Hungry for more and more of your favourite pop culture characters?
It is not usually a literal craving – chomping down on a DVD is neither practical, healthy or recommended from a dietary perspective – but now it can be thanks to these imaginatively realised food renderings of all manner of characters from movies, TV, video games and comics.
They are the brainchild of Heather Sitarzewski, a Colorado, USA-based artist who explained her reasoning for turning everyone from the Smurfs to The Muppets, Tigger to Garfield into tasty lunchtime treats:
“I decided during this past summer that I wanted to make a fun bento every day for my son’s lunches this school year. I love trying to figure out how I can use different food to make a fun piece of edible art. I am creative every day, I’m a designer by day and all around artsy-crafty gal at night but now I get to start every day being creative right off the bat… it’s invigorating.”
You can see more of her amazing, colourful, fantastically-realised bento art at lunchboxawesome.com
* thanks to the brilliant website laughingsquid.com for alerting me to the best bento boxes this pop culture-obsessed has ever seen.
Given the nature of this blog, which doesn’t exactly hide its cathode ray light under a Scooby Doo patterned-bushel, you have probably quite likely surmised, and you would be right, that I am more than a little obsessed with, and in love with, pop culture.
While I don’t do anything as insane as scour American supermarkets for Nemo-shaped pasta or wear Star Wars pajamas to bed – as if; totally Firefly nightwear all the way if you please – I do indulge my love of all things pop culture in ways that may surprise you.
Take the decorating of my Christmas tree.
To the great surprise, and yet delight, of my friends there is an abundance of Christmas ornaments out there that draw their inspiration from cartoons new and old (I have ornaments of old Hanna-Barbera characters like Top Cat and Snagglepuss right through to Buzz Lightyear and Woody from Toy Story), and from comics (I have a plethora of Peanuts decorations including Snoopy as Joe Cool) and from movies and TV shows (Stargate SG1, Star Wars, Family Guy and even Who Framed Roger Rabbit?).
And I have to admit that when the tree is fully decked out with all the lights and the shiny baubles and the colourful ornaments it is quite a sight to behold.
I couldn’t do a traditional tree if my life depended on it – OK that’s a lie; if you were holding a gun to my head I’d been throwing on gold beads and fragile glass baubles like Tassie Devil in a hurry (got him too by the way) – and that’s only amplified when I see my tree in all its bright, shiny glory.
So in honour of my festive obsession with pop culture, which let’s face it, is simply an extension of my year round one, here’s 5 ornaments that I love and which remind me of particularly special shows or cartoons …
The much-revered show kicked off in America in October 1969 just a year or so before I returned with family from Bangladesh (where mum and dad had been Baptist missionaries) to Sydney, Australia , and it quickly became a staple of my childhood viewing (that is once I got used to the idea of televisions period; they hadn’t had them in Bangladesh and I found them terrifying at first … how much has changed since then!).
I love everything about the show.
The singalong theme song, Cookie Monster and his insatiable appetite for cookies, the chef who used to fall Keystone Cops-like down a long flight of stairs carrying a towering pile of cream pies, and the brightly coloured velvety monsters that used to sing “Manamana”.
But my favourite character of all, then and now, was Grover.
He was sweet, well-meaning, goofy, a superhero (“It’s Super Grover!”) and blue – for some reason that mattered to me – and his segments were always the ones I looked forward to most of all.
So of course when I got a tree, he was one of the first ornaments on there, and he still makes it on the tree each and every year even though I rotate many of the other decorations.
It’s hard to find anyone, over the age of 30 at least, who doesn’t have fond memories of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzy and Gonzo who appeared first in The Muppet Show which ran from 1976 to 1981 (Kermit, of course, predated them all first appearing in 1965) and then in a series of movies, the most recent being this year’s The Muppet Movie.
I love all those guys too but there was something about the manic way Animal did, well just about everything really, and the reckless passion with which he approached his music, that won me over very quickly, and ensured that when it came to collecting Muppets ornaments that he was one of the first ones I purchased.
This particular ornament, which is very rare and which I bought along with Fozzy and Gonzo from a collector in the USA, shows Animal in his characteristic full-on drum-playing frenzy, pouring heart and soul into playing with his band, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem Orchestra.
I have been a fan of comic strips since my earliest days.
