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Popular and essential posts from Paul Fricke's Blue Moon Studios Blog on cartooning, comics and pop culture.

Baseball Cards, Big Brothers, Sparky Anderson and The Big Red Machine

At eight years old, kids are impressionable, and that can really be a good thing. I looked up to my big brother, Karl and followed his lead in so many things - with toys, humor, music, drawing cartoons and comics...and in collecting baseball cards. One Saturday I hopped on my bike and joined him on a trip to KARS "dime store" (the type of variety/novelty store I don't think exists anymore). It was only two miles from our house, but it felt like a Major Expedition. When cards became scarce or were sold out at stores near our house, It Was Told...that KARS had full boxes on their shelves. Full boxes. And it was true. I'd only seen or bought a handful of single packs at any given time, in a display box near checkout. But down dark aisles at KARS they had those boxes, and more than one., stacked with twenty packs of cards. Of course, I wasn't old enough so didn't have enough money to afford a full box (which cost like $2 - $2.50), but Karl sure could. I was in awe. I couldn't wait to grow up, have the cash to afford such an extravagance, such an embarrassment of riches. I was so jealous. When I could, I'd snap up a box, tear through those packs in a flurry, stiff rectangular sticks of powdery pink bubble gum piling high, and dive into the heap of cards, swimming in them like Scrooge McDuck in his mountains of money.

KARS "five & dime" near the corner of Montrose & Central on the NW side of Chicago. "Live every day as if it were the Last Day!"

And so began my obsession with baseball cards. Now, cards didn't just give you close-up or action shots of all players and your favorite stars, but flip 'em over and there's listed all their vital info, maybe a mug shot, maybe a cartoon with a special bit of knowledge, and then all their career stats. You could, at a glance, take in when players started their careers, and where, what position(s) they played. And with series within the larger series, there were cards that told of the all-stars, division leaders, playoff games and exploits, team cards of championship teams and the World Series winner.

The Cincinnati Red team cards; Topps 1970 and 1971.

The Cubs of 1971 had some great players, like Ron Santo, Billy Williams, and the soon-to-retire Ernie Banks. But they just missed their chance at glory in 1969, and as I was becoming aware and watching games on WGN, they were on the wane. So, much as I loved the Cubs, the door was open and it was through baseball cards I was introduced to Sparky Anderson and his team, the Cincinnati Reds.

Sparky Anderson, manager of the Cincinnati Reds; Topps 1971.

I learned that the Reds had gone to the World Series in 1970, losing in five to the Baltimore Orioles. I learned of their stars, Tony Perez, Pete Rose, Lee May and Johnny Bench, who was then and forevermore to become my favorite major league player of all time. I was dismayed they lost, but attached myself to a winner. There was something about those players, their look, the red uniforms and their solid manager. I was hooked.

1971 was the first year I bought baseball cards. They looked new, sharp, modern and fresh with the black border, bold titles and the intro of action photography, less of the posed and mug shots that had been used up til then. The card designs and templates for the sixties Topps cards and even 1970 (with its boring, gray border) looked old to me, from another era. By 1972, I was buying those full boxes of cards, even though the design was garish and even then looked dated and "'70s." I recall flying through packs, looking for my Johnny Bench card, and finding it. I was alone, in my grandparents house on their vacation land in Holyoke, Minnesota. There he was, slugger Johnny Bench, in all his glory, surrounded by stars - oh, the elation!

Sparky with Bench, conferring on strategy.

The 1972 Topps card series announced the era of free agency with a mini-series of TRADED cards, perhaps the most important card and trade being Joe Morgan's move from the Astros to the Reds. With his addition and a few other moves, the Reds had a great season (Bench named the NL MVP again; also in 1970) and went to the World Series, only to lose in seven to the detested Oakland Athletics. I ran home from school those days that Fall to catch as much of the playoff and Series games as I could, ball in mitt, Reds cap atop my head, kneeling in front of the TV, rooting for my Reds. Alas, the loss made me sad, it also made me (and the Reds) hungry.

Morgan, TRADED, Rose and Perez; Topps '72, '73 & '76, respectively.

