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The Pedagogue and the Inventor's Daughter: a guest post by Jessica Steele-Sanders October 31, 2019 00:00

From Jess: 

It's no secret by now that I love "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad," specifically the featurette "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Washington Irving's tale of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. Starting in October 2014, I began dressing up for Halloween as the story's heroine -- the entire reason Ichabod encounters the Headless Horseman -- Katrina Van Tassel, daughter of the richest farmer in the countryside. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a wonderful bit of spooky fun, and it's really a perfect piece of animation. Even seventy years later, I don't know that I'd change a thing about it.

While I could wax rhapsodic about the delightful characters, the beautiful animation, the flawless narration and singing by Mr. Bing Crosby himself, and one of the most memorable animated sequences ever put to film in Ichabod's late-night flight from the Headless Horseman, I'm instead going to focus on something that I've been swearing I'd do for literal years: comparing "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" to a modern-day Disney animated classic, "Beauty and the Beast."

There are character similarities as well as a handful of visuals that suggest animators in the late eighties and early nineties working on "Beauty and the Beast" had a certain fondness for this old package film, and, while at least some of these parallels have definitely been noted before, I couldn't resist blogging about them myself.

The comparison begins with our introduction to the story's main character, intelligent but viewed as an outsider by the locals. Schoolmaster Ichabod Crane is regarded as a bit of an oddball in the village of Sleepy Hollow, which we learn via a song bearing his name as he weaves effortlessly through the humble streets of his home with his nose stuck in a book: sneaking baked goods, skillfully avoiding black cats and ladders (he's very superstitious), and leaving a trail of townsfolk gossip in his wake... all with barely a glance up from the novel that has him so enthralled.

Ring any Belles?

"Odds bodkins! Gadzooks! Look at that old spook of spooks!"

If Ichabod shares some commonalities with "Beauty and the Beast"'s bookish heroine, then his town rival, the boisterous Brom Brones, bears more than a passing resemblance to burly bully Gaston -- not only in his muscular build and black hair, but also in his choice of dress and tendency to sulk when he doesn't get what he wants.

Brom only has eyes for the most beautiful girl in town, Katrina Van Tassel, who also has her own eponymous song describing her coquettish ways. It's their competition over Katrina that drives the animosity between Ichabod and Brom, egged on by Katrina herself, who's annoyed that Brom "clears the field" so easily of other potential suitors and feels he should have to work harder for her affections. To that end, she flirts shamelessly with Ichabod, but don't make the mistake of assuming that she's toying with the heart of an innocent man: Ichabod longs after Katrina not only because of her beauty, but also because of her wealthy father's farm. Lustful and greedy! Who's the hero of this story, anyway?

"Katrina, my love! Who can resist your grace? Your charm? ...And who can resist your father's farm?"

As Ichabod daydreams about winning Katrina's hand and inheriting her father's fortune ("Well, t
he old goat can't take it with him. When he cuts out, that's where I cut in"), he plucks feathers from a duster: a quirk that finds its way into "Beauty and the Beast," albeit in a much more violent fashion.

During Brom's rousing musical number about the monster that lurks just outside their town (in "Sleepy Hollow"'s case, of course, this is the Headless Horseman), a gaunt figure at the gathering looks like he could be the American relative of Monsieur D'Arque, owner of the local asylum in "Beauty and the Beast."

"...and some don't even wear their skin..."

These parallels are a little too obvious to be chalked up to coincidence, but, in case you were still in doubt, I have it on good authority -- straight from my husband, Chris Sanders -- that Disney's animation team in the eighties and nineties were indeed big fans of "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad." While the number of people today (even those working in animation!) who have even seen this classic is depressingly small, that wasn't the case thirty years ago. There was a great deal of respect and admiration for the old masters at the studio back then, and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" boasted an all-star cast of animators, among them Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, John Lounsbery, Ken O'Brien, Woolie Reitherman, John Sibley, and Fred Moore.

One fan in particular of the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" featurette? Supervising animator Andreas Deja, known for animating Lilo, Scar, Hercules, Jafar, and... Gaston.


