Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Are you J.C OF MARS?

John Carter of Mars was one of my all time favorite series of books as a kid. Looking back I can see the crazy racial stuff that Burrough was trying to pull, a similar device to his Tarzan books. But we can ignore that or loop it off as a thing of the past... still, for a hispanic man like myself its still a bit colonialist. JC was a Confederate soldier, lands on a planet of green men and kicks their ass. In that case its not so dissimilar from Avatar, sucker lands on planet and becomes better than the people that have been evolving there for millions of years, but those are topics for long and thoughtful conversations back and forth.
John Carter took my imagination for a ride, out of the inner city New York neighborhood I was living in, threw me on Mars, rode me up and down the Martian plains full of dying martian forests, and introduced me to a legion of Martian lifeforms and cultures that tumbled and rumbled my tiny mind.

So I have great love for the Carter books, and a while ago, while living in California I had heard that the young lads that were responsible for Sky Captain were working on a John Carter film. You can imagine what happens next, I sat around my drawing desk for about a week, putting Rocketo on hold for a while ( The Journey to the Hidden Sea had not been published yet.) and launched myself into John Carter land.

A week later I had over forty pieces of artwork. By some miracle Lisett Torres a very gifted composer had managed to get an interview with me and the Conran brothers. I presented all the artwork and had a great meeting, talking to them about my ideas for the opening sequence of the film, my ideas for the Martian ape, how the Tarks should be able turn and move their bodies and how that would effect their fighting techniques, among many other things. The Conran brothers treated me wonderfully listening and then... I never heard from them again. I am sure that they had another vision in mind, and would have pulled off a nice looking film. The thing about Carter is that everyone sees it in their own unique way.

That was many years ago, and now Pixar is at it.. sadly its in live action.
My idea for the John Carter series was animation based, what we now see Avatar doing so well. I wanted a film that was a mixture of the old John Carter book illustrations of the fifties and sixties and a Max Fleischer, Superman cartoon.
Carter was in a way the first Superman, and at some point I even had the colors of his tunic resemble the Superman colors.

The funny thing about all of this is that John Carter would have been the first animated feature if Bob Clampett had been able to
do his vision, instead animation history drifted into the fairy tale world of talking rats and dancing ducks that has engulfed it for over seventy years now.
So here was this great adventure story ready to m
ake its mark on the animation world again, in a way to bring it back to its roots. An animated tale for adults and kids, that would be full of fun and adventure. Naw.

Which would be a good topic for another giant post, why the animation industry is so insanely backward. Instead of competing with live action, they should be thinking of surpassing it.

Anyway, here are some sketches, done very fast for the presentation, like stated above their were many more done, and as I find them all I will post some up, some I will not, for the simple reasons I found the ideas very creative and used them for Rocketo Journey to the New World.
Whew. If you are all still awake, bless you.

One of the big inspirations for the opening of the film was Jack Kirby... I thought that the cave that Carter runs into with his wounded friend should be an old Martian base, full of strange Martian machinery from way in the past.. John would somehow trip open the machines and be teleported backward to the distant past of Mars..

The small black and white cities sketches are part of a large group that tell a story.. The idea of a Martian city that is grown from out of the sand.. with a giant cave network as its support was fun to play around in. I was taking Burroughs and playing with it.

The Thoats were inspired from looking at the way the American Indians branded their mounts with the fingerprints and designs of each tribe.



  1. Great art. Too bad that you took John Carter to be racist considering he befriends so many differant races through out the stories.

  2. I dont know if John Carter the character himself is a racist in the modern sense of the word. But the idea that a Confederate civil war veteran could land on a planet and basically kick everyone's ass, is as insane as the idea that a naked baby could grow up in the jungle be raised by apes and wind up being smarter, genetically better than the people who had lived in that jungle for many generations. Burroughs ideas on racial superiority are well know and the theme of superior and inferior genetics is one he wrote many times about, if that was a product of his time or his own philosophy we will never know. Thank you so much for your comment.

  3. Thanks for your John Carter of Mars art. I love the books for a while now, and seeing you picture this universe is just great, you would be a perfect artist to bring these books to the graphic novel form. Once you're done with Rocketo of course : D

    Anyway, for the whole racist thing, I think we have to keep in mind that the books were written in a different century, a complete different time with different points of view. It doesn't excuse this kind of "thinking" but it says a lot about the world Burroughs was living in...

  4. What a treat!

    Hopefully one day you'll post more of those 40+ pieces.

  5. Mr. Espinosa, these sketches are awesome. Thank-you for posting them, and for sharing your experiences and thoughts of Burroughs books. I agree that a post-colonial reading of Burroughs reveals much about the man. But his imagination of Mars is still spectacular and creative in the extreme. Those books are as much irreplaceable gifts as they are deconstructive mine fields.

    It bothers me immensely that they are making live action films. Animation would be, by far, superior to anything they will concoct with actors dashing their talents against the inhuman and incomprehensible blue screen.

  6. thank you for your comments Oso... Its never an easy thing to talk about how race was an issue in the past and in some cases still is. I know it strikes a chord and I do not mean to offend anyone but its better to talk about these things in the open and never ignore them, hiding them away will only make us repeat it. Like I stated the Carter books where a great source of enjoyment for me, and I treasure them dearly. As to the larger issue of animation and live action, its a shame that an art form that was started even before live action has had such limited thinking applied to it.
    It seems everyone is on an never ending quest to create realistic animation which in my mind has limited the art form greatly. Animation is about acting, movement, emotion, and caricature when it just copies live action we bolt the doors down and the art stops breathing, a topic for another post, maybe.
    Thank you always for taking the time to comment.

  7. Mr. Espinosa I had to try your energetic animation. When it comes to 2D animation, line is still a conservative practice. With material such as Carter's line and color should be constantly changing from one world to the next.

  8. Intriguing artwork Frank, I too would like to see more from your pitch. Wasn't Harry Knowles of Aint It Cool news producing the Conran version? I'm almost finished reading Princess of Mars-I wonder how Stanton will handle it? I believe the approach IS similar to AVATAR with John Carter & Dejah Thoris live-action & everything else cg.

  9. Hey Frank,

    Thanks for reminding me that Carter was a Confederate soldier, as I didn't realize Burroughs had those beliefs. Still, his creativity remains wonderous and prodigious to me even now.

    I was one of those people hoping Sky Captain had been successful, because their vision of SC's world dovetailed with Rocketo's quite nicely, and I think JC would've been handled well.

    I hate to say that I'm hoping one of these big-budget motion-capture CGI films flops so that we can see better animation. I'm probably as conflicted as you are about it creatively.

    Thanks again for sharing!


  10. Holy frak, Frank!! I've missed seeing your art. I am all over this blog from here on out.

  11. hey frank have you ever checked out leigh brackett? as jc is 'colonialist' these are 'anti-colonialist' while still retaining boy's own sense of adventure.

  12. I also grew up on that series of books. But why going so far. I wish i could simply explore our planet first. There are just so many places i want to see and travel to.

  13. If one would READ the books, it becomes clear that John Carter, is much closer to the immortal/universal/eternal soldier type than to the Confederate soldier type.

  14. Thank you so much for this information. It's so nice to have all this sharing, so useful and inspiring. I really appreciate the time and your effort you put to it. Great work, well done indeed!

  15. I am sure that they had another vision in mind, and would have pulled off a nice looking film.