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Katrina Van Tassel: An Endangered Species? October 21, 2014 09:28

If you saw this picture and your first thought was that you were looking at a costumed Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, you wouldn't be alone.

Last Friday, Jess and I attended Disneyland's Halloween party. It was the maiden voyage for Jess's newest costume, in progress since spring: Katrina Van Tassel from "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." "Sleepy Hollow" was the second of two featurettes released together in what was the last of Disney's "package" films. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad was Disney Studios' 11th animated feature, and it premiered on October 5th, 1949.

Jess was sure no one would recognize the costume, and while I thought she was mostly correct, I still believed that someone at Disneyland would recognize it. From the beginning, no one did. Most believed, as we suspected, that she was dressed as Princess Aurora. A few were confused, thinking she was a fusion of Little Bo Peep from Toy Story and Sleeping Beauty. She was also mistaken for Cinderella, and Charlotte from The Princess and the Frog.

Again, none of this was a surprise.

Katrina has probably been one of the more obscure Disney characters from the beginning. Like a Disney princess, Katrina has a wardrobe change during her cartoon. When Katrina first appears she wears a bell-shaped pink dress with a blue laced front, she carries a green parasol, and she wears a white Dutch cap. Later, at a Halloween party thrown by her father, she wears a longer pink dress with a more open neckline and no blue accent. This is the version that Jess chose to portray.

What was a surprise, was that after revealing that the costume was in fact that of Katrina Van Tassel from the animated feature, there was, to a person, not a glimmer of recognition. Not even amongst the park's Cast Members.

"You know, 'Legend of Sleepy Hollow'? The Halloween cartoon with Ichabod and the Headless Horseman? Narrated by Bing Crosby?"

Blank spot here - then, "You mean that 'Sleepy Hollow' TV show?"

"No, the Disney cartoon."

What inevitably followed was the look of someone who you had just spoken to in ancient Babylonian. Apparently no one under the age of thirty or maybe even forty has ever seen this cartoon.

At the end of the night, on the way out of the park, someone finally recognized the costume. A girl dressed as Princess Aurora, of all things, traveling with a group of other costumed princesses, yelled "Katrina! Katrina!" from across the street, then ran over for a picture. Aurora seemed surprised she was the only person who got it - so I won the bet: someone, one person, had known who Katrina was. Fifteen minutes later one guy in the World of Disney store recognized the character as well. So, two out of many thousands. Which greatly saddened and distressed me.

As a kid, I learned to tell time largely because I wanted to be sure my family made it home from Sunday dinner by six-thirty. Sunday dinner for us was always at the same place: Furr’s Cafeteria in Arvada, Colorado. This, for us, was extremely fancy. The first thing you noticed after your eyes adjusted to the dark was the weird brick walls. As we stood in the tray line with other hungry families I studied the walls made of weird, goopy, sloppy bricks. They all looked a little melted, some much more than others. If one took the proper cues from the bricks and the medieval prints on the walls, I guess they were trying to make the place look like it was from ancient Europe. So waiting in the tray line was like traveling backwards through time to a cafeteria in the Middle Ages. A time when people weren’t so good at making bricks but they could still make Jell-O in every color conceivable.

We each got a tray and pushed it down the line while we picked which plates we wanted from the hundreds that were cooling on crushed ice beyond the glass sneeze guard which was at an adult's chest level. As a kid I could easily reach beneath the glass and get whatever I wanted. I always chose the same things: Salisbury steak which came with a mandatory side of green beans, green Jell-O presented in cubes, and a sugary green drink. Dad always got the chicken fried steak.

As I ate my Jell-O in the dark medieval dining room, which was hung all around with colorful knights' shields, I repeatedly checked Dad’s watch. We needed to get home before Wonderful World of Disney came on.

Never was this so urgent than the night in October when they broadcast "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

If I was lucky I saw it twice - once on TV, and again when they herded every kid in Foster Elementary into the gym and screened it in 16mm. We had been making construction paper cats and witches and ghosts since the end of September. But it wasn’t Halloween till I saw "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." That was when it really began. That Disney film was, and still is, the portal by which I reach the heart of the holiday. The kids-in-costumes, plastic-mask-held-on-by-rubber-bands, smell-of-burned-pumpkin-lid, sound-of-candy-dropped-in-a-bag Halloween.

Everything about "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" I consider to be perfect. The fall colors, the narration by Bing Crosby, the disarmingly cute opening and the scary end. Brom Bones’ song at the Van Tassels' Halloween party always make me feel like I was there amongst the frightened guests. And the execution of Ichabod’s final, lonely ride through the deep woods and hidden graveyards of his township is a masterpiece of tension, humor, and sudden terror.