To wrap up this post, I'd like to provide an update on my Katrina Van Tassel costume situation. To recap: in 2014 and 2015, I wore my Katrina outfit to Disneyland's nighttime Halloween event at the park, and Chris and I took bets on who would recognize my admittedly more obscure character; in 2016, Security stopped me at the turnstiles because of my voluminous skirts, and I made it in only because I basically begged: 2016 was the first year that Mickey's Halloween Party would feature the Headless Horseman riding down Main Street, and it was almost time for him to make his appearance. I was too spooked to wear my costume again in 2017 (I did don the wig and choker along with a T-shirt that said "Team Katrina" below an illustration of Katrina that Chris drew), and "The Call of the Wild" was deep in principle photography during October 2018, so we didn't attend at all last year.

This year, I wanted to bring back Katrina. I had the skirt hemmed so it couldn't be accused of dragging on the ground, and in August I wore the costume to D23 as a test drive. Believe it or not, the VERY first cosplayer that Chris and I saw on our way into the convention center was another Katrina Van Tassel!! She was posing for photos in Katrina's more recognizable introductory outfit, sporting the green parasol and little Dutch cap. I waved excitedly, but, if she recognized me, she gave no indication. Oh well. I didn't want to interrupt her photoshoot, so we moved on to enjoy the expo. Even at the "ultimate Disney fan event," however, only a handful of people knew who I was dressed as!

Instead of being held inside Disneyland, in 2019 the resort moved their after-hours Halloween event across the esplanade to Disney's California Adventure theme park. Dubbed "Oogie Boogie Bash," the party offered a fresh setting and some new entertainment. Overall, I think I prefer the party being held at Disneyland (it seems more... Halloween-y over there), but Chris and I still had a great time at Oogie Boogie Bash, and it was wonderful to bring back my Katrina costume. Multiple people/groups recognized Katrina this time around, and one man even said that he shows the featurette to his middle school English class every year! That made us both really happy, because it'd be a shame if generations grew up now without ushering in the spookiest season of all with this timeless folk tale.

Oh, and look who we found at the front of the park (he led the parade, too, along with Ichabod):

It's the Headless Horseman himself! Maaann, I'm gettin' outta here! Happy Halloween!

A great debt of gratitude goes to animationscreencaps.com, who provided the gorgeous stills from both "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad" and "Beauty and the Beast” that allowed me to create my comparison images.

San Diego Comic-Con 2019 July 14, 2019 18:42

It's time again! San Diego Comic Con is upon us! For Jess and I, it's a week of very welcome mayhem and getting last minute things attended to. This year we have a lot of fresh things to present and I'll dive right in.

PINS     PINS     PINS      PINS  !

My wife Jess has really outdone herself and produced so many fresh enamel pins, I have trouble counting them all. Years ago I thought pins would be a thing, and even made one for Con. Eight or nine years later, you can't stop at a booth without having a few offered for sale. They brighten your day and make a statement about the wearer. They're also tiny works of art.

Now, I must jump in here and mention I've learned a heck of a lot about pins watching Jess make these. There's a genuine talent to translating a drawing while holding its character, and an art to orchestrating a limited number of colors, the placement of the enamel, and augmenting with delicate pad prints to produce a remarkable object with great depth and complexity. Not to even begin going into the harrowing process of shepherding these through production. More on that as we go along...

So first up are a series of three unusual pins that Jess created directly from the original art: the first three drawings I made to pitch the concept for "Lilo & Stitch." While these are recognizable as Lilo and her alien friend Stitch, there are some differences from the ones that ended up on screen. Stitch began as green, and was changed to blue in early development. His signature black eyes are slightly smaller, and his ears flare at the base, not near the top. In one of the drawings his nose is below his eye-line, not above. Each of these three pins is backed on a card with the original artwork, and a short story of the unique origin of the film's style. Take a look at the pad printing on Lilo's dress which mimics the watercolor original! The complexity of the six-legged Stitch is truly incredible to see in person.

Next up is a return of our Island Girl, an extremely cute and popular pin, now in three new colorways for 2019. Joining the blue, coral, and mint green versions from earlier this year will be a RED variant with a white-glitter flower, a TEAL variant with a ruby-glitter flower (if you missed out on the blue one, this is a slightly darker, slightly greener version), and a VIOLET variant with a yellow-glitter flower.

