In 1993, I painted these windows for the release of “The Lion King”. My grandfather became convinced, permanently, that I had made the entire film.
“The Movie With Lions in It”
The first paying art job I ever had, was at the movie theater near Perimeter Mall in Georgia when I was a teen. The manager of the theater was one of the coolest people I’d ever met. For big releases, he would have all these elaborate displays for the bigger movies coming out. It wasn’t unheard of to have employees dress up as characters, but he would do it in such a way that kids felt like they MET the character from the movies. “That’s where the Stegosaurus is going to be, sitting by that tree,” I heard him say, about something called Jurrasic Park. “Then the little dinosaurs with the claws can be behind those paper mache rocks.”
One day, we were walking through a hallway he had decorated with hundreds of vines and fake insects. “Do you know who William Castle was?” I hadn’t yet become hopelessly obsessed with Castle, but I was about to be.
“Castle would make these B-pictures in the fifties… horror and science fiction stuff, you know? He would do all these promotions for them, and they were always different. One time, he would advertise that no one would be allowed to see the film unless they signed that they didn’t have a heart condition. For “The Tingler” he ran electricity into the seats to shock people at just the right moment. For one picture, he gave out “life insurance policies” that would pay out a million dollars to the family of anyone who died of fright in the theater. One time, I heard he released live lobsters on the floor of the theaters.”
“Castle didn’t have the budget of the big producers and directors of the day, but he wanted to make his movies stand out. He wanted to sell more than a ticket… he wanted to give people an experience.” He picked up a rubber tarantula, and balanced it neatly on the fire extinguisher it had fallen off of. “If you sell people a ticket or whatever, that’s okay, that’s what most people do. But Jason, if you give someone an EXPERIENCE… they’ll remember that for the rest of their life. They’ll love you, and they’ll tell the world.”
I looked up to him. He had taken the job of “theater manager” and found a way to change it into something he loved. He turned that theater into a place of creativity, fun and place of memories. The kids working there, loved it.
And people WENT. They would line up outside. He would always make sure there was a line for a bit. “We could just let them right in… but if they stand in a line, just for a little while… it builds anticipation, and they’ll remember they were at an EVENT. A HAPPENING.” His eyes lit up whenever he talked about this sort of thing.
“That’s where you come in. I want you to paint on those windows, out front. It’ll give them something to look at while they’re in line. It’ll build anticipation. They don’t connect to these characters, and they don’t know it yet, but in a couple of hours, they’re going to love them. You’re going to be their first introduction to this world.”
When the Lion King was coming out, we knew it would be huge. Everything we’d read about it indicated that Disney had worked to revolutionize the way they made animated films. I told him I wanted the window art to work like an animation cell.
“So, I’m thinking if you can have everyone make some wooden flats for the background, I’ll paint those with lighter colors, some blended clouds… Then the characters will be painted right on the glass. It’ll essentially be a giant animation cel.”
“Done,” he told me. He said it without hesitation, at the same time as I said the last word of my sentence.
I painted a few of them. I liked being at the theater, with all that energy and passion. Also, my Grandfather’s Alzheimer’s disease had progressed to the point where it had become stressful to everyone, and it was good to be out of the house. He was healthy and as strong as an ox, so he would live with it a long time. The best thing we could do was distract him, or wear him out with long walks. It was hard to do the latter, because he was in better physical shape than any of us, and usually we got worn out, first. Taking him to the movies was a less exhausting solution.
When The Lion King opened, my parents took him and my grandmother all the way to that theater so he could see the windows I’d painted. They had told him he was going to see the art I’d done while going to see the movie. When I got there, they had all seen it, and had gathered outside the front of the theater in front of the window. My grandfather was staring at the window I’d painted. The manager and I walked out as my mother came up to us in a hurry.
“Hello there, I’m Jason’s mother, and it’s good to meet you. Jason, just so you know, your grandfather thinks you made that movie.”
I was a horrified. The idea that I was taking the credit for something I hadn’t done was exactly what Nickelodeon had taught me to never, ever do. “The whole thing? He thinks I made The Lion King by MYSELF?”
