The Wonderful Villain of Boxtrolls

At first I was not interested in The Boxtrolls movie. That’s why it took me several years to watch it: and only because I have free Netflix for a month. It looked like yet another human-child-is-raised-by-those-who-are-not-his/her-kind-but-realizes-he/she-is-human-after-all kind of movie.

It was.

It was cute, and I was prepared to ho-humm through it until I got a look at the villain known as Archibald Snatcher: the man who promised to kill every boxtroll n the town of Cheeseville.

He is the first person you see in the movie and I quickly realized he was the most wonderful and “beautiful” villain I have ever seen.


He is a “Red Hat” who works in the town of Cheeseville, where they are obsessed with, what else, cheese. Archibald wants to be a White Hat: the upper crust cheese tasters. He wants it so badly that he will kidnap and kill to be one. He wants it so badly that he will disguise himself as an actress; a really ugly actress. He wants it so much that he ignores the fact that he is severely lactose intolerant.


This guys face and eyes were so extremely expressive that I was mesmerized. He was  delightfully delicate with the use of his hands: as he unconsciously played with the few strands of hair he had left. I’m not even going to write about his horrible teeth since just about everyone in the town had horrible teeth. I guess this is what happens when you have a poor diet and no town dentist.


Stills of this character do not do him justice. You have to see him in action. The Laika team has done the best job I have seen in a while.

This is another creation of Laika Studeo: the people who gave us Coriline, Paranorman, and now Kubo and the Two Strings.

This is a movie done in stop motion. But no more sliding feet. Thanks to computer techniques one can render wires invisible, so characters can leap and run. The majority of people call this stop motion technique, claymation. Being old school I bristle at that description. Here is why. Claymation was a copyrighted name: not a generic description. There actually was a Claymation studio owned by Will Venton. Do you remember The Noid from Domino’s Pizza, the rabbit from Michael Jackson’s Speed Demon, The California Raisins? That was true Claymation. Now that the studio no longer exists everyone uses the name without worry of a lawsuit. Even the official Boxtrolls site does not use the term in their description. They use the correct term, stop motion. In many instances I don’t even think clay is used. But hey; if the officials aren’t going to kvetch about the term, neither will I.

Half of Archie’s charm is his voice. This is wonderfully done by Ben Kingsley. It reminded me a little bit of Tim Curry in his Rocky Horror days. I don’t know a lot about British accents but I’m guessing this was either Cockney or West Ender.

So see the movie. It’s on Netflix and on video now. You don’t even have to see the entire movie. Watch for the first five minutes or so. If nothing else, watch it to see Archibald. He is just too much fun.

Making comics

I just finished another comic making class. I had done one a couple of years ago to freshen up my skills. It was more advanced than this one. This latest one however, was still a lot of fun.

I told myself earlier in the year that I had enough unfinished material that I didn’t have to stare at blank paper looking for a new story to write. So I went into my archives and found this.

disappointed man early sketch

This was a story about a man who at 34 finds out there is no Santa Claus. (forgive the spelling) It was supposed to be an ongoing tale about a hopelessly bitter soul who questions everything and believes nothing. One requirement was that it had to be a complete story, so I gave it an ending. (Or have I?)

We started with a set of script worksheets. These were for writing the dialogue, sound effects, brief scenery, and character placement.

script worksheet

Next came the visual thumbnails. This is done before the page is laid out. The important part is to get an overall feel of what the characters are doing, who is doing what, and where they are doing it. I even gave my character a name. He looked like a Melvin to me.

thumbnail 01

After some suggestions and questions from classmates I made some minor changes.

thumbnail 02

I got the final piece lettered and inked. Here is the entire comic.

The disappointed man page oneThe disappointed man page two

The disappointed man page threeThe disappointed man page four

Since this class was actually for beginners it was very rudimentary. I could only use four panels per page and they had to be the same size. But that presented a fun challenge for me. I got good feedback on it.