Every year that we have a new sketchbook we also have a new cover girl, this year featuring a redhead in a red fox outfit. After finishing the cover I mentioned that it would be swell to have a pin that would accompany the book release, and ka-bam! Jess produced a beautiful pin! This 1.75" pin is the perfect companion to "Sketchbook 8"!

Years ago we had a company produce a Moon Witch pin based on one of my pinup drawings. It was cute, but Jess in particular found it wanting in a lot of ways. She had always wanted to take a second swing at it, enlarging it overall, changing the base metal color, perfecting the eyes, reflections on the vinyl bodysuit, and most importantly, upgrading the moon so that it would actually GLOW! This year she did it. As I watched the process of re-making and re-issuing this pin, I was so very excited to get a finished one in my hands so I could run to a nearby closet and see that big moon glow. Well, I did, and it does, and here she is, bigger (at 2" tall) and better than ever, and waiting to join your Halloween, pinup, or moon-pin jacket or bag. 

But WAIT.... just to make things harder to decide on, Jess turned around and created three variants on Moon Witch. One in CORAL PINK, one in VIOLET, and one in MINT GREEN. These three are posed in front of a pale blue moon which glows quite nicely in the dark!


One of the most popular images from a past sketchbook was a girl riding a scooter while reading a guidebook. At first the image seemed too detailed to consider translating to enamel. But Jess thought it could be done, and jumped right in. She worked like the devil to preserve a ton of the little details that make this drawing what it is, and submitted it to multiple manufacturers before finding one that could keep everything on-point. And by golly, she did it! Everything is here, and stunningly beautiful. Note the printed pages in her guidebook, the labeled bottle of wine strapped to her scooter, and the pad-printed polka dots and dog spots that give the pin dimension. Oh, and just for fun she gave the scooter a glitter-paint finish! 

"Sketchbook 3"'s cover girl in a yoga-esque pose seemed perfect for translation into a pin. I get to share the same studio as Jess, and I get to watch these pins come to life on her Centiq. Jess made this one look easy, but be assured that capturing the vibe and lines of a drawing and holding them as they are miniaturized is no small thing. I really love this pin. It has a wonderful scale, and a shape and gesture that stand out on any pin board or jacket, or bag. Don't miss this one! Yoga Girl comes in four variants, each with different hair and paired bikini stripe color. 


One day in the studio Jess said, "You should draw a series of Ogo heads that I can turn into pins." I was like, "Yeah, that's a cute idea." I'm sure I didn't get to it right away, but Jess patiently reminded me. In the meantime, I'd look at pins we bought and admire the ones with a big, bold outline. Jess reminded me that the Ogo pins could have a similar vibe. So, I drew them! When it happened, it happened fast. I kicked out the sketches and gave them the bold inks that make Ogo look right. Turns out, those fat inks make translation into a pin a bit easier than my more thin-lined stuff. Jess ran with these, and took special attention with the enamel color choices, since there are only a few and they're pretty big, so harmonizing them was critical. The result? A series of six pins that really POP! These look awesome when worn or displayed, and if you get all six and put them in order, they actually animate!


Morgan is a tiger I've drawn for years, and will eventually be joining the "Kiskaloo" universe. He's friendly, optimistic, and LOVES spiced cocoa, coffee, and the occasional buttered rum. He also owns a mug with a razor-sharp pad-printed "M." If you love coffee, hot chocolate, and drawing when it's cold outside, this pin is for you!

Kellee Riley is an illustrator that Jess and I are quite fond of. Her drawings exude confidence and joy, and her mermaids in particular are truly things of wonder and beauty. Frankly, seeing her stuff is inspiring, and makes me want to run straight to my drawing table and do a better job!

A while ago, Jess partnered with Kellee to create a set of the "Rescue Sirens"' five lead characters for use in merchandise, and Kellee drew her personal interpretation of Nim, Kelby, Pippa, Echo, and Maris. The result was stunning! This year, Jess thought that those illustrations would make a great set of pins, and she began the process of translating them. The first two, Nim and Kelby, are finished, and I have to say, these are probably my front favorites among the pins Jess has produced. Their scale, charm, details, and freaking GLITTER TAILS make these pins that you will want to display and covet for a long, long time. No way you'll trade these away, so you'll need an extra one for bargaining purposes (which you can do, as our pin purchase limit is two per design).


