I’ve had some promotional postcards printed of my Childhood Villains illustrations and they’ve arrived just in time for this weekend’s comic show, the UK Thing 2010, in Mile End, London. It’s a great show bursting with talented artists and self publishing trailblazers so if you’re in London this Saturday come along. I’ll have all my Everyday comics for sale, including the limited Glastonbury postcard books. There’s more details on the show’s “retro” website.
It took me a while to determine which character would be the final Childhood Villain in this series. I needed six and thought Moominpapa would make a good final choice but I didn’t have six so I had to draw Moominpapa as number 4 and think more about the last two. Judge Doom came to me after half remembering some other claymation horrors but number 6 was eluding me. I persisted because I wanted a set of six but mostly because I knew deep down in my blurry subconscious there was one more character left.
That horrific creation, the last terror of my childhood, was not one character but a screeching, scraping gaggle of henchmen called The Wheelers, from the bleak, nightmarish children’s film Return to Oz (1985).
Of the six villains I’ve drawn, I’m most confident that The Wheelers will cause a shiver to anyone who saw this strange film as a child. I watched it again recently for reference and I enjoyed its dark themes and the expansion of the world of Oz beyond the first film. There was, I learnt, 14 Oz books by L. Frank Baum (and 26 more by other authors) and Return to Oz is an amalgamation of 2 of them. I liked it as a child too, drawn to its spookier elements (swappable heads, talking pumpkins) but I do recall an undercurrent of dread. Re-watching it I observed the danger never lets up. The opening scenes where Dorothy is taken for electro-shock therapy become increasingly grim and gothic causing her to escape to her fantasy land, Oz. Once there, Dorothy and her new companions are always either on the run, imprisoned or gambling for their lives. This is exemplified most by Tik-Tok, a clockwork robot of the Army of Oz, whose three functions (thinking, speaking and moving) are constantly winding down.
Among all this trepidation, the most memorable monsters are, of course, The Wheelers. We see their silhouettes spying on Dorothy from afar as she enters the ruined Emerald City. She discovers graffiti that reads “Beware the Wheelers” and finds everyone turned to stone. Right then The Wheelers make their screeching entrance:
They appear later in the film but are less frightening once we know more about them. It is this scene in particular when they appear as unknown antagonists that terrified the young Cadwell. I think they’re ingeniously and freakishly designed, a mix of dirty, Vaudevillian waiters and a neon-clad, punk, street gang. The sound of their screeching wheels that precedes their arrival, foreshadowed in the Asylum in Kansas and echoing around the ruins of the Emerald City, is the kind of sound that sets anyone on edge and The Wheelers are a great and horrifying embodiment of that noise.
The Lead Wheeler (played by Pons Maar) was the only one who spoke rather than cackled. I based most of the design on him and one of the other 11 Wheelers who had bright pink lapels. Their physicality is limiting in regards to poses, but their costumes, a mix of many influences, could be pushed in lots of interesting directions. I wanted to hint that they may be corrupted members of some old Circus of Oz. I emphasised the coils around Lead Wheelers shoulders that wormed down his arms and I simplified the sleeves so the dirt and smudges gained from riding along the ground (and putting on makeup somehow) wouldn’t be lost. I tried to hint at faded paint on the wheels and redesigned the gargoyle face on the helmet.
Here are some sketches I made while watching the film:
Next week: Nothing!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this Childhood Villains series and at least one of them has freaked you out. I’ll be doing some promotional postcards of all 6 of them, news about that soon. Sweet dreams.
Fifth in my Childhood Villains series is the sinister, screeching Judge Doom from ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ (1988) as portrayed by the fantastic Christopher Lloyd.
I grew up on steady diet of old Warner and Fleischer Brothers cartoons so I loved seeing all the old cartoon characters in the same film when I was a kid. I still think it’s a funny and wonderfully made film. 20 years later it still makes you wonder “How did they do that?” which is lacking in anything computer generated nowadays.
With the exception of Moominpapa, all the villains in this series are supposed to be scary and I think they only do their job right if they do freak us out a little. Judge Doom is a stern figure throughout most of the film, but it’s only after he’s flattened by a stray steamroller that he’s revealed as a Toon in human disguise. There’s a section of stop motion animation of the flat Judge Doom getting to his feet and wobbling over to an air pump to blow himself back up again. The slightly jerky animation adds to the freakishness of this scene and when followed by the high pitched, red eyed reveal of the real Judge Doom, it creates a wonderfully frightening villain.
I wish Christoper Lloyd was in more films these days.
While not a villain in the fictional world of The Moomins, Moominpapa and the rest of his family really used to set me on edge when I was small. It’s hard to describe but something about their vacant, piercing eyes and their emotionless, mouthless faces used to get me extremely worried and paranoid about what their true intentions were. I remember not being able to look away from the TV because I didn’t know what they’d do when my back was turned. My mother took this behaviour to mean that I loved The Moomins and she’d put it on specially, trapping me in their blank gaze for the entirety of the episode.
