The Art of Darkness

Ghosts of Cartoons Past

June 18th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Gather ’round, kids, as your Old Auntie Cobwebs reminisces about the 1970s, a dark epoch when the only time it was possible to watch Saturday morning cartoons was on Saturday morning. Look upon the Saturday programming schedule (not to mention the prime time schedule) and weep with despair at our limited choices of crappy cel animation. There were a few weird gems to be found, though, and they featured some of the funkiest monsters you’ve ever heard of.

Beginning the decade was Sabrina the Teenage Witch, based on the Archie Comics character of the same name (the series itself was a spinoff of the earlier animated Archie Show).

The first season of Sabrina included The Groovy Goolies, which then spun off into its own show. The main characters Drac, Frankie, and Wolfie resided at Horrible Hall, along with a collection of other “hip” monsters like witch Hagatha and skeleton Boneapart.

The 70s also kicked off with the first incarnation of Scooby-Doo, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!. The show actually premiered in late 1969, but became an absolute juggernaut in the 70s.

What followed was a series of knockoffs, all trying to capitalize on the ‘Doo’s popularity. Some were overt, like Goober and the Ghost Chasers, whose pitch I imagine going something like, “Okay, we’ve got mystery-hunting teenagers and their cowardly dog; how do we not get sued?” “I know! Let’s make some of the ghosts be real!” “Perfect!”

…and Fangface. (“I know! One of the characters can be a teenager and the dog!” “Perfect!”)

Some tried slightly harder to cover their source material, like The Funky Phantom. (“Mystery-hunting teenagers, dog, but the ghost is not only real, he helps solve the mysteries.” “Perfect!”)

…and The Drak Pack. (“The teenagers are the monsters.” “Perfect!”)

There were a few animated versions of previous properties, like The Addams Family animated series (originally featured as a guest appearance on Scooby-Doo, voiced by the actors from the TV series, then launched as a standalone show).

…and Godzilla, in which Godzilla is the good guy. The show was notable for its introduction of Godzuki, the “cowardly cousin” of Godzilla, who filled a role similar to Scooby-Doo’s nephew Scrappy-Doo but somehow managed to be even more annoying.

Finally, an honorable mention to Thundarr the Barbarian, which took place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, had some monstrous villains (a group of werewolves with the acceptably-spooky name “The Brotherhood of Night” and the vampiric Stalker from the Stars), and even inspired a band name.

This was the cartoon landscape of my youth. Now get off my lawn.

Posted in Bittens | 4 Comments »

A Monster to Love

April 28th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Plush MonsterA Monster to Love is an online shop with a really great deal: For every one of their cute, huggable monsters you buy, they’ll donate one to a kid in need.

Whenever you buy a monster from A Monster to Love, we give a monster to a child who could really use a monster to love. Sometimes they are children that cannot afford a monster or a child who is in the hospital and could use a friend to hang out and snuggle with.

Their “Monster Drops” partner with children’s hospitals, shelters, and the World Relief Refugee program to bring a little monstery friendship to children who need it. Best of all, they’ve made a free pattern for their monsters available on Craftsy. You can make your own monsters to give to local kids in need, or send them to their Monster HQ in Colorado to be donated.

Geek Crafts has some great suggestions for organizing a Monster Making Party to turn out a whole heap of cuddly monsters. You can hang out with friends and make the world a slightly less-scary place at the same time.

So, buy a monster from their store–I’m partial to the crazy-eyed joie de vivre of Henry and Theo–and they’ll make a matching donation. Or make monsters of your own to give away to local kids (I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if you kept one for yourself). Either way, it’s a worthy cause. The monsters all approve.

Posted in Bittens | 1 Comment »

Nightmare Catcher

December 4th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Nightmare CatcherThe Wandering Mermaid Etsy shop sells “vintage inspired treasures” such as antiqued journals and little charms. The shop also offers a variety of pretty bottles labeled with things like “Fairy Godmother Wishes” and “Mermaid Song,” but the one I was particularly taken with was their bottle of Nightmares. It’s filled with black glitter and little sparkly stars, in which are nestled bits of paper listing “classic nightmare themes” which you may wish to keep bottled up.

I love the idea of having a place to capture bad dreams where you can keep an eye on ’em. Although the ones on Etsy are surprisingly inexpensive–for $15, you could hardly buy the glitter–something similar would be pretty easy to DIY if you wanted to use a different bottle or otherwise adjust its appearance. I’d also add a pretty pen and a supply of blank paper slips for writing down personal nightmares to bottle up.