“I’m sorry, Jason, we didn’t SAY anything to make him think that, we just told him we were taking him to see the movie you’d been working on. PLEASE don’t tell him. He’s so PROUD of you.” My mother stopped to take that photo of my father, grandmother, and my grandfather who couldn’t stop staring at the characters I’d brought to life, for all the world to see.
I was about to explain it all to him, the way Melissa Joan Hart would have wanted me to, but I felt a tug on my elbow. The theater manager looked at me. “Jason… give them an experience, and they’ll remember it for the rest of their life. See your grandfather, and how he’s beaming? He liked the movie, but he’s happy because you made it. Just let him be happy.”
So I didn’t tell him. My grandfather couldn’t remember who my grandmother was half the time, or why the house wasn’t the same as the one they’d lived in decades before, but he couldn’t stop praising me about The Movie With Lions in It. He asked me questions constantly. Yes, it did take a lot of time. Yes, I wanted that one lion to be scary. Yes, the circle of life is a real thing. All these answers made him happy, and at that stage in his life, it really was all that mattered.
I wasn’t there when he died. I was told he talked about how proud of me he was, for making that lion movie all by myself like that. I loved that he’d been so happy about it, but it broke my heart that his esteem in me had been for something I hadn’t done.
One day, at the theater, the manager asked me about it.
“Hey, did you ever tell your grandfather you didn’t make The Lion King?”
“Nope. I never did. It bugs me. I know it shouldn’t matter, but it does.” I sighed.
“Well… Look at it this way.” He took a deep breath. “You know all those stories you’re writing, and the characters you’re creating? You’re making a little world! One day, you’ll make something really special. It won’t be someone else’s characters and story, it’ll be your own, just like in your sketchbook. It’ll make a difference to people, transform them and take them somewhere else… give them an experience. Make them FEEL, change the way they see things. All that crap. Then, it’ll be like you’re even. Right?”
I looked at the front of the theater where the windows had once been painted. Now they had been scratched clean with razor blades, waiting for the next big movie. I didn’t say anything.
“Yeah, you know I’m right,” he said, slapping me on the shoulder and giving me a little side hug to cheer me up. “Come on. Help me put that moon lander thing over by the concession stand. If we leave it at the front, somebody’s gonna fall on it.”
I was invited to be a part of the upcoming PIQ vinyl show. The goal is to take a blank vinyl figure and change it in any way you like. I was very pleased to be asked, as the show has some amazing and famous talent in it. I wanted to make this a very special piece.
One of the limitations is that the designs can not be harmful to others, so using fire or Uranium was not an option. (Yes, I asked to be sure. They were inflexible on this point.)
The first part is to sketch out what I wanted, then start cutting the little guy up. I removed the ears and chunks out of the arms. Heating vinyl makes it much easier to cut, so I boiled him for a bit, then used a sharp, new X-acto knife to remove the parts.
Not everyone knows this, but sometimes when you cut vinyl, it can make a little squeak. It sounds as if a mouse is trying to get your attention. The faint-hearted may worry that the blank is whimpering, or making a tiny miserable cry, but this is not so.
The next step is to cut enough of his head off that I will have access to it. This will help with the modeling the ears and anything I need to do inside his head later on. After tearing a butt flap away, I shoved his back and legs full of “Magic Sculpt” (which is like Sculpey, but sculpts differently, doesn’t need to baked with heat and is heavier). I needed him to be heavy enough to stand up on his own. Next I would sculpt his arms to give the a classic robot “bumpy hose” look.
I was surprised to learn that not only does vinyl make a squeaking noise when you cut into it, but if vinyl is pinching your blade while you are sawing in and out of a cut, it sounds a little like a drinking straw going in and out of a fast food cup.
It sounds like whimpering.
As faint as a memory.
Now the little fellow has new arms. They are the puffy kind, so in this shot, it looks like he’s attempting “Michelin Man” cosplay. Magic Sculpt allows you to use water to smooth out the surface, and I loved this feature.