I’m interested to see what the reaction will be to this choice of “villain”, some people I know were very suspicious or afraid of the Moomins, but others adored them. Which version of Tove Jansson’s stories it is I was petrified by at a very early age, I can’t be sure. I remember it being much more melancholy and surreal than the popular 1990′s Japanese animation. My best guess is that it was the Polish stop motion animation broadcast in the UK between 1983 and 1986 (so I would have been between 2 and 5 years old) which had an eerieness all of its own. In this episode Moominpapa reaches instinctively for his shotgun upon the arrival of the Groke.
The original comic strip and picture books by Tove Jansson remain a wonderful artistic achievement (Drawn & Quarterly’s archives of the comic are beautiful books) but I still get a chill every time I see a Moomin by surprise.
The third in my ‘Childhood Villains’ series, in which I draw character’s that used to freak me out when I was little, is Charn from ‘Through the Dragon’s Eye’.
It’s probably only people of around my age who grew up in Britain who will recognise this guy. Charn is the villain from the BBC Look & Read programme ‘Through the Dragon’s Eye’ (1989), an epic fantasy on a low budget in which three school children enter a world without writing. Let me just reiterate that Charn was created to help teach children how to read. Teachers would record the show and play it in class, pausing it for us to join in the word puzzles, and every episode ended with a tense cliffhanger. I loved the show when I was 7 because it was so much more imaginative than any other education show for kids and as much fun as most cartoons. Who can forget Boris, Moris and Doris, the Keepers of the Veetacore?
Charn freaked me out of course and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. The skeletal bird wizard would stalk around zapping people with his lightning that would turn them into puddles of slime whilst creepily threatening the children, prodding them with his knife-like fingers. Watching it now he’s evidently played by a camp thesp but there is still something truly horrible about that mask.
Also, looking at the characters I’ve chosen so far I think I might just be afraid of men in skirts.
If you think I may have exaggerated the horror of Charn’s design (no children’s character would have dusty guts spilling out of his ribcage, right?) then see him for yourself during the EPIC final battle between Charn and Gorwen, the good dragon of the title.
The second in my ‘Childhood Villains’ series of illustrations, this demonic nightmare fuel is Venger, the “Force of Evil” from the 1980′s cartoon, Dungeons & Dragons.
My most prevalent memory of this cartoon was how perpetually depressing it was. Like other shows with the same concept, characters trapped in another world trying to get home, like Quantum Leap, the children would get a glimpse of returning home almost every episode but it would never work out. I think they got home once but had to return because Venger came with them, or something like that. Even as a small kid I got this sense of shattered hope with every episode and how miserable the characters seemed at points, trapped in a harsh, dangerous world, forced to wear stupid outfits and hang out with an old midget (The Dungeon Master). I much preferred He-Man. You knew what was going to happen with He-Man.
Worst of all though was Venger. Often seen riding his black stallion with hooves of fire, Venger was the demonic, vampiric, bat winged embodiment of evil in a big skirt always trying to capture the children’s power to locate his lost horn (as I remember it, correct me if I’m wrong). There’s something about his design that would terrify me as a kid, partly I think it’s the white face and dark eyes, with the snub nose and fangs making him almost snake like. The giant bat wings don’t hurt either. But I think it’s also the disturbed symmetry of his design that on a more subconscious level lets us know that something is amiss with him. I’ve tried to emphasize that with my depiction of him, that he’s perfectly symmetrical apart from the long, thin, scythe-like horn protruding from the side of his head. Either that or he’s just one bad mother.
This is the first in a series of illustrations I’m calling ‘Childhood Villains’. I’m aiming to draw 6 fictional characters that used to freak me out when I was a kid, hopefully on a weekly basis (ha!). Maybe they freaked you out too and they’ll be able to stir up some long forgotten horrific memories, as is the purpose of all art, clearly.
This is Chamberlain from Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s ‘The Dark Crystal’ (1982), conceptual design by Brian Froud, which is the film I used to watch every Saturday morning on good old video tape, normally after my little sister had gotten up even earlier than me and finished watching ‘Labyrinth’. Chamberlain is both the most pathetic and the most scrupulous of all the evil Skeksis. When he is banished from the castle by the new Emperor I remember feeling sorry for him, despite the fact he is a hideous, smirking, lizard-bird monster, but when he tries to befriend the heroic Gelflings in his high pitched, whiny voice (“Me friend, make peeeeace!”) he is the creepiest bogeyman a six year old could imagine.
And if you’ve never heard of ‘The Dark Crystal’ then shame on you and here’s the trailer, which is over 2 minutes long because it is from the 1980′s.
Adam Cadwell is a Cartoonist, Illustrator and Storyboard Artist based in Manchester, UK. In 2012 he co-founded Great Beast Comics and founded the British Comic Awards. He loves Vimto and Lego. More Adam facts, rates and contact details can be found on the Info page.