Price Little People is a pretty tame one. If bizarre. The real question is, why Fisher Price Little People? The easiest answer is because those are toys I grew up with. Produced from 1965 - 1990, chances are good that if you were a young child during that 25 year period, you grew up with them too. They were all over the place. Even if you yourself didn't own them, they'd be at your friend's house, or the babysitter's, or your grandma's.

The Fisher Price Little People line was one of the few ones that were fun for girls or boys to play with. Even though they were essentially little peg-shaped dolls with no arms or legs, they were our first entry into playing with toys and using our imagination. The Fisher Price Little People had castles and airports, houses and schools, and a big red barn that said "moo" when you opened the door. And it kept saying it over and over and over again when you kept opening the door.

I remember distinctly the playsets I had when I was a child: the schoolhouse, the blue and yellow house, the farm, the airplane...and those that I played with at friends' houses. I loved the castle, with its trapdoor, drawbridge and dungeon; the houseboat, which seemed unimaginably exotic to someone living in the mountains of Northern Utah; and of course, the Sesame Street set of apartment buildings, which I'll gush about in a separate post someday.

Even better than the playsets, I just liked the people. Their hollow pegs fit neatly onto your fingers, so you could wiggle them around like finger puppets (if you're into that), and their lack of moving parts meant they could take a trip to the sandbox or bathtub and come out in one piece. The figures seemed to be designed for both boys and girls, so while there were a lot of women and little girls in the line, there were also cowboys, Indians (one of the few that I can say has a "perturbed" face), firefighters and clowns. And sure, there weren't as many minorities as there would be in later Fisher Price Little People lines, but we were young and it was the seventies, and were just starting to figure all that stuff out. Racial diversity among my toys was the least of my problems. Although when they started singing "We Shall Overcome" in the toy box one day, I did stop jailing them for loitering.

These days, when I'm looking for new characters to make or trying to decide who's next on the chopping block, there's one family that's sacrosanct. I'll never alter this particular set of five characters:

Their names are simply Mom, Dad, Sally, Butch, and Lucky the Dog. They're some of the ones I had as a kid, and I think most people did--they came with sets like the house and the camper and other generic ones that it seemed like every house had. And for me, they're the very essence of Fisher Price Little People. They've got the four classic body shapes for the toys, the three hairpieces and the baseball cap, and all of the Fisher Price Little People I designed myself end up based on this simple design.

I've drawn comics with their adventures (they might show up on this blog)(If I get ambitious)(which is doubtful), I've had some of them on T-shirts and keychains, and the light switch in the room where I'm typing this even has Butch, the Mad-Faced Boy on it. When I thought about getting a pet dog as a kid, I wanted one like Lucky. With a plastic red collar, and ears that were eminently chewable. Always smiling, Lucky could even drive the family car or go to school with you if you wanted.

As a freckled kid who probably had a mood disorder, I identified with Butch. While everyone around him was smiling and happy, I bet Butch was consumed with worries of nuclear proliferation because he watched the Evening News With Dan Rather, and saw the chart showing the Soviet arsenal overshadowing ours, and wondering exactly why President Reagan was making the choices he was making. Still, he had his dog, and while he might not have been happy, he felt safe.

The Fisher Price Little People were a hallmark of my childhood. And although I have had hate mail from people who were horrified at my "destruction" of 744 Little People to make new ones, I really do chop them up and make new characters out of love and respect for what I consider to be one of the greatest toy lines of all time. Long live the Fisher Price Little People.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Quinnarama: The Next Generation

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I briefly had a website, It was before blogging and building websites is as easy as it is now, and thus Quinnarama was pretty bad. I liked the content though, basically just sets of my customized Fisher Price Little People, some cartoons and sketches. Sometime around 2002-2003, I forgot to renew the domain name, and someone in the Dominican Republic (!) sniped it. With me finishing my university work, working full time, and with two babies in the house, I decided...rather put the toys on hold. Now that I'm done with school, the boys are a little bit older, and my wife wants me out of her hair, I'll be reincarnating here.

The Fisher Price Little People are where the site started, and that will be a big part of this blog. I've taken around 740 of the classic peg-shaped Little People and turned them into my favorite characters from books, movies, and television shows, marrying an obsession with toys to an obsession with media.

At its most basic, I'm taking the plastic Little People like this:

And turning them into something like this:

Max, Gilligan, and Spider-Man are all part of bigger sets of characters, and most of the Fisher Price Little People I've made are parts of "families" of characters. I'm sure I'll rhapsodize about that at some point. Right now, it's sufficient to say that there's more on the way. Much, much more. Too much, in fact.

After exhausting a supply of Little People, Sculpey polymer compound and acrylic paints, I turned to Palisades Toys line of Muppet action figures. There are around 100 of those that I've butchered to varying degrees, and those will show up here too. Things like taking Kermit the Frog and turning him into Kermit the Borg... Yes, it's sick and wrong, and many people have accused me of being a little too much like the neighbor kid on Toy Story who did things like putting a pterodactyl head on his sister's rag doll. Well, if I had a rag doll and a pterodactyl, I can think of worse things to do. So maybe I am like that kid. I hope I'm a little more constructive than destructive, but sometimes it takes a little pain to make things work.

And then of course, there's LEGO. Always LEGO. Those have mostly become characters from DC Comics and Star Wars, but there are a few that defy all description. I'll describe those later. For now, here's Flash, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman. In front of the Invisible Jet.

I don't know if I'll be adding other things to this site beyond the toys, but I've needed a creative outlet for some time now. I've slowed down on making the toys, but I still sketch a lot of ideas for future sets, and might post the sketches here too. I realize it's not great artwork, but it's a fun hobby that friends ask me about from time to time. Hopefully as I continue posting things, I'll be able to get feedback from people and see if there will be a new burst of creativity that comes as a result of all this...Goodness knows I don't have the time, but OCDs rarely ask if you've got the time for a new obsession.
I hope you enjoy visiting Quinnarama, and return often. You never know what kind of insanity you'll get next.