“I don’t know what you’re doing. Some of it hurts. Some of it is confusing. What I really want is to fly. That is all I want in this world.”
I threw up in my mouth, a little.
I added eyes by pressing two AA batteries into half-spheres of Sculpey, then baking them in the oven to harden. Sculpey is a modeling clay that you can cook until it becomes like a hard plastic. For artists, it is a miracle substance, but it is very important not to bake it for too long, or it will get black and possibly crack apart.
After baking the eyes for way too long, I used two-part epoxy to glue them to his head.
“I’m less confused, now that I can see better” the little fellow told me. “Why are my eyes hot?”
Previously, he only had drawn circles for eyes, so it was probably quite blurry until he got these new ones. I felt he should be grateful, and I told him this.
“Did you think about what I told you before?” he asked.
I had added a panel on his front, then taped it, as well as some other areas. I then primed him with blue.
“Flying is dangerous, and you are too heavy. I am painting you with blue paint, little robot. You won’t have to worry about all the flying business, because it will be like you ARE the sky. I will paint little clouds on you, and that way you can have the sky with you wherever you go. I will name you “Skyler”, or something cute. Won’t that be nice?”
He began to weep.
“What did you want to do most, in all your life?” the little robot asked me.
“I wanted to be an artist, and a writer. It’s all I ever wanted.”
“What if you couldn’t? What if you were told that instead, you could cover yourself with a suit made of books and little paintings and walk about? Would that be as good?”
I tried to think of something funny to say to him, but couldn’t.
“No. No, it would not,” I replied. “I think I would be miserable. I might die from that.”
“Please. I want to go up. I at least want to try. Can you help me with this?” Tears ran down his little face.
I looked at him. “I’m not going to name you Skyler, little robot. I am going to name you Robert.”
“After a famous aviator?” Robert asked, hopefully. “A type of bird?”
“No. There was a child I went to school with named Robert who cried a lot. We all hated him.”
Robert’s eyes smiled at this, because he could see I was trying not to cry with him.
I peeled off the tape and started painting, using craft paint from any art and craft store. There were little marks and scratches on him, because I did not want him to look new. This robot might be getting quite battered in his attempts to fly, and if I already had bumps and scratches in place, he wouldn’t have to feel badly about scuffing up his paint job.
“How will you make me fly? I want to hear all about it.”
“I am still deciding, little robot. I don’t think you can be trusted with a jet-pack. I cannot imagine you ever being trusted with a little plane.”
Robert agreed with me on this. “I’m just a little guy, I know.”
His eyes became concerned. “Are you done with the cutting part?”
“I am,” I reassured him. “No more cutting. I promise.”
“My head feels open in the back… are you planning on doing unpleasant things in there?”
“Go to sleep, Robert. Tomorrow is a new day.”
While Robert slept, I made him this.
Making Robert Fly: Part 2
When Robert awoke, he saw I had made a hat, of sorts. “I see you didn’t burn the Sculpey this time. That’s good.”
“Yes, well, it did break into three pieces, then I burnt my hand so badly while taking it out of the oven that I had to go to sleep wearing an ice pack.”
“Can you fix it?” he asked.
“I think so.”
“What sort of hat is it?” Robert chirped, shyly.
“It’s an aviator’s hat, little robot. It is the type that pilots wore, long ago.”
His eyes grew wide. “Can I have a hat like that one?”
“This is for you, little robot. It’s your hat.”
“Am I going to fly?”
“I don’t know, Robert. I’ve never done this before. I’m doing my best. I hope so.”
Robert grew quiet, and thoughtful.
“What is that?” Robert inquired.
“It is a balloon. It will make you lighter.”
I had used an airbrush needle to hold the balloon in place. I gave it a twist, so it wouldn’t shift in Robert’s head. I asked Robert if it hurt him when I did this.
“It doesn’t hurt,” Robert replied. “It makes me think of things. Right now, I’m thinking of the sea, and I do not know why. A moment ago, I thought of sandwiches.”