In our house there are two problems: finding enough time to maintain our tiny "Animal Crossing" towns, and finding miniature pins that can fill empty spaces that inevitably crop up on jackets and pin boards. Enter these two new pin collections --  inspired by one of Jess's and my favorite video games, these two limited-edition filler pin sets are designed to complement both ocean-themed and "Animal Crossing" pin collections. These are cute and happy, and really fun to pin to things! 


So where do you find this stuff? As usual, booth 4616, in the Illustrator realm. There will be some other stuff as well, but as the pins are the biggest new addition, I thought beginning with a pin-only post was a great way to start the Comic-Con announcements!!

I'll be at the booth every day, (save for momentary times when I'll step out to do some "Call of the Wild" approvals) and Jess will be there every day save for Friday, so if you have "Rescue Sirens"-related questions, pin questions, or general aquatic or mermaid-related questions, come see her Wednesday night and Thursday, and Saturday and Sunday!

Stay tuned for further announcements about sketchbooks, stickers, and original art...

RIP Stan Lee November 12, 2018 19:15

My very first job in LA was at Marvel Productions. I think the building was on Sepulveda Blvd. Once in a while Stan Lee would walk through, as he had an office on the second floor. One day, I was approached and asked if I would dress up in a Spider-Man costume and pose with Stan for a photo shoot with him and his Rolls-Royce. They held up the costume I was to wear and I swear to God it was a little teeny one-piece thing that had a zipper in the back. I think they asked me because I was the skinniest person there. I said no.

Then they said they’d give me $20.

I said okay.

I went to the bathroom and stripped to my underwear, and squeezed into the Spider-Man suit thing. Semi-mortified, I then boldly walked through the studio feeling very naked. But I learned instantly why someone would wear such a thing, as my identity was erased: no one, and I mean NO ONE, knew it was me.

I walked out front and posed with Stan and his car for a while. At the end, right as he was wrapping up, the photographer was struck with inspiration and suggested Stan and I take one more picture, staring at each other, nose to nose.

Stan Lee and Spider-Man (Chris Sanders) stare each other down


That last shot was the photo they used.

For decades, I’d see that photo here and there, mostly hung in comic shops with Stan’s autograph. Jess and I even saw it painted on a coffee shop wall in the Turnstyle Market beneath Columbus Circle in NYC.

Once, on TV, I caught an interview with Stan, and I glimpsed a large painted version of this photo on his wall.

I’ll never forget that day. This photo reminds me of my first job in animation, and, of course, of Stan. Excelsior!

San Diego Comic-Con 2018 July 18, 2018 12:16

Here on that most hallowed of holidays, the eve of Comic Con set-up, I'm sipping an old-fashioned and writing this blog post nestled beside the pile of stuff I need to fit into my truck tomorrow morning. Boxes, banners, lights, all to make booth 4616 a great place to visit this year! And this is an exciting year indeed, as we're bringing the latest installment of the the thing that started it all over ten years ago: the Chris Sanders Sketchbook.

Sketchbook 7! Designed by my wife Jessica Steele-Sanders and filled with drawings culled from my archives, Sketchbook 7 is a worthy addition to your collection. Forty eight pages of fresh artwork including witches, mermaids, my first comic book cover, and a few formerly secret lineups from sitcom development. It's been five years since the last sketchbook, so there was a lot of material to choose from!

But that's not all!  Jess has been hard at work producing some terrific new products based on her "Rescue Sirens" characters. A big favorite of mine: CHARMS!!!

Precision printed and cut on crystal clear acrylic, these colorful characters are miniature treasures to collect, display, or wear. Nim, Kelby, Echo, Pippa and Maris are the perfect size to hang from a cell phone, a zipper, or wear as a necklace. There are not one, not two, but three unique sets of the five Rescue Sirens featuring the art of Kellee Riley, Gabby Zapata, and myself.

