The Art of Higgins Dragon


Lesser Known (Reluctant) Dragons: Tobias

For most people, "reluctant dragon" conjures up images of the 1941 animated short from Disney. While that is a delightful adaptation, the creation of which also has a fascinating history, this entry is not about that dragon. Oh no.

"The Reluctant Dragon" was originally a short story written by Kenneth Grahame at the turn of the 20th century, ten years before The Wind and the Willows. As such, it is squarely in the public domain. This means anyone can do their own take on it. Like the purveyors of lush, finely detailed animation: Rankin/Bass.

Yes, Rankin/Bass produced a short-lived series that used the story as a centerpiece, with a dragon named Tobias, in "The Reluctant Dragon and Mr. Toad Show."

Tobias the Reluctant Dragon line drawing

I actually had no clue of this cartoon's existence until last year, when a friend said I reminded him of the namesake character. Having been born after the series' run of 1970-72, it was well before my time. Apparently, it wasn't syndicated much either. This is something I most certainly would have remembered as a kid!

So what do I do but dig deeper. I knew I was going to be disappointed. The show was going to make me wince. But I had to see it!

It was a challenge to find any of the episodes. In this age of instant anything at any time, there was naught to be had. The closest was the link my aforementioned buddy gave me to the show's intro and end. That was it. There was no more! I reevaluated my quest. If something cannot even be found on the Internet, is it even worth searching for? (Answer: Of course, so you can put it on the Internet!)

I pressed on, and luckily found a place that specializes in old and quite forgotten cartoons of yesteryear, complete with antique commercials. Even they only had one DVD with episodes of "Reluctant Dragon…" in black and white, and it was only half of the disc. With trepidation, I placed an order.

Tobias in a nightcap

Okay. Putting aside cynicism and irony for a moment, Tobias is charming. I'll admit, here and now, I'm a sucker for doofy, kind-hearted beasts, and he fits the bill. This dragon had a matter-of-fact demeanor that was very reminiscent of Jay Ward's creations. I smiled.

The plots are dirt simple and there's a fair amount of recycled animation. There's even an unintentionally funny cover-up of a character munching on some food while talking, awkwardly out of place, like they were shorted on the lip sync budget. The individual drawings make up for it though by having a more personality than Hanna-Barbara cartoons from the same era.

Tobias sneeze!

It is tough to watch because of the horribly corny jokes and needless exposition, though. A lot of the humor focuses around Tobias sneezing fire whenever he sees daisies. While a potentially amusing trait, the gag had whiskers on it by its second appearance. By the time I got done watching the episodes, the shoehorned daisies were outright tedious. This did, however, result in Tobias being exponentially more destructive than Disney's version.

Tobias deforesting

The show was what I expected it to be: a pretty simple affair that had a good heart but lacked wit. I do like Tobias, so I wasn't disappointed in seeking out the episodes. I can certainly see similarities between him and how I portray myself as a dragon, so the comparison was apt, even if we're visually distinct.

I do wish I could have found the show in color. Alas, back then, even local stations recorded shows in black and white, one of them probably being where these transfers came from. Here's the YouTube video my friend originally pointed me to. In full color, no less! I'm amused there's no reaction shot to his sneezes showing if the people are alright after a toasting. Simpler times, when you could get away with incinerating townsfolk by mistake!

Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks

Back in my early adolescence, I was a little bit of a tabletop role-playing game nerd. I know, hard to believe! Obviously, something with a name like Dungeons & Dragons would catch my interest. Sadly, most dragons played an adversarial role, thus eventually leading to my departure from gaming sessions. I never got tired of the art, though.

During slow times in school or between gaming meetups, there were various self-gaming options. One of these was the Fighting Fantasy book series. Imagine a Choose Your Own Adventure book combined with a dice-and-stats RPG, and there you go. One book in particular, City of Thieves, stands out in my mind because of a couple illustrations within.

Bays ball

Here is one of goblin creatures called bays, playing baseball. Oh wait, sorry, "Bay's ball," as the book said. Ha hah, puns. I don't know exactly why I like this picture. Perhaps its the whimsy in it and all the little touches in the background details. I'm sure the prominent placement of clawed toes also has something to do with it. Overall though the melding of the grotesque with caricature tickles my fancy here.

There is also a lot of fine-detail inking work. I have to wonder how much of this is no longer being sought after because of the decline of print media. Black & white reproducibility has not been much of a factor for years now, especially with the ubiquitousness of Internet devices today and inexpensive color printing. Alas, progress moves forward. At least that gives these drawings a definitive flavor.

Lizardine

My reasons for liking this page is much more concrete. It's a Lizardine, which is to say, a dragon—a humanoid one at that. He is a plain shopkeeper in the book. I recall being rather fascinated with him as a character that was represented by just being another inhabitant of the town. For the picture itself, I like the lazy, laid back demeanor, as if he's just idly playing with valuables and trinkets while having a discussion. He also fits into the style of dragon I enjoy, even if more detailed than my usual fare.

A lasting remnant of my education was that if we found an illustrator that we liked, we were heavily encouraged to dig up info and find out more about the person. Turns out these were illustrated by a bloke named Iain McCaig. He went on to work as a concept designer for Lucasfilm, and even has a few instructional DVDs available from the Gnomon Workshop. Nifty stuff. And there's even a newer dragon, too.

Lesser Known Dragons: Ludmilla

A while ago, I came across a sequence from the the 1999 direct-to-video movie Bartok the Magnificent. It involved the main villain, Ludmilla, transforming into a dragon during the final musical number. A very cartoony sequence, by the way. If anything, I'm a sucker for cartoon dragons and here's one from a