I added more Magic Sculpt in his head cavity, to hold the balloon in place. I was getting concerned about how much Magic Sculpt we were using. Robert was, too.
“I’m worried that I may weigh too much for that balloon to lift me up. I feel too heavy.”
“Don’t worry, little robot. I will think of something.”
I tried, but I couldn’t. He was too heavy, and I knew that.
“Okay,” he told me. “I trust you. I know you can make me fly.”
I put the hat together with epoxy, and painted it to distract him.
“Look at this, Robert… real leather! What do you think?”
“I like it. Do you think it’s going to keep me warm, way up there? How high up do you think I’ll get? Do you think I’ll go very, very high?” Robert asked, excitedly.
“I don’t know. How high would you like to go?”
“I want to be in the clouds. I want them to be all around me, up close. So close I can almost touch them. I’ve never wanted anything so badly and I’m terribly excited. Will everything be ready soon?”
Painting leather is pretty satisfying, because if you paint dark shading down in the seams, and lighter areas where it’s likely to be worn, it starts to look real. I spent a lot of extra time painting the hat, grateful that Robert couldn’t see my face.
“Yes, little Robert. Soon.”
I finished painting Robert’s body, as he kept asking questions about the sky.
“Will I get bugs in my eyes? Perhaps I need goggles up there.”
“No, little robot. Your eyes are not like a person’s. A bug would just bounce off of your eyes.”
“What are your eyes made of, then?”
“I don’t know, actually. They’re soft, not like yours.”
“Maybe they’re made of meat,” Robert offered.
“Maybe. Maybe they’re made of fat. I don’t know. I could look it up.”
“No, that’s okay. I wasn’t that curious,” Robert sighed.
“If I do go up very, very high,” Robert mentioned, “I’m concerned that passing aircraft may not see me, as I am blue and my balloon is white. Maybe we should make it a different color.”
“It can be any color you like, little robot. What would you prefer?”
“I would very much like “ef2408″ if that’s possible,” he told me.
“I don’t know what that means.”
“Is there a word for this color you’re thinking of, Robert?” I asked.
“Red. If it’s not too much trouble, please.” the little robot croaked.
“Okay. I can do that.”
I painted the balloon bright red, then coiled a string around the pin holding it in place. I sent the string around his flight helmet, then tied a knot. Using super glue, the string would keep its shape, and not get tangled on anything.
“Robert,” I asked him. “Why do you want to go up in the sky? Why is it so important to you?”
The little robot thought about this a moment. “Needing is more than wanting, and I need to go up. I yearn to be so close to the sky. I don’t know why, but it’s the only thing I want. It’s the only way I will feel happy. If I cannot be with the sky, I won’t be whole.”
I felt Robert in my hand. He was so heavy. Even with the balloon attached, I could tell he couldn’t possibly make it. I wondered what would become of my new little friend.
“Thank you for all this.”
I considered how nice it would be to have robot eyes.
I took Robert in my arms, and we went outside together.
The wind had picked up a bit. The balloon strained to rise, tugging Robert upwards. The little robot braced himself, tilted his little head up and waited for it to happen. He stood on the tip of his toes, and let the wind spiral around his body, working to lift him upwards with intangible fingers.
But Robert did not fly. The little robot was in fact, too heavy. The wind and the balloon were not strong enough to lift him. He remained on the platform, until I could see the excitement and anticipation fade from him. His little eyes moved from the sky he would never visit, downwards to the ground he knew he could not leave.
“I know you tried,” Robert croaked. “I guess all along, you knew I would never go up.”
It was so hard to hear his voice like this. I wondered if I should ever have made him.
“My little robot. There are just some things that can never be. I wish I could give you this, but I cannot.”
Robert looked at me. He seemed different in that moment. He seemed older.
“I understand. I guess I knew it all along, too.”
His hope had left him, and he knew his adventure had ended before it began.
Robert went inside to be alone with his thoughts, leaving me with my own.
I thought about what Robert had said about not being able to get what you need. The things you have to have so you can feel whole and normal. What it’s like when it’s just beyond your grasp, and nothing seems to work, no matter how hard you try. I thought about how terrible that feeling is, when you’re struggling and suffering and you can feel your hope fading a little bit every day.
