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Giving the rights of a personal project to a studio is an uneasy and ominous decision. As I draw the first saga of Superficial (1 of 3) to a close, I am starting to wonder how it would translate to television. If it should be targeted to a broad audience 9-14, the characters would have to be younger and more conventional. However, if I go for a niche market I can pretty much keep the characters the way they are—in other words Sakura can keep her gay husband and be happy and never have to yearn for something more conventional. Furthermore, I wonder how consistent the production quality would be? Also, am I experienced enough in the animation industry to execute a huge project like Superficial well?
I was looking at my Jem DVD’s and old TV recorded video tapes and found myself appreciating the effort put into the production. The little things like the loose delicate clean up line in the closing sequence of Broadway Magic, the great voice acting throughout the series and it’s overall story arc and resolution. For the most part Jem was really well put together! Christy Marx was given just a faint outline of what Hasbro wanted for a TV show and pretty much created everything else with the help of her crew. As an intermediate career animation writer, she was nervous about it at first, but never let on that initially she was not ready to take on such a huge project. Good insight Ms. Marx. Thank you. As the show progressed the story line pulled away from the glamour and delved into the psyche of it characters and some keen insight to corporate world. Not in the fight the power way, but in that business etiquette competition and resourcefulness way. The series went from mundane to profound as it reached the end of the middle of season 3: the audience was treated an insight into the motivation behind the series’ main antagonists, Pizzazz’ wild behavior and Stormer’s co-dependency. Pizzazz’ behavior was a negative reaction to being abandoned by her mother and being raised by her father who was a successful and aggressive business man. So, Pizzazz has a hunger for fame and revelry which counters her feelings of abandonment and she opportunistic and hard by example of her father and who did not have time to show affection and render discipline as he raised his daughter. Stormer’s need for belonging and overcoming her insecurities which attracts her to power hence her loyalty to the Misfits as foreshadowed in the first mini-series. Roxie’s dilemma was a common one we see every in American society, so no big surprise there. She was an open book. I wonder how Nami’s Darth Vader esque story arc will pan out in an animated series? I think that could only be aired to the college audience MTV nutures.
As a teenager I disdained these cartoons because the animation was limited. I liked them, but I wanted my vision to be better. However, despite the limited resources the production had, Jem was well done. The huge fan base is proof of that. Jem’s story reigned in it followers. Animation is the icing of project STORY is the cake! True the animation on Jem limited and at times the characters who clumsily off model which exposed the greenness of some of the crew, but really, the only aesthetic criticism I have was that the background layout designs were treated as an afterthought. Pity, because BG layouts can really carry a film despite how cheaply done the character animation is—-just look at the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. My former Cal Arts life drawing teacher, Glen Villppu was the one of the lead artists on the show. I think he was a sequence director. Being a stickler for life drawing, in some key scenes and little moments you can see his influence. There was a great scene the depicted the Misfits and Techrat in a car fighting over a gadget. That scene must have been referenced. There are certain drawings that just can’t be imagined. Generally when as artist draws, he/she instinctively designs the image which can stifle the moment of animation, but the scene in question was referenced so there are interesting angles and even drawings that show Pizzazz not as attractive as her design and it worked –less is more. That, my friends, comes from life drawing!
Another show that uses reference but pushed so design is integrated into it’s reference is Sailor Moon. This series is not as ambitious story as Jem, but it still turned out well. It’s a good lesson in being flexible with other creators and condition ideas for a mass audience without compromising the story’s integrity. Despite some harsh changes from the original concept by it’s creator Naoko Takeuchi. Sailor Moon’s characters were changed and story altered arguable for the better. The story is tighter and drawings are dare I say are better for they are “pushed”. Form, perspective, design, and layout–the animation of at Toei went to town on these characters! With such an enthusiastic crew how can a creator feel unsatisfied? There were storylines that were anti-climactic in the anime. The Sailor Saturn saga left me cold yet I found solace in the extended version that explained unanswered questions in Takeuchi san’s manga. Character design wise, Takeuchi is still reeling over the changes to Rei –Sailor Mars. In her last comic, she thanks all those involved in the success of Sailor Moon, but voiced her reservations about the characters that were changed in order to endear them to a broader audience—especially the western audience ( I don’t blame her). Sailor Mars’ personality is different from the manga and her costume had to be redesigned on her doll in order for it to be acceptable to the western toy market. Sailor Mars is one of the few sailor scouts who wear high heels with her short skirt uniform instead of “Wonder Woman” boots like most of the others. Sailor Venus wears ankle strap heels instead of boots, but somehow on little strap kept Venus acceptable whereas Mars ensemble pushed her over the line to “hooker”. Go fig. It just goes to show to show you that me have too much power over women and not enough over there own desire—but that’s argument for a different blog entry.