And the characters! There is only one Ichabod, and certainly Brom Bones is the ironclad prototype from which Beauty and the Beast's Gaston was later hammered.

But none of it would work if not for Katrina. Presented as an unearthly beauty who arrives out of nowhere at the side of her father, she is a creature that only animation could conceive, floating around like a cloud, prancing across streams more like Bambi than a human being. Katrina lifts nothing heavier than a teacup or parasol while a willing army of admirers carry entire picnics and weeks of provisions for her. And yet she never came off as manipulative to me. Rather, Katrina seemed to occupy a needed space in that world. Like a thunderstorm that sweeps through the mountains, she was a disruptive necessity. She kicked everyone into gear. She was the planet all the other characters fall into orbit around.  I like that Katrina messes with people, but in the end she, like Brom Bones, is without malice. Her willingness to toy with Ichabod is in direct proportion to the less-than-noble designs Ichabod has for her.  This fantastic little story by Washington Irving recognizes both Brom's and Katrina's awareness of their inevitable pairing, thus this last dance of courtship choreographed by Katrina.  In a situation like this any of these three characters could have come off as a victim or a villain, but in the hands of this particular team of artists they all end up quite likable, indeed.  No one, I think, more than Katrina. She's beautiful and provocative at her entrance, and even moreso at the finish.  I wish she showed up in attractions and merchandise more than she currently does. Which is to say not at all - save for an often overlooked restaurant in Walt Disney World.

Katrina is, I think, unique amongst Disney characters. She exudes more dimension, charm and attitude than a character with her screen time has a right to. And all without uttering a single word. And the unapologetic audacity of her design is refreshing. Jessica Rabbit gets a lot of attention for how she’s drawn, but I think Katrina has her beat in all categories. Katrina's animators include Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, John Lounsbery, Ken O'Brien, Woolie Reitherman, John Sibley, and, of course, Fred Moore.  I'm not sure if a featurette usually had such an all-star lineup, but this film obviously owes a good deal of its longevity and strength to its roster.  But a huge amount of credit should be given to the story crew, the background painters, and the editing and sound work in the climactic sequence.

So what's the point of all this? I guess I just want to keep the memory of this cartoon alive. A new generation shouldn't miss out on this perfect piece of American Halloween. Take an hour to share "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" with someone you think would like it. You can find it on Netflix (although not streaming, sadly) and Amazon Instant Video, or even newly bundled on DVD and Blu-ray.

And Happy Halloween!

UPDATE (10-14-15): In addition to adding some photos of Jess taken by Ryan Astamendi, we're happy to note that, at this year's Disneyland Halloween party, Jess was recognized as Katrina by four different groups, including one Cast Member. That might not sound like much, but it's twice as many as last year!

Ogo is here. Hide your ice cream and beer. July 15, 2014 09:21

Ever since I started "Kiskaloo" I've been asked if I'll ever make a plush of the cat, Ogo.  Well, I wanted to, just like I want to get back to drawing the comic and learn deep-sea welding.  Even though I've had enough time to write more than a year's worth of strips, I'm still so swamped with other projects that I haven't been able to get enough ready to publish.  Same story with the plush.  Except you can add "I don't even know where to start" to the "I never have enough time," and, "Don't people have enough trouble in their lives already without adding a one-eyed cat with a propensity for mischief?"

Well, ready or not, Jess decided it was time.  She took point on this one, shepherding Ogo all the way from prototype to testing to labeling to shipping.  So if you let Ogo into your house and twenty minutes later you can no longer find your car keys or your car, you can blame her for it.

Seated, this Ogo is ten inches tall from his bean-ballasted bottom to the tip of his ears.  His giant head is filled with just the right amount of fluff to make him soft to squeeze yet firm and pleasing to pat on the head.  With his vaguely blank expression and unblinking stare you will forever wonder what he is thinking.  I've had him in my room for a few weeks now, and I swear he sometimes seems happy, and other times he is decidedly frowning depending on what's going on.  He looks happier near the liquor bottles and sofa, and sad when he's fallen over or when you haven't talked about him for too long.  The above picture was taken in Boulder, Colorado.  I asked him to smile but he was looking past the camera at something.  A dog, I think.  Or a pizza restaurant over my left shoulder.