This would be a particularly great gift for a child, but it’d be nice for anyone who could use a little midnight reassurance. The bottle or jar could be personalized with the recipient’s name, and little “magic charms” representing pleasant things like flowers or teddy bears could be attached to the outside or mixed in with the glitter. Nightmares aren’t nearly as scary when they’re sulking in a jar instead of running around freely, so having a place to store them might help ensure pleasant dreams.

Posted in Bittens, Needful Things | 3 Comments »

Host a Spider Safari

November 14th, 2013 by Cobwebs

Jumping SpiderI found this a little late for those of us headed into “real” winter, but folks with mild winters and people in the other hemisphere can use it now; the rest of us can tuck it away as an idea for next spring.

I’ve mentioned Atlas Obscura, an online guide to “the world’s wondrous and curious places,” previously; but I didn’t know until recently that they also have a real-world arm called the Obscura Society. They host regional events to seek out, “secret histories, unusual access, and opportunities for our community to explore strange and overlooked places hidden all around us,” and one of their recent excursions was a spider safari in a California nature preserve.

We started the day with a little learning: Spider anatomy, spider sounds, spider molting, and finally spider sex. We also got to see an amazing video of the tiny jumping spider’s throaty mating song. After our lesson we headed into the hills and valleys of the preserve to see what we could find.

I think this is simply a brilliant idea, either as an activity for children or as an adult outing. It’s inexpensive (or free, if you go no further than your back yard or a local park), educational, and fun. Look online for field guides to spiders commonly found in your region, pack a lunch, and go spider-hunting. Once you start really looking for them, it’s surprising how abundant they are.

Admire their colors, watch them scurry around their webs, and marvel at their complex behavior. It’s a lovely excuse for a stroll, and a great way to spark an appreciation for arachnids in children (or in adults who are unenthusiastic about spiders).

Incidentally, I suspect that the video mentioned by the Obscura Society might have been this one. So adorable:

Posted in Bittens, Unhallowed Ground | 2 Comments »

Beaded Halloween Decorations

September 25th, 2013 by Cobwebs

Crystal DecorationsI ran into these magnetic beaded decorations recently, and although they’re cute I take great exception to the vendor’s assertion that $39 for three is a “Budget-friendly way to decorate.”* These are just glass beads with a magnetic hanger, and for $39 you could make a hojillion of them.

Any decent-sized craft store should have most of what you need, but you can also find materials online: Beading thread, rondelle beads of your choice, a magnetic end bit (for which you could use magnetic jewelery clasps or magnetic beads; or skip the magnet and just tie a loop in the thread), and a Halloween figure of some sort.

Glass beads with a Halloween theme are plentiful and cheap; searching for “lampwork” or “glass bead” with your chosen shape will turn up ghosts, cats, bats, eyeballs, and whatever else your heart desires (you can also find hearts). The ghost and bat/cat shapes are also simple enough that they could be easily made of polymer clay.

These are so simple and cheap, you could make a bunch to hang or give as gifts. They’d be a great party activity for older kids, too; supply them with the materials and let them bead their own decorative favor.

*I also take exception to the “bat,” which looks a hell of a lot more like a cat with wings, but that’s another issue entirely.

Posted in Bad Things, Bittens | 2 Comments »

Dia de los Muertos

September 2nd, 2013 by Cobwebs

This short film by *berf and her partners won the Ringling College of Art and Design’s 2013 gold Student Academy Award for animation. And it will hit you right in the feels.

Posted in Bittens | 2 Comments »

Homemade Candy Buttons

May 30th, 2013 by Cobwebs

Candy ButtonsRemember those hard-sugar dots that came arranged on strips of paper that we all ate as kids? It turns out that they’re super-easy to make at home, and if you use the right kind of paper you won’t even wind up with shreds of it stuck in your teeth.

The candy is simply royal icing that’s dotted onto freezer paper and allowed to dry. Sweet Sugar Belle has a great start-to-finish tutorial on making and packaging the buttons. She also has a recipe for the icing hidden in the wall o’ text, but here’s another one:

1 lb (about 7 C) confectioners’ sugar (you may need slightly more)
6 Tbsp water
2 egg whites or 2 Tbsp meringue powder plus 2 Tbsp additional water
1/2 tsp flavoring extract (almond, vanilla, lemon, peppermint, coconut, etc.)
Food coloring (gel is best; if you use liquid, reduce the amount of water slightly)

If using egg whites, separate the eggs (if salmonella is a concern, use pasteurized eggs or go with the meringue powder instead).

Place the sugar, water, egg whites/meringue, and flavoring in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed for about 6 minutes, until thick and glossy. The icing should fall in ribbons when lifted with a spoon and allowed to fall back into the bowl, and the ribbon should sit on the surface for a few seconds before melting back in. Add a little additional water or sugar to thin/thicken it if necessary (remember that it should be a little thick if you’re going to use liquid food coloring).