We lived not far from Wrigley Field, so attended games there regularly with my family, Grampa, and mostly my Mom and brothers. I especially relished the Cubs/Reds match-ups, getting to see all my baseball heroes taking batting practice, playing the game, Bench hitting homers, and usually with the Reds victorious over the Cubs. My mom had loved baseball for years, being a White Sox fan having grown up on the South side, and she was and is full of trivia. She taught us how to fill a score card as we followed the game, and pointed out to me how baseball players could be superstitious. When Sparky visited the mound, which was more often than most managers, he never stepped on the white first base line, always changing his gait to avoid the bad luck.

At home, all Spring and Summer, behind our house and garage in the narrow back alley, Karl and I would face off in one-on-one softball games. He'd always be the Cubs and I'd always be the Reds, copying and setting the line-up, mimicking the players' stances at the "plate." So we learned to bat both righty and lefty, learning how to hit up the middle, down that long and slender alley. 3 1/2 years my senior, he nearly always won, but what joy it was when I'd win a game, sometimes epic battles that'd go extra innings into the twilight with 50+ runs each. With my older bro in that alley during those countless hours for years, I got tips and absorbed the game, learned how to play, always trying to raise my game to keep up. And as we grew older, the tradition continued, but across the street in the Sears parking lot, strike zone taped to the brick wall, upgrading to fast pitch.

With all this personal history, then, it was only fitting that it was Karl who informed me that Sparky had died in November, 2010. I traversed the Web, sussing out stories, tributes and obituaries, the best at Redleg Nation, finding this superb piece by John Erardi about what great and nice guy Sparky was. He was indeed one of a kind, the manager and leader of perhaps the greatest team ever assembled, his Big Red Machine (in my book, only the 1927 Yankees also vie for that title).

I highly recommend The Machine: A Hot Team, a Legendary Season, and a Heart-stopping World Series: The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds. It tracks the golden'75 Reds' season, Sparky's worries, inventions, strategies and speeches to the team, culminating in one of the greatest World Series of all time, including the famous Game Six, ending in extra innings with that Fisk home run over the Green Monster at Fenway, extending the Series to a game 7, which my Reds won. Sparky managed his team like no one else had managed before, utilizing his bullpen, changing the game forever (for better or worse) with his use of specialty pitchers. Fourth on the wins list for managers with 2,194, and a fine .554 winning percentage.

Thanks to my big bro, and here's to Sparky Anderson, skipping over baselines in the Big Baseball Field in the Sky.


TothPix: Space Ghost

Starting in 1962, Alex Toth began working in the field of animation with the semi-animated Space Angel. He then began a long stint with Hanna-Barbera Studios, doing character creation and design and storyboards on shows such as Super Friends, The Herculoids, and Birdman. But perhaps he's best known for the creation and design of the Space Ghost show and characters.

Toth's design for the character are strong, sleek and simple. It looks like he drew these straight with a  marker, fully formed, like they were traced directly from his brain, even if it probably ain't so. This first crack isn't the Ghost we all came to know, but most of the elements are there already:

Wisely, he simplified the design further, adding the black hood which gives his face/head a dark, mysterious look, while he drops the gloves, boots and tights, leaving the rest of his costume largely white which conveys ghost. I love the triangle chest logo, and that Toth moved the power ray buttons from the belt to metal sleeves - it looks better and is more functional for the character when in action.

And these various head shots show how Toth thought through how the hero would look from any angle, still keeping things as simple as possible for animation. Unfortunately, even though it was one of the best animated TV shows at the time, animators usually didn't follow Toth model sheets closely enough, placing his eyes too high on his head.

The rest of the team is rounded out by teen sidekicks Jan and Jace, as the always fun Blip - loved that little monkey when I was a kid!

Though the show was among the best of its time, the cartoons and villains are kinda silly viewing them now years later, but it was a show designed for kids, after all! Here's the weekly intro:

Many of the full cartoon episodes can be found at YouTube, so give 'em a look-see.

Extra - Check out a short Space Ghost comic drawn by Toth hisself!