All of the charms feature artwork on both sides!  Kellee Riley's Sirens are wearing their lifeguard tops on one side and their mermaid tops on the opposite, while Gabby Zapata's sets show the mermaids in both their human (feet) form and their secret mermaid tail identities. Supplies of these tiny treasures are limited so stop by early!

Last year we introduced vinyl stickers into our lineup. We're happy to let you know that all the stickers from last year are back, and we've added to the lineup!  The same great art from Gabby Zapata and Kellee Riley have been transformed into colorful vinyl stickers as well!

Also new this year are a number of stickers made from artwork featured in Sketchbook 7.

So there you have it - a quick view of the things waiting for you at SDCC booth 4616. And of course, Jessica and I will be there. See you soon!

INKtober Witches October 31, 2017 00:03

Inktober is a wonderful month. You are encouraged to put ink to paper, which is something I never tire of and wish I did more often. There's no substitute for committed lines on paper, both the experience of doing it, and the final, tangible object that is created: an inked drawing, a little piece of art that is both a statement and a signature. A time traveler that you leave behind.

And whilst you are busied by Inktober, bent over your board with pen in hand, the weather is changing outside your cozy warren! Leaves are turning, winter sprites and baby goblins press their noses to your window to see what you might have for them, coffee stores are offering the stuff you really want: spicy drinks topped with whipped cream and cinnamon. Suddenly having a hot drink in the morning seems a better idea than ever!

Well, with all that in mind, I didn't want anyone to think I haven't been inking in October. Er, Inktober. I have. Almost every day. You see, I'm boarding again, on a new movie. And the best, fastest way for me to board is to just jump straight in and put ink to paper. I've emptied many cartridges of ink through a couple favorite pens I use for just this sort of job. Unfortunately, I can't share any of the hundreds of panels I've inked, since, you know. In production and all. 

But, I have also inked a couple of witches for the Halloween season that I can post! I love drawing witches, and always want to find some fresh angle for them. In the case of these two, I drew one cheerleader witch on her way to a rally, and a witch in a steep dive with her familiar. The diving witch is a rough I've fiddled around with off and on for a year, and I have several variants I'll be trying. Just the steep angle is interesting to me.

Cheerleader Witch inks
Diving Witch inks

Even here in California it eventually becomes cold, and sometimes we almost have weather! Wind, mostly. But that counts as weather here. My wife Jess is from Florida, so she's used to rain. And I'm from Colorado; I know snow and real fall. So we both spend gloomy days in the studio together, pretending it's snowier and rainier than it really is. And it's here we listen to the most dreadful podcasts we can find. Tales of misfortune and disaster, not unlike the short stories I wrote as a child. These are my favorite days. I draw; Jess writes and edits. Sometimes I even draw Jess! She's the rare person I ever try to draw a likeness of. Someday she may let me post one!

Jess is encouraging about me doing drawings, and helps me keep my characters' eyes straight. I, in turn, dissuade her from trapping the ravens that populate our premises. Not to eradicate them, but to befriend them. Jess, you see, gathers creatures of all kinds, and doesn't limit herself if the opportunity presents. At Skywalker Ranch, she collected salamanders that were in a winter torpor. She ran out of room in her pockets and hands, so the last couple got a ride back to our room in her shirt. It was as good a carrying place as any. Jess isn't happy lest she have buckets and baskets of slithering, snapping, hissing, or furry things. Her ideal situation would be to spend the winter in a mermaid grotto filled with furry blankets, books, candles, and eventually a 'possum that she will name "Pumpkin" that will munch on mint Oreos and clasp and unclasp his paws when presented with a melty brie.

For this month, since she has yet to disappear into her hibernation cave, Jess also edited together a video of me inking the cheerleader witch, and set it to some swell music.

These videos are tedious because of the way I ink: turning the paper constantly and frequently leaving it off-center. As soon as I hand Jess the raw video she has a mountain of color-correcting and cutting, reframing, and music syncing ahead of her. But once she is done, she has created a little gem of a video that's a lot of fun to watch. So I must credit her, and thank her profusely for making these. I'd never, ever find the time to do one myself.

So happy Inktober, and Happy Halloween to all!