Sometimes you can try something else, and take a new direction. Sometimes you have someone there to do that with you, or even for you. Sometimes you’re on your own, but it’s always hard.
It is not uncommon for your dreams to end up being different than you first thought.
Robert came outside once it was done. He stared at it a long time, then walked over to it. He touched the thing, and turned to look at me. I realized I hadn’t been breathing.
“How did you do this?”
“Well, the ground is made of Magic Sculpt. I painted the wood underneath the grass to look like dirt, then…”
“IT’S INCREDIBLE. You put the SKY down here. I can TOUCH it.” Robert touched the airbrushed board. “Look! I did it AGAIN! I can do it whenever I WANT!”
Robert went on like this for close to an hour. He touched the sky over and over. He had me hold him up so he could touch the clouds. He did not touch the sun, because he was frightened to, but he seemed very happy that it was so close.
“This is BETTER than what I wanted. I don’t have to worry about bugs, getting cold, or even airplanes! I love this!”
“I’m so glad, little robot.” I said, relieved.
“Is it okay that I do still want to try going up, someday?” He asked, nervously.
“Of course it is. Right now, you’re too heavy, you know.”
“No matter. One day, I’ll be back with more balloons.”
You never know what’s going to happen. You struggle and worry, and one day, everything changes in a moment. Just like little Robert.
Robert is at PIQ, now. He’s enjoying the sky, the clouds, and the sun. He is telling everyone how he wanted to go up, found out he was too heavy, and that one day he’ll do it.
And he will.
When we heard about “Precious”, we knew this year’s Yard Sale for a Cat had to be for her.
Yard Sales are great because you get stuff for really cheap and help someone de-clutter their home. But think how great it would be if yard sales were for a cat… Well this one IS for a cat. A cat named Precious (scroll down for more about Precious)!
The Yard Sale is from 7 to 4, this Saturday and Sunday. 951 Alloway Pl. 30316
Jason will be doing Free Drawings for Total Strangers both days!
Here’s how you can participate!
-Buy Stuff: Books, DVDs, Board Games, Video Games, Furniture, Tools, Collectibles, and more!
-Buy Red Rocket Farm stuff: Art, Shirts, Magnets and more of the Red Rocket Farm gear you love!
-Buy Refreshments: We will have iced tea, bottled water, snackity snacks, and ***KING OF POPS*** for donations! That’s right, delicious King of Pops popsicles!
-Donate Stuff: Bring in that Stairmaster that just takes up space and fills you with guilt. Bring in your unwanted books, electronics, antique toothpick holders, whatever! And when you bring in your stuff, you get an ICED TEA or WATER on the house!
-Do Something Cool: Perform! Want to hoop for donations? Or serenade folks with your Sousaphone as they shop? We would love that! Send us a message, or just show up!
-Donate Money: If you make a donation of $15 or more to Precious, you will get a limited Yard Sale for a Cat 2014 t-shirt featuring the star of the show: Precious!
Precious is an adorable young cat with a lot of hardship. She has lung worms, liver and kidney infections, a broken pelvis, and a severely damaged front paw. Despite all this, she is playful, loving, and completely charming. She loves belly rubs and watching the world outside. Here is her story from her incredibly committed Forever Family, Kathleen and Lucky Delaney-Adams.
“Precious was found on the street 3 weeks ago by a good samaritan and taken in to the home of two rescuer friends. The instant we met her a few days later, we fell in love with her sweet disposition and loud purr and made our home her forever home. We named her Precious because she IS precious.
Precious has a mangled front leg that is irreparable and covered in infected scabs. We took her to Loving Touch to talk about an amputation, and discovered she is far more ill than we had realized. Precious has a broken pelvis that has never healed. Her teeny body is riddled with buckshot or bb pellets. She has a severe bacterial infection and her liver and kidneys are failing. We were referred to Saint Francis Veterinary Specialists for further diagnostics and discovered she also has lungworms and what looks like toxoplasmosis (still awaiting results.)