Building a Robot

On this blog in April I posted about Jewish Robot Comics. For that installment, I needed to design a robot, the Sedertron 2000, who would be built by and interact with the star of the recurring strip, Joey. Sometimes I have a good idea of a design of character in my head before I begin to draw. Other times I'll work it out at the old drawing board in the studio. But on most occasions faced with that fun challenge, I like to just doodle and play on the page while watching TV or sitting outside, to let the sketching take me places, especially when I'm not sure where I'm going or have just a vague, Will-o'-the-Wisp idea of a character design. For this robot, I wanted him to be fun but formidable. My first stabs...

...were not on the right track. These looked not personable enough, or too scary. His head was looking like a toaster or insect or a Stormtrooper. Had to change gears:

Better in some ways, but too silly, clowny and simple. Then I began to hone in:

Yeah, that's more like it! Now to just complete the design for his full figure:

I also needed to come up with an old professor/teacher, who was quick and easy. He came out right away on paper exactly the way I saw him in my mind's eye.

More details of the robot were refined as I worked on the layouts and pencils. My wife and I ended up coloring him differently than I'd originally intended, which was probably mostly red and grey. I like him better this way:

To read the full story check out our Prime Projects section, which also features other Jewish comics, and other assorted projects. And you can find more Fricke robots on this blog.


Jewish Robot Comics

The title of this post may seem an unlikely combination of words, but what's even more improbable is that in my work I've had cause to string them together more than once! The latest three-page comic strip for Tzivos Hashem's Kid's Zone magazine gave me a chance to design and draw a crazy robot to help our pal, Joey learn about Passover. It all starts when he's gotten a late start on his science project:

Next thing you know he's whipping up a super-robot in his garage who might be able to compete on Iron Chef:

Read the rest of the story, and Joey's other comics at our Prime Projects section of this site.

And click the link to see another image from our Gallery you might find in a google search for "Jewish Robot Comics."


Nuts For Baseball

The Cubs won their first game, a solid, balanced effort with a season lead-off homer by Alfonso Soriano. He hit another in inning eight in game two, but they lost in the tenth. Oh, well, rubber game tonight! The season is on. I picked up this figurine at a convention in Rockford, IL in the early '90s. I swear my brother and I had some of these as kids, or perhaps we had stickers or drawings like it? As soon as I saw him on the table at that con, he was familiar, anyway. This is called Bull Pen Boo Boo from the Nutty Mads series made by Louis Marx & Co. in 1963. I haven't been able to find more any time since, or on line, but I'm gonna keep looking, so I can give this goofball some company on my studio shelf.  There have to be more, right? Does this guy ring any bells for anyone else? Update: In comments, my old pal, Dave Tabler from iSpot, directed us to the Marx Toy Museum, which I didn't know of.  Cool! This led me to a more intensive search, and I found a bunch more similar figures up for auction at ebay. I was hoping there would be a series of baseball-themed figures, but "Boo Boo" is the only baseball player. He's part of a broader series, which features weightlifters, dragracers, boatsmen, and many more. I remember this guy vividly, so my older brother, Karl must've owned him when we were kids:

Maybe he'll write in to verify? On the left, the Digger Racer asking price is $125 -- steep! Roddy the Hotrod, on the right seems to be available at a more reasonable price.

I like both of these dudes below, Waldo the Weightlifter and a parody of Rodin's The Thinker. I might have to pick up both of these.

These two I'm not sure about.  Weird!

But this guy's right up my alley. He looks awfully familiar, too! Donald the Demon. He's gotta join Boo Boo on my shelf someday.



Monkey See, Monkey Sketch

While drawing my "Blog No Evil" illo last week, I dug up some monkey reference and got the bug to draw more. I drew this quickly in my sketchbook with a marker for the outline, adding blacks with a brush. I scanned it in and threw a mid-tone color over it, then with a Photoshop chalk brush in a lighter highlight tone, it was easy to achieve the nice effect usually gotten drawing on pastel paper, which I've always liked.  It might be fun to draw a comic in this style. Hmm.


It'll Never Work

I was five or six when the Saturday morning kids show, The Banana Splits was on originally. Besides the live-action-people-in-costumes Splits portions of the show, they also ran cartoons, one of which was The Adventures of Gulliver. It's not much to speak of, but memorable for one of the Lilliputian characters, a grim little dude named Glum.