Mum and dad used to buy the Sunday papers every week – despite some members of the church thinking it sinful to buy them; I used to point out you shouldn’t buy Monday’s papers since they were the ones produced on a Sunday – and the first part of the paper I would turn to was the all-colour 8 page comics liftout (known in the USA as “the funnies”).
That love of comics grew by leaps and bounds as I grew up and I devoured Peanuts, British comic books like Cheeky and Whizzer & Chips, and even early Garfield (when there was still some modicum of wit to the character) before moving onto the seriously loopy The Far Side, the very clever Calvin and Hobbes and of course, Dilbert.
Everyone’s favourite cubicle-dwelling nerd, who first appeared in print in April 1989, appealed to me as much as he did I think because his arrival coincided with my entry into the workforce, and my introduction to the bizarre poltically-crippled culture of the corporation.
As someone who had, and in fact still has, a good b.s.-ometer and would always question why something was the way it was when more compliant souls simply meekly surrendered to the inescapable absurdity of office life, I found a soulmate in Dilbert who dared to question the absurdity of life in a carpet-covered cubicle, and often suffered for his audacity.
And he remains as relevant now as he ever was since, and I am hardly going to surprise anyone here, it’s not like corporations have gotten any less Alice in Wonderland-ish.
Let’s hear it for Marvin the Martian and in fact the whole Looney Tunes brigade!
I loved Warner Bros Looney Tunes (which began in the 1930s and reach the height of its popularity as cinema shorts between 1942 and 1969) and Merrie Melodies (which ran between 1931 and 1969) cartoons because they dared to be everything that the sweet saccharine characters of Disney were not.
Yes we watched The Wonderful World of Disney religiously every Sunday night and got a kick out of them as you’ll see with the next characters I feature, but my true joy came from watching Bugs Bunny outwit Yosemite Sam or Daffy Duck, or from seeing the Roadrunner once again prove too much of a match for Wile E. Coyote.
But the true battle of wills, for me anyway, was between Bugs Bunny and Marvin the Martian who made his grand entrance in the 1948 cartoon Haredevil Hare.
He was designed by the animation director Chuck Jones to be more worthy foil to Bugs Bunny – he also tussled with Daffy Duck on occasion – and indeed he was, to quote Wikipedia, “a quiet and soft-spoken [character] … whose actions were incredibly destructive and legitimately dangerous”.
But he was also funny, and bewildered and one of the most entertaining characters in a long list of very entertaining, boundary-pushing characters.
Among a stable of very well behaved characters – Donald Duck’s frequent temper tantrums aside – Chip an’ Dale, two rascally chipmunks, were delightfully, almost devilishly cheeky, and were, I think the closest Disney came to a real Looney Tunes-esque character.
Created in 1943, they were almost impossible to tell apart unless you knew that Chip, the clever one, had a small black nose and large centre teeth and that Dale, the dimwitted but loveable one, had a much larger nose and buck teeth.
They first appeared with Pluto in two cartoons, Private Pluto (1943) and Squatter’s Rights (1946) but it was with Donal Duck that they found true fame and yes infamy, appearing together for the first time in 1947′s Chip an’ Dale in a partnership that continued well into the 1950s.
I think I loved them so much because they were everything that I, a well-mannered Baptist pastor’s son with the eyes of a very watchful church upon almost all the same time, couldn’t be – cheeky, irreverent and just plain silly.
They were everything I wanted to be and I am so thrilled that I finally found their ornaments on ebay since we are, after all, kindred spirits.
* I realise not everyone wants a tree festooned with pop culture ornaments but if you had one, who would be on it and why?
It uses as its launching point for a discussion of Charlie Brown’s revival – “Don’t call it a comeback, blockhead!” cautions the headline – the startling fact that “the annual re-run of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving … were up a surprising 37% from last year’s airing, and the highest ratings for the special since 2008.”
Not bad for a 39 year old special competing with the likes of X-Factor and Survivor.
The story is the same, notes the article’s author Graeme McMillan, for “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown [which] also won its timeslot with a three-year ratings high, up 7% overall and 17% in the all-important 18-49 demographic compared with last year.”
In seeking to work out why the 62 year old comic strip by Charles M. Schulz, which was first published on October 2, 1950 and only ceased publication of new material on February 13, 2000 upon its creator’s death, McMillan checked with a number of people close to Peanuts including Schulz’s daughter, Amy Johnson, and Jennifer Susannah Devore who wrote this wonderful piece about Peanuts on its 60th anniversary in 2010, and all pointed to fact that Schulz created “a safe place” (in Devore’s words) that exists outside of whatever social mores may be swirling around it at the time.
