Created by Edgar Rice Burroughs (writing as “Norman Bean”) in A Princess of Mars, first serialized in ALL-STORY magazine in 1912, here are John Carter, formerly of Virginia, Princess Dejah Thoris, and loyal Woola, a calat (a kind of reptilian Martian dog). Burroughs, also the creator of Tarzan, created a detailed, heavily-populated fantasy Mars, or Barsoom as the natives named it. I tried to be as faithful to Burroughs’ descriptions as possible, which still left me a lot of room to interpret visually.
As described in the novels, both humans are naked except for armor and ornamentation. Carter wears the decorated fur of a Martian White Ape scalp (a touch I think I appropriated from Disney’ JOHN CARTER movie), indicating he’s a Barsoomian chieftain.
A Red Martian, Dejah Thoris is traditionally depicted wearing a kind of an Art Nouveau bikini, but I decided to steer into a more science fiction look, with flexible gold ornaments. Her shoulderpiece has eight rings, suggesting the orbits of the other planets of the solar system. The two empty circles represent Mars’ moons, and the large circle is for Barsoom itself. She’s wearing blue body paint, which I imagine to be reserved for royalty, and references both the native flowers and the markings of a calot. Like all Red Martians, Dejah Thoris was born from an egg and has no belly button.
Woola was the trickiest. The makers of the 2012 JOHN CARTER movie had done such a great job creating an accurate Woola, I had to work hard not to duplicate their work. Described in A Princess of Mars as having “…ten short legs …about the size of a Shetland pony, but its head bore a slight resemblance to that of a frog, except that the jaws were equipped with three rows of long, sharp tusks,” Woola is also supposed to be the fastest land animal on Mars. I figured he’d have a flexible spine like a cat, but then I needed to figure out how he’d run and arrange all those legs in a way that (kind of?) made sense. I painted him to blend in with the land and foliage of Mars, incorporating the blue of those Martian flowers. My thinking was it was camouflage to sneak up on prey. I also tried to suggest the loyal puppy qualities Burroughs gave Woola.
This was a side project that got away from me. Originally it was just going to be Carter, but I thought “well, without context, that’s just a nude dude,” so I decided to add Woola, but then thought that felt a little out-of-balance and decided to add Dejah, too. Here are some work-in-progress shots, including a briefly bearded Carter:
John Carter and Woola were sculpted in Super Sculpey and Dejah Thoris is a mix of red, brown, and translucent Sculpey III, all of them over aluminum wire and foil armatures, painted with acrylic paint and Dr. PH Martin dyes, and adorned with found objects. Carter stands at about 8″ high, Dejah 7.5″, and Woola is about 4″ high.