If you would like to bring your very own Ogo home with you, he requests that he sit on the part of your sofa closest to the TV.  He would also like it if you stocked Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream and Bugles corn chips. He likes long car rides and movies about bad weather and/or vampires and monsters.  Submarine movies of any kind are also appreciated.  DO NOT under any circumstances let him watch "Trilogy of Terror" or any episode of "Pippi Longstocking" if you want to sleep through the night.  He prefers coffee to tea and if you serve him the latter he will likely pour it on your carpet or down a heat register and spend the next few months collecting the dead flies from your windowsills to glue to a card in letters that spell T-E-A  S-U-C-K-S for your refrigerator.  He likes the snow and also beaches.  He thinks he can do more than he can.  If he asks for kitchen knives or power tools tell him you don't have any.  Don't let him write letters or play on the computer.

The Islands Are Calling... July 14, 2014 12:01

I grew up with my Grandfather and Grandmother in Denver, Colorado.  The last two weeks of every summer we would go on vacation.  We didn't have a lot of money, so all our destinations had to be places we could drive.  This meant that the farthest we ever got from Denver was Florida.  Which, mind you, was incredible to me.  Florida was different in every way from Colorado.  The fact that it was warm when it rained just amazed me.  Floridians, I thought, must be about the luckiest people in the world.  Warm rainstorms, and giant bugs everywhere.  Not to mention Cypress Gardens, where you could drink orange juice through a special plastic green spout stuck into the side of a fresh orange while you walked through Technicolor gardens where girls dressed like Southern Belles sat on broad green lawns, waving to 8mm movie cameras with white gloved hands, resplendent in their Florida-ness. Cypress Gardens was surely the jewel in the Florida tourist attraction crown.

It's hard to explain just how far away places like Florida and California seemed to be when I was young.  At the very beginning of our fourth grade school year, our teacher asked us to give a report on our summer break.  Most of us had ridden our bikes or had picnics in the Rocky Mountains.  But Monetta Dardanis had done better.  Much better.  Monetta Dardanis had gone to Disneyland with her family.  And she had the slideshow to prove it.

In the early days of that September, in a freshly cleaned elementary school room with blank bulletin boards yet to be filled with construction paper turkeys and windowsills still waiting for their jars of potatoes and tadpoles, I sat there in the dark, at my desk (the sort with the storage under the seat and the routed-out groove on the upper desktop where you kept your pencil), and watched as Monetta's slides clicked by.  There, in all their Kodachrome glory, was a place I was sure I would never see with my own eyes.  Disneyland.  White horses pulling fire trucks down main street.  Translucent red, green, and blue balloons in the shape of Mickey Mouse's head, massed in the hundreds and being sold by a beautiful California girl in front of Sleeping Beauty's castle.  The Enchanted Tiki Room.  The submarines.  The Matterhorn.  I had seen them on "The Wonderful World of Disney," but this was different. Someone from Colorado had made it there.  It meant it was real.  And a Coloradan had been granted access.  A girl I knew.  I hated her for it.  And yet this slideshow represented hope.  If her family had somehow located the Magic Kingdom, perhaps someday my family might as well.

A few years later my family would go to California for the first time.  We were staying in a Holiday Inn close enough that you could see Disneyland if you stood at the railing outside our motel room door.  Not much of Disneyland, just the very tip top of the Matterhorn peeking above the trees in the distance.  But when I saw just that little bit with my own eyes I was so overcome with emotion I threw up.

If California seemed that impossibly far away to me, you can only imagine that Hawaii might as well have been on another planet.  Hawaii, I knew, was a place you had to fly to.  We didn't have flying money.  Our family only had driving money.  And there were no roads or Texaco gas stations in the Pacific ocean.  No, you had to get there in an airplane.  Hawaii was a place better people went to.  Wealthy people, movie stars, and people that won trips on "The Price Is Right."

But just like Monetta Dardanis made it to California, someone else we knew went to Hawaii.  Our next door neighbor of all people.  And they brought back the most marvelous souvenirs.  Black lava figurines in the shape of Polynesian maidens and ferocious tikis.  Like the one that tormented the Brady Bunch on their Hawaiian trip causing African shields to fall off of hotel room walls.  These objects had great power and allure; they were treasures in the truest sense.  My family never made it to Hawaii, and I would be in my thirties before I made my first trip.  Having arrived at last, I was saddened to find that all those wonderful figurines were no longer sold.  I began collecting them from Ebay.  And the more figures I collected, the more I wondered why in the world no one was making them anymore.  I determined that if I should ever have the means, I would try to bring them back.