You can observe a similar phenomenon with The Muppets.
When their “comeback” movie, The Muppets, came out in late 2011, there were some nods to the modern age but by and large, there was a timelessness to it, a sense of innocence, warmth and fun that struck a chord with audiences.
Just like Peanuts.
I still find the cast of exceptionally strong and loveable characters that Schulz crafted all those years ago as engaging as I ever did, and I have been connected to his wonderful world for as long as I can remember.
Way back in the early 1970s, when my family was living in Grafton, NSW (Australia), I used to use any and all money I could get my hands on to buy up Peanuts comic strip paperbacks for 10c and 20c at the local second hand bookstores.
I would read them over and over, falling in love with Snoopy’s dreams of being a writer and imagining himself as Joe Cool and the Red Baron; adoring the fact that Charlie Brown kept trying to kick the ball (as a less than socially popular kid at school he really struck a chord with me) and getting kind of angry at Lucy for making his life so challenging and endlessly frustrating. (And yet I also admired Lucy’s plucky courage and je ne sais quoi attitude.)
I loved Pigpen and his brazen willingness to be himself, no matter what social conventions might dictate, and Schroeder’s pure, perfect love for Beethoven and the beauty of his music, and of course Lucy’s complete inability to appreciate any of that.
It was exactly as Devore describes it, “a safe place” where friends were friends, where you were allowed to indulge in Walter Mitty-esque fantasies (love the way Wikpedia described it so well) if you wanted to, where you dared to believe Charlie Brown would finally kick the ball one day, and where deep and enduring friendships and family ties mattered.
There was a universality to the experience that made sense to me.
I could imagine the aching sense of wanting to love and not having them love you back (Lucy and Schroeder; Sally and Linus), the fear of being left out in the Siberian cold of social exclusion (poor Charlie Brown almost all the time), and of wishing, willing, life to be as fantastical and wonderful as I imagined it could be (Snoopy).
I related to it all profoundly and deeply, and while it didn’t help me work out all my problems, or solve them, it provided some sort of therapy as well giving me a good chuckle when I needed it most.
I owe Charles M Schulz – you can read a great interview with him here – and his band of inspiring, funny, heartfelt, wise creations all the gratitude in the world for a childhood, and yes adulthood (I even have Peanuts ornaments on my Christmas tree (see above), enriched by their presence.
Thank you Charlie Brown and I am so glad the zeitgeist sensibly thought to bring you back into its warm embrace.
What was it thinking letting you go in the first place?
Yes Cheeks and Brady, still married, still in love and still damn near hilarious, are back, but this time they’ve swapped their riotously colourful 3D world for the every bit as imaginative 2D world of the comics.
In a series of six comics titled “Drawn In” from Dark Horse Digital, which capture the look and feel of the sitcom but also add a whole other dimension to the tale, everyone’s favourite accidental gay twosome embark on a whole new series of adventures, with Cheeks’ bestie Haley along for what can only be described as an Alice in Wonderland-esque ride.
Sucked into a comic they’re given as a wedding present, and stripped of their memories, but not their wit or personalities (which means Cheeks is well, as cheeky and irreverent as ever, with Brady doing his best keep up with him), they must find their way back home … while they still can.
Along the way, according to GLADD, they will be involved in “a superhero showdown, fairytale fantasy, an outer space battle, high school comedy, a noir mystery, and a secret-spy thrill ride”.
That’s quite a list and gives you a sense of just how much of their considerable creative talent Jane Espenson and Brad Bell who created and wrote the series, and now the comics, have poured into this endeavour.
“Our show is set in a marriage-equalized world, so it’s already got a hint of an alternate-universe thing going on,” said Jane. “But the comic books are going to totally dive into a whole [alternate-universe] premise. So we’re going from genre-curious to full-on genre!”
“When we started out, we sort of thought these would be fun little tongue-in-cheek send-ups of comics,” Brad says, adding, “but then we realized that with the iconic worlds we were drawing from, and with the dazzling artwork that we are seeing from the artists, that these stories have… I guess the word is integrity — that they stand on their own as genuinely kick-ass comics.”
While the comics are only available in digital form at the moment, they will be released in a beautiful hardcover bound edition in March 2013.