This kitten has been through hell and yet is playful, trusting, affectionate, and just… well…. PRECIOUS. She rolls on her back purring loudly every time she sees us. She receives two antibiotics and a parasite medication twice a day. Her infected leg needs to be soaked 4 times a day. She receives subcutaneous fluids to keep her fever down and her body hydrated. She is less than a year old, and deserves a life of fun and kitten-antics. SHE DESERVES TO THRIVE. Once Precious makes it through these treatments and further diagnostics to ensure she is improving, she still has a leg amputation ahead of her. We are so committed to giving this kitten all of the care she needs to get her to a happy, healthy place!”
- Kathleen and Lucky Delaney-Adams
Throwback Thursday! Here’s the history of Biscuitbox! From upper left to lower right, 2009 painting, 2009 print, painting today, the 2010 Jon Wye shirt, the current shirt from Red Rocket Farm.
These are images from the “Free Drawings for Total Strangers Roadshow” at AwesomeCon last weekend.
Typically, our panel description is as follows:
“Free Drawings for Total Strangers” (fdfts.com) is the cute and often twisted webcomic by Jason Thomas who bases it on the true life stories of strangers and readers. FDfTS has been compared to riding down a hill in a refrigerator box that is filled with delicious treats that you cannot enjoy because they are bouncing around so much, they’re upsetting you. Panel features Jason Thomas’ awful stories, giveaways of paintings, t-shirt, sticker & prints, as well as a truly delightful and odd multimedia presentation.
You will hate this.
Here is a glimpse of what one of our roadshows is like.
That’s Peter in the front of the line for the FDfTS Roadshow. Later, he will be playing the part of a chicken for everyone’s amusement. The third person with her fist raised is someone we now know as “Excitement Girl”.
Alyssa and Lawrence were a couple of fans who helped out a lot with this panel. Alyssa took these pictures, and they’re great. Lawrence helped with everything else. THANKS, GUYS!
Everyone is filing in to the room. The panel description on AwesomeCon’s website clearly said “You will hate this” and said nothing about free waffles, so I actually don’t know how so many people showed up, but we had a full room! I don’t remember what I was telling people here, but Excitement Girl thought it was REALLY FUNNY!
Here’s Teeter making waffles while I’m telling the parrot story. The moment where people realize there will be “Free Waffles for Total Strangers” is always an exciting one.
Lookit! That guy wants a waffle REALLY BADLY! You can see the slide that talks about waffles in the background, so it’s actually a great action shot. I wish Alyssa was always our photographer!
The front row is now full of waffle hopefuls! You can see many things happening in this photo. The adorable kid who is shamelessly photobombing, actually did that in EVERY PHOTO HE’S IN! The guy on the right, I started calling “Waffle Fanatic”. He was hillarious. His love of waffles is boundless. We’ll get back to him later. Also, we are out of sprinkles.
There’s our little photobomber! He’s clearly excited about the panel, as well as being cast in “The Music Man”.
I’m not even going to start to talk about what’s happening here. There’s Lawrence, in the shiny helmet!
Everyone got a sticker, and some people got free paintings and such. We always give out freebies for interaction and interesting questions. Here you can see me signing stickers and things.
Sigh. Excitement Girl, Lawrence, Peter, Waffle Fanatic… this is where they go their separate ways. There is an air of sadness, as it is a time of goodbyes. They will remember the good times, and know that they have another year before they get to sit with their roadshow family again. Maybe they’ll write each other. I hope so.
Let’s all take a moment, and celebrate Waffle Fanatic. Remember him the way he was. He’s either professing his love of waffles when asked, “Who here likes waffles”, or being concerned that he may not get one of his favorite Belgian delights. He’s happiest when he’s made it to the very front of the line, awaiting the first waffle of the day. You can see him in the VIP seat, after winning the “Who loves waffles the most in all the world” competition.
We will miss you so much, Waffle Fanatic. We hope you’re doing okay out there, wherever you are. Probably at Denny’s or something.