And so the project began.  The first prototype was presented in 2008 -  a model for a dashboard hula nodder.  Since then it has been sidetracked a few times, but never neglected for long.  When we partnered with Gentle Giant in 2012 we finally had the right team together to get the job done.  From there the project moved quickly and the first samples of two figures debuted at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con.  Maile, the pineapple girl, and bikini-clad Kiele, fresh from a tropical pool.





And now they're finally here for sale: the first two in a series of Polynesian figures that evoke times gone by.  Maile and Kiele.  Standing over seven and eight inches tall, respectively, their glossy black curves harken back to the lava souvenir figurines from the '60s and '70s.  Unlike most of those statues which were made in a one-piece mold and viewable only from the front, ours are fully dimensional.  During paint mastering the artists at Gentle Giant noticed that the figures we provided for reference, having been around for 40 or more years, all had a little bit of dust hiding in the crevices where fingers couldn't wipe it away.  So they carefully airbrushed a little simulated dust onto our prototypes.  We were so taken with the idea we decided to make that slightly dusty version our Comic Con variant.  Take one or both home and let their beguiling smiles lead you to enchanted places.  Available only in San Diego and later in our online store (while supplies last), Maile and Kiele come in their own individual boxes designed by Jessica Steele and featuring new artwork evoking Polynesian menus from the Disneyland I visited so long ago.

Nimue in Bronze July 11, 2014 14:45

For those of you searching for the exceedingly rare and unusual, we are offering this high-end variant of the popular Nimue figurine sculpted by Anders Ehrenborg and and produced by Jessica Steele. I've always been a big fan of bronze sculpture, both for its look and weight, but also for its durability; it's art you can touch without fear of breaking it. In fact, you need to be careful not to drop it on your foot lest it crush your toes or punch a hole in your floor.

This is a smaller version of the original Nimue, and was produced from the same data. Mastered by Gentle Giant and cast by American Fine Arts Foundry, she is solid bronze, and rests on black granite. The sculpt as shown is 4 1/2 inches tall including her base. She weighs in at 2 lbs, 6 ounces. Her hands, arms and flower were so detailed at this size that they had to be to be cast separately by a jeweler. The tail fluke is admittedly sharp, so displaying it next to your alarm clock might not be a good idea.

Originally conceived to shrug off the effects of an extended burial (a whole different story) we decided that since we were going through the trouble of making one, we might as well cast a few more. There are a total of 15 of these in existence. Anders, Jess and I have 1 each. 2 were hidden. We are offering the remaining 10 for sale at $800 apiece, debuting at our San Diego Comic-Con booth (#5534) later this month.


And now for something completely different... July 10, 2014 11:04

So with San Diego Comic Con almost here, it's time to introduce the things we'll have at our booth!  In the quest to stay fresh, I challenged Jess with some unusual design and manufacturing requests.  Throughout the year I see things I'd like us to have in our shop, and have pretty much no idea where these things come from, so it's up to her to start researching and then the process of contacting and building relationships with manufacturers.  But this year she also had some challenging shipping situations, and I'm happy to report that not only did she get everything made, but got everything to California as well!  Here we are a couple weeks out, and every product is safe and sound in our warehouse, waiting for the day we'll drive it down to San Diego!

The first of the new products you can pick up at our booth is the T-shirt we previously posted about.  It has a detailed and vivid reproduction that we felt was worthy of the Koi Girl illustration.  Jess has been wearing hers almost constantly and it's still looking bright.  My advice - never ever put things you love in the drier.  We wash that shirt a lot, but only air-dry it so the blacks stay black and the colors don't get fried.  Anyway, on to more new stuff...

Every year we take a chance on something completely new, and this would be one of those things!  I hang out in any store that sells stuff from Japan, and I've been seeing a certain something for several years now - beautifully printed plastic folders.  Strangely practical, yet so attractive I always buy them just for their covers!  Any papers you put in them, from a grocery list to a water bill, suddenly become happy and fun to have around.

So this year we're offering an identical folder of our very own.  Made with heavy-weight plastic, ours are designed to safely hold 8 1/2 x 11 paper.  Jess chose Koi Girl to adorn its cover.   I've been using these for a month now and not only is it a welcome sight each and every time I pull it out of my backpack, I've also noticed that things don't get lost anymore.  If there's something you want to keep track of, put it in one of these folders and it becomes mighty easy to find.  Guaranteed to raise eyebrows and start conversation!

Should these sell well we'll follow up with a series of other girls and animals so that it will become even easier to organize your life!