I think I will start lining up outside my favourite comic bookstore now …
Like most kids, I got into comics in a big way growing up.
But unlike most kids in Australia, instead of avidly following the adventures of Spiderman and Batman, I gravitated mainly to British comic books that celebrated a very idiosyncratic type of English humour. It obviously struck a chord with my sense of humour, and by the time I had finished buying the comics in the early 1980s, I had amassed over 300 of them.
While I loved Buster, Whizzer and Chips, and Britain’s quasi-answer to MAD Magazine, Krazy, my favourite was Cheeky Weekly. Much like The Simpsons started off as a small cartoon segment on TheTracy Ullman Show before becoming a pop culture force in their now right, Cheeky was originally just one member of the Krazy Gang, which featured in Krazy naturally enough, as well as the star of its “‘Ello, It’s Cheeky” feature before getting his own comic.
The first issue was published on 22 October 1977, and I remember being ridiculously excited at the thought of Cheeky having an entire comic to himself. I used to pester the long-suffering news agent in Alstonville for new issues and he often had to open up new strapped together shipments of magazines and comics to find the new issue I had to have that very minute. I couldn’t wait to spend time with my friend Cheeky again.
Cheeky Weekly managed to hang on for 117 issues before it was merged into its stable-mate Whoopee!, where it appeared at the start at least as a 16 page insert. It saddened me at the time but Cheeky had lost the prominence I thought he deserved but it was my first taste of what happens to a creative title when the economics turn against it.
But while he lasted, Cheeky was fun to read. Granted the humour, on one level at least, was terribly clever. It relied heavily on puns, child-level innuendo (so very mild) and the sort of humour that fuelled Monty Python and The Goodies, whom I adored.
At that stage, Australia wasn’t as heavily influenced by American pop culture as it is now and so my taste in humour gravitated largely to the absurdist, off centre literate humour that the Brits do so well (it still does in the main). Cheeky Weekly captured this internet British funniness perfectly, populating the comic with wonderfully eccentric characters, who though they may have sparred with Cheeky from time to time nonetheless created a lovely Vicar of Dibley-esque world where everyone belonged and everyone’s behaviour, no matter how wacky, made perfect sense.
It may sound odd to say but I grew to love living in that world. My absorption into this wholly unique fictitious place was aided by the fact that unlike many comic strips in these books that only appeared once an issue, Cheeky was afforded a strip per day of the week which meant you got to see a lot of his life unfold, and by extension were exposed to many more characters than would otherwise be the case. That created a much more rounded identity for Cheeky, his friends and neighbours and the world in which they lived.
For instance I got to see Cheeky racing home to see his favourite TV show or babysitting Baby Burpo or attending the Saturday matinees at his local cinema (the films were repented as strips themselves). Admittedly there wasn’t the sort of cohesive narrative you might get in a book or film, or a Marvel or DC Comics book but that was hardly the point.
Cheeky antics were designed to provide space for gag after gag and really when it came down to it many of the strips were simply a hilarious string of gags one after the other. But cumulatively they managed to flesh out a full life for Cheeky and I honestly felt like I know him, which would have been the ultimate accolade for his cartoonist, Frank McDiarmid, who like any creator wants fans to identify in some form with their creation.
I certainly did. Cheeky had the loveable brashness of Bugs Bunny, the cockiness of a found boy but tempered with genuinely warm relationships with his friends, and a sense of adversarial fun with those he regularly clashed with, rather harmlessly really.
He was a joy to see again and again each week, and reading Cheeky Weekly allowed me once again to escape into another world where you could get away with anything and people would still be a part of your world anyway week after week.
And he has stayed with me. For one thing I am blogging about him, and I am also collecting his comic books again via Ebay and other fora, and while I am think I have outgrown lots of things in my life, you never really outgrow childhood friends do you?
Webcomic Pants Are Overrated has given Calvin and Hobbes a re-birth of sorts by fast forwarding 26 years, and the results are nothing short of magical. I feel like I have met up again with an old, dear and greatly missed friend, and I am supremely happy.
(Their website is having issues at the moment, alas but the link embedded above allows you to see their archive of comics, all of which are awesome, and they also have a Facebook page you should totally check out! Thank you guys for creating a wonderful comic – it’s inspired! Such a pity though that they have retired the strip, which is a very Calvin and Hobbes thing to do.)