When adult themes are brought into a kid’s show another challenge arises: How adult can you be and how often? Lots of adult issues were sneaked into 80’s cartoons. Jem touched on social issues like teen runaways and asshole probable fathers ( Music Awards and A Father Should Be), Maple Town ( pre-school show) had a roving homeless person as a regular character and villain, race issues in Bionic Six (A Little Handicap) and a controversial notion of being dated as a novelty in Galaxy High School ( Dollars and Sense). These themes were mostly very subtle. Only the Jem example hit the audience over the head with its issue and the writers saved the latter for the last episode of the series—go Christy. But the storylines Takeuchi had to push past her producers on Sailor Moon was just too much for the western audience. Fortunately, we die hard fans have the original Japanese cartoon series to fall back on for original content. Sailor Moon getting drunk on “juice” at a ball shocked the shit out of American soccer moms and let’s not even talk about the gender bending Sailor Stars. Luckily for outer senshi lovers, Uranus and Neptune, skirted by the censors under the guise of “cousins”. Uranus is built on a funny tilt sn Neptune is it’s twin*. Should Superficial become a cartoon series, I would choose Viacom /MTV be it’s distributor. Superficial is a niche market property, a not ready for prime time show or Santa Clarita paranoid mom nuclear family show. Superficial is for college students. A project that I can be flexible about is the spin off series of Superficial that is in development right now called the Berkeley Clique would be more of Jem and the Holograms/ Beverly Hills Teens fare. The setting, which tells of three main characters Soleil (Tabby), Sigrid and Soleil who must deal with their in-school celebrity status due to their amazing after school jobs as band members of a major rock group would appeal to a mass audience. I would not mind of the characters are changed for I am not that attached to them—I know for sure that Tabby would go from a light skinned pinkish orange haired black to simply an hot blood Irish queen bee red-head and I think that the networks will be responsible enough to leave Soleil Smile as a tech geek and not a neck snaking negative stereotype of a black teenage girl. Sigrid would probably get her named changed but I’m cool with that—I’ll always have the original comics that I created to fall back on for the true essence of the project.
All in all, I shall reiterate that Jem and Sailor Moon turned out rather well despite changes and their limited resources. Should the Berkeley Clique be optioned I will have gripes about their design. It is common for production designer to design all of the main female characters have the same body type and if there are variances it is usually in the extremes fat or thin, short or tall. The fit woman who is obviously large boned and or muscular is non-existent. Demona of Disney’s Gargoyles and Bruce Timm’s Wonder Woman of the Justice League are the exceptions. I understand that it helps the character layout artists keep the characters on model however, if the Berkeley Clique is made it must be understood that Klashka’s body type is different from Tse’s. They are both in perfect shape, but Klashka has that warrior woman Xena build and Tse is built like a croqui. Yet, perhaps this compromise is something that I will have to contend with as well as probable inconsistency in production quality. That aspect of television animation scares me the most. Fortunately, now that hand drawn feature animation is in hibernation, all of the most experienced artists are employed in television houses until hand drawn animation is accepted by movie goers again. It is now safe to pitch ideas. There is no longer the danger of shows coming back from overseas with characters looking like amoebas moving across the screen. No misinterpretation between western acting and eastern acting. Most of all, there are people who can draw WOMEN. In fact they are the some people who worked on all of those princess films in ‘90’s. And they are itching to wrap their minds around the female form again. A happy accident to the tragic turn of events at Disney Feature Animation in 2001.
As creative insurance, I believe an artist should first self publish her own version of her work before letting a network get a hold of her creation web or print. For her self and the fans she will generate it will be a bible of the creators original intent and the fans can decide for themselves which version they like best. In retrospect the artist can reference and average the two different and devise a better concept for future projects so that disappointment is minimal and everyone is happy.
Sailor Moon images courtesy of:
Wikipedia the free online encyclopedia
80’s Child Web Ring
Jem images courtesy of Rhino Video from the following episodes:
Island of Deception
The Music Awards Part1
* School House Rock Interplanet Janet