JOHN CARTER, DEJAH THORIS, and WOOLA of BARSOOM

JC Group

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.

JC Carter Detail

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.

JC Dejah Thoris Detail

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.

 

 

 

 

Wesley Dodds, THE SANDMAN

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Created in 1939 (one month after Superman first appeared) by writer Gardner Fox and and artist Bert Christman, Wesley Dodds was a somnambulist-turned-superhero who wore an eerie gas mask and used a sleep-inducing gas gun, a kind of nonlethal variation on the Shadow. Inspired by the success of Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN series (Gaiman’s Sandman being inspired by the earlier iteration) Wesley Dodds was revived in 1993 by writers Matt Wagner and Steven T. Seagle and artist Guy Davis in Vertigo’s SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATER, a moody crime comic set in the late ’30s.

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SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATER artist Guy David depicted the Sandman’s alter ego Wesley Dodds and his girlfriend and confidant Dian Belmont as a rumpled, bookish, roly-poly couple, unusual for mainstream comics. I was inspired by Davis’ interpretation of the Sandman, as well as the rotund, overcoat-wearing protagonist of a Moebius story, To See Naples.

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This piece was sculpted with a gray mix of Super-Sculpey and Sculpey III over an aluminum armature, molded in Smooth-On Oomoo 30, cast in Smooth-Cast 300, primed and painted with acrylic paints and accented with chalk and pastels. The finished piece stands about 7″ high.

Joss Whedon’s FRAY

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From the comic book series by Joss Whedon and Karl Moline, this is Melaka Fray, Vampire Slayer of the future. Closely tied in with Whedon’s TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Fray tells the story of a Slayer disconnected from the lineage of Slayers, in a world that’s forgotten what vampires are.

Fray’s look here is taken from her look in issues #5 and #6 (although artist Karl Moline alternated between giving Melaka a holstered laser gun and omitting it- deadlines!), my favorite of her several looks. I tried to copy the weird glyphs on her t-shirt without having any idea of what they mean. I was amazed when the Scythe, which  first appeared in the FRAY comic book, appeared in live-action on Buffy. In the comics it looked slightly different, so I went with the more finalized, real-world prop’s appearance.

Down at Fray’s feet, you can see a tile floor depicting martyred saint Margaret of Antioch slaying a dragon. Wires, insulation, and machinery have been clumsily threaded through, the future intruding into the past.

Fray was sculpted a 1/6th scale; I made a guess at her height based on Moline’s drawings, but made her taller than Buffy star Sarah Michelle Geller. This turned out to be wrong when Fray and Buffy finally met in Buffy comic books, where Buffy was a bit taller. It was sculpted with Sculpey III, Sculpey Firm, and Apoxie over an aluminum armature. The Scythe was carved wood and a brass rod. These were molded in Smooth On urethane rubber and cast in Smooth Cast 300 resin, primed, and painted with acrylics and Tamiya enamels.

My friend, photographer Patrick Lentz, shot reference photos of a model, Sue, for this piece. I wanted Fray to have a kind of weary but still defiant look here, and I couldn’t have done it without them. Thank you, Pat and Sue.

Grr. Argh.

Frankenstein’s Monster

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How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.

Based on Mary Shelley’s description of the literate, bilingual, articulate monster of her novel, Sean Downey and I designed this piece which I sculpted. It took us a while to finalize this design, which we wanted to be true to Shelley’s description above, but also possess some visual appeal.

The black lips we decided to make a kind of blue-black, like the lips and tongues of bears or Chow Chow dogs, and we extrapolated that his nipples (which, shockingly, Shelly failed to describe) would be, too. Scarring isn’t described in the book, but we utilized the popular idea of the monster being composed of the parts of dead humans as well as animals, which was suggested, hence scars. The scars we did were mostly cosmetic with not a lot of thought given to how they’d actually work (Sean added circular, almost branding-like scars on the shoulders).

We wanted our take on the monster to have a youthful quality, despite looking like he’d racked up a lot of mileage, so we gave him slightly oversized eyes and fine features, including too-small ears and nose set too-high on his head.

His eyes, described as “watery […]that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set” are alternately described as yellow, which seemed contradictory. We decided to make the corneas an unnatural yellow and keep the whites of the eyes white.

The monster is depicted here after having been rejected by Frankenstein and living in the woods for a while.

The sculpture was made with a mixture of Sculpey III, Sculpey Firm, and Apoxie over an aluminum armature. The original was molded in Smooth-On PMC (forgot which number) mold rubber and cast in Smooth-Cast 300, primed, painted with acrylics, and given a loincloth and crepe hair, set with clear fabric glue.

ROSE THE HAT

I just read Stephen King’s DOCTOR SLEEP, his semi-sequel to THE SHINING. The villain, Rose the Hat, is an immortal psychic predator who feeds on the “steam” of children with the shining. Seemingly beautiful, her true face has one long, tusk-like tooth and, serpent-like, she can open her jaw so wide it touches her chest.

I was probably too literal in visualizing it, but the image of the saber-like tusk struck me and wouldn’t leave.

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I made this mini-bust with a mixture of Super Sculpey, black and white Sculpey III and Sculpey Firm over an aluminum wire and foil armature. I also used a mixture of Super Sculpey and Apoxie, the recipe for which can be found here. This combination created a self-curing, water-thinned, more durable material that I used for the tooth and the hair loops, which would have been difficult with regular Super Sculpey. It’s a great material with the only downsides being a shortened working time and less self-adhesion.

New Monster Work-in-Progress

I got some work done this weekend!

This piece is about 10″ high, a mixture of Super Sculpey, Sculpey III, and Sculpey Firm over and aluminum and brass armature, based on a design by Sean Downey. The mixture of Super Sculpey and Sculpey firm give me a texture I prefer to work with, particularly in the hot weather when polymer clay gets a little gummier.