He was a real downer, always interjecting things like "We're doomed," "Don't be too sure," "He'll never make it," "I knew we'd be in trouble." But my favorite, and one I remember best, is a saying I use around here to this day to tease friends, family or myself whenever one's down in the dumps or feeling pessimistic: "It'll never work." But for some reason, lately I've been thinking Glum was on to something. I'm sure it'll pass.  It always does. To hear him utter the words for the first time, it's about 3:10 into the video below:


Bookmark as Business Card

I don't like business cards much. During nearly twenty-five years of freelancing as an artist, I've found I rarely need or use them. But a few times each year, I'd get caught empty-handed when someone would ask me for one, and I knew I needed something to hand out in those situations. So instead I had printed up a bunch of bookmarks. bms_bookmark.jpg I figure people may just keep a bookmark around for a while longer than any old business card as it actually has a use beyond itself. And one can never have too many bookmarks. The illustration on one side of the mark depicts a couple children reading at night under a blue moon, so people may also use it while reading to their kids, or give it to their kids to use. The idea is to provide a built-in reason for people to keep it around and out, so they'll see it more often and be reminded of our little company and what we do. And if it encourages anyone to read a bit more, all the better. They're a little bigger to carry than business cards, but I keep them in my car or carry bag whenever I go out. It usually gets folks' attention just because it's different -- it stands out. On the back of the bookmark, I simply list the web site address and few things one can find at our site. For more thoughts on trying something new with business cards or the like, my pal and fellow artist, Cedric Hohnstadt has designed a set of new cards for himself, prompted by a helpful article on the subject at the Pro Freelancing site.


More Kidney Comics

We're working on the sixth poster for the National Kidney Foundation, a campaign we began in the Fall of 2006, as I mentioned in January. We're pleased we just received word that the campaign will extend further with three more posters, with hopes and plans for beyond. nkf02.jpg It's gratifying that the comics poster series has been well received and is effective, using comics to increase awareness, diagnosis and treatment of Kidney disease. It's been a pleasure working with Sam, Kieran and Alex at the BryantBrown Healthcare Marketing agency Here's to many more! Click away to view poster #5, just added to our Prime Projects section. nkf_food.jpg


One Art Style...or Many?


I've read advice recently that illustrators should stick to one art style, which jibes with suggestions I received when starting out that artists working in the commercial field should specialize. Fellow artists have also shared with me stories they've heard the same thing, sometimes expressed adamantly. Well, then I guess I must have been doing something wrong the last twenty-three years, because I've followed my instinct, instead working in a variety of styles, and it seems to have worked out well enough.

Now, I understand where the advice is coming from, and know that it can work. And I can see why art reps and agents look at it this way. But I'm proof positive it's not the only way. Of course, there are benefits or drawbacks whichever way one goes:

Disadvantages to working in many styles:

  • An artist can become a jack-of-all-trades; master of none
  • Art Directors will remember you less easily
  • Artists can lose focus creatively and in marketing their work

    Advantages to working in many styles:

  • It keeps artists fresh and creatively curious
  • It offers up a change of pace and keeps artists from stagnating
  • Artists may discover a style or path preferable to a previous style
  • Artists may snag gigs they'd not land otherwise (this has happened to me)

    But after considering all, one has to find what suits them best. This is similar to my take on an artist's temperament and preferences. Each artist must determine themselves how to achieve the balance between pure personal creativity and making a living through and with their art.

    If an artist follows their own course creatively with that being the priority, income from art may never follow. If it does, that artist calls the shots, having created a market for themselves, but this situation is certainly not one that can be counted on. If an artist stresses the commercial side, they may lean too far towards marketing and lose their way, tailoring their style to what they think and agent or clients may find to be "hot." Even if an artist happens to be successful in choosing and developing a style that earns them a living, they can get stuck with a type of work they find they've grown tired of, or never liked much in the first place. In developing a style, artists should make sure it's true to themselves, first and foremost.

    For my part, I enjoy working in different styles, in different industries, all while trying more to carve out my own creative paths and projects on the side, working to make those a bigger part of what I do for a living. I've more to say on that particular subject, but that's a post for another day.