Divide into bowls and tint with food coloring. Cover until ready to use. The icing will keep for at least a month (refrigerate if you used fresh egg whites).

Most tutorials suggest piping the dots using a decorator bag or a sandwich bag with one corner cut off. That’s fine if you’re only going to do a few, but if you plan to make a lot of these (and they do lend themselves really well to an assembly-line approach), I’d recommend using condiment squeeze bottles instead. They’re much less messy (I seem to have a talent for squeezing icing out of the top of a decorator bag and all over my hand), and they can be capped and stored if you don’t want to use them all at once.

Instead of piping them in a simple rectangle, you can also get creative with the arrangement of the buttons on the paper. Quake N Bake has a video tutorial for making Space Invaders dots, and any simple pattern that fits on a grid should be suitable: Cross stitch patterns (like spiders), 8-bit computer icons (like skulls), or letters and numbers.

Packages of the buttons would make wonderful party or wedding favors; Halloweenish dots can be tinted orange and black, wedding dots could use the bride’s colors. You could also leave them white and, once dry, draw pupils (and, optionally, bloodshot lines) on them with a food coloring pen for a whole package of googly eyes. The eyes are great for decorating cupcakes, too; just pop them off the paper backing and stick them on.

The packaged buttons can be stored in a cool, dry place for several months, so they’re an excellent make-ahead project. They’re also simple enough to make that they’re a good activity for kids.

Posted in Bittens, Terror in the Aisle | 2 Comments »

Tales from Lovecraft Middle School

March 27th, 2013 by Cobwebs

Lovecraft Middle SchoolIntrepid reader Sally pointed me in the direction of a new series for kids in the the 10-and-up range. Tales from Lovecraft Middle School follows the adventures of seventh-grader Robert Arthur as he discovers that his new school is somewhat…unusual.

The series kicks off with Professor Gargoyle, where Robert learns that his science teacher may be a monster in disguise. The second book, Slither Sisters, picks up where the first one leaves off:

Robert has discovered that two of his classmates are actually sinister snake-women in disguise. Even worse, his new middle school is full of “gates” to a terrifying alternate dimension – a haunted mansion full of strange spirits and monstrous beasts.

Other books released so far are Teacher’s Pest (student council president is actually a bug-monster) and Substitute Creature (a mysterious substitute teacher may have “a sinister secret”).

The overall plotline sounds as though it was ripped directly from the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but these look like spooky fun for kids who have outgrown Goosebumps but aren’t quite ready for Clive Barker. The books also each have a lenticular cover so the image morphs from “normal” to “monster” and back, which is kind of a neat touch.

The series has an amusing promotional Website, and there’s also a short book trailer for Professor Gargoyle:

(Thanks, Sally!)

Posted in Bittens | 1 Comment »

600 Monsters Strong

January 23rd, 2013 by Cobwebs

Knit MonsterNow here’s a cause we can get behind: 600 Monsters Strong is an organization whose stated goal is “Bringing friendly handcrafted monsters to children in need worldwide.” It was formed in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, and they focus on kids whose lives have been marred by gun violence.

They create their monsters from “approved” patterns on Ravelry (I guess to prevent confusion over what an appropriately friendly monster might look like), and ship them off to kids in need. Some of the group’s completed monsters can be seen on their Instagram page. Those are some mighty huggable monsters.

Giving away monsters to needy kids sounds like a worthy goal to me. If you don’t want to get involved with the group at large, a local children’s hospital or homeless shelter would be very grateful for such a gift.

(via MAKE)

Posted in Bittens | 3 Comments »

Geeky/Gothy Nursery Themes

January 2nd, 2013 by Cobwebs

NMBC Nursery

Over at BuzzFeed, there’s an intriguing roundup of DIY themes for a baby’s nursery. They’re listed as “pop culture,” but they skew pretty much exclusively toward the geek/goth end of that spectrum.

They all seem to be aimed more at a parent’s interests, since a number of them (Game of Thrones, Twilight, Doctor Who) really aren’t baby-friendly even if you squint, and a couple (I’m thinking particularly of the Walking Dead one with the zombie-hand wall stencil) should only be considered for a nursery if you’re planning to redecorate before the kid’s old enough to start having nightmares. However, there’s no rule that says you can’t decorate to your own taste until your children are old enough to have their own opinions. There’s also no rule that says you can’t use some of these ideas to decorate your own bedroom: I’m quite taken with both the Tree of Gondor wall stencil and the NMBC Sally dresser.

There are only a few elements for each theme, but some of them are quite clever and it’s a great way to kick-start your inspiration. There are links for each featured piece, which is also helpful.

Posted in Bad Things, Bittens | 3 Comments »

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