Looking at self portraits

self portraits. Picasso, Kahlo, Boilly, and Rockwell.

Picasso, Kahlo, Boilly, and Rockwell.


I have always admired people who could do self portraits. I think it takes a lot of chutzpah to stare at yourself for hours, unless you’re vain as hell.

When you stare in the mirror for a long time, and try to reproduce your own face on canvas -one brush or pencil stroke at a time- it can get pretty excruciating. do you fight the urge to idealize your face and diminish some of those faults, or do you exaggerate them and turn yourself into a caricature? Once you have finished the portrait will anyone recognize it as you, or will someone mistake your painting for Beyonce or Brad Pitt?

I was looking at the contestants in Jerry’s Artaramia self portrait contest. I wondered what the artists were thinking as they stared into their own eyes. Did they notice every blemish, every part that was too big or too small, too puffy or too saggy? How much did they glamorize themselves? Do they really look like that? Would I recognize them if they passed me on the street?

What the hell can you be thinking as you stare at yourself for hours? do all your childhood memories come back to you? do you get angry, or sad, or amused? Or do you look at your anatomy as a scientist looks at a protozoa?

I liked the idea of looking at the artist’s rendering of his/her own persona. How many times have I seen artwork and had no idea what the artist looked like? Not that I care. So seeing the artist looking back at me intrigued me more than I thought it would. Now I am looking at art by artist, making art of artist. It seems like an endless reverberation: a continual visual loop: a Möbius strip.

There were almost 2000 entries. We were supposed to vote on them. I don’t know if we could vote more than once since I didn’t vote at all. I didn’t think it would be fair. These were excellent artists, and some of the ones that had 5 votes were just as good as the ones who had 100+ votes. Some of the ones who got 100+ votes I didn’t like at all.

Some of the expressions were priceless. I saw pain, trepidation, defiance, and wistfulness. I saw people making fun of themselves. I even saw abuse, trauma and mental illness. Some just said, “Look at me. Aren’t I cute?” Those were fun to look at too.

I didn’t see any cartoonists. Usually my self portrait consists of curly hair, and a pair of glasses very quickly scribbled in black ink. that’s as far as I need to go.

Old Masters according to whom?

When I was in art school we all had to study what many like to call The Old Masters. These consisted of a bunch of dead White guys who thought they were all that. Apparently many of my art school professors thought that too. We had to study their lives, copy their techniques and try to reproduce their paintings in order to be a “real artist.”

Rembrandt as shepherd

Of course it’s fantastic. I just don’t want to paint it.

At least once per week, for several hours at a stretch, I would sit on an uncomfortable stool, surrounded by smelly messy oil paints, smelly messy linseed oil, smelly messy turpentine, and frustrated fellow students, trying to reproduce something some of us had no interest in.

I hated it. That way of mark making was not my forte. It showed. Each time a student or instructor passed by and paused at my canvas I expected, and got a weird comment that was supposed to be funny, or a sigh, or some other wordless noise before they moved on. I also hated oils. I still do. But when I was in school that was THE WAY to learn to create good and proper art.

Those, and my drawing classes made me feel there was something lacking. Where were the Native American “Old Masters?” Where were the Mayans, the Inuits, the Africans, the Egyptians, the Asians? To be fair, there were classes in African and other types of art, but they were focused on culture taught through the art of that civilization. We were never instructed in duplicating this type of art. It was taught from a historical point of view and considered primitive.

I also took classes in comics and graphic novels. But those classes, along with the those in illustration all seemed to radiate from the same roots: the stuffy and rather depressing oil paintings of the so called Old Masters.

When I worked in what was becoming my own style I was told that my art was too “cartoony” and would never be accepted as “real art.”

Now of course much has changed. Artists are honoring many “Old Masters” from the lands I mentioned. They are making beautiful updated art inspired by the ancients who, in my opinion, were just as good and just as important as the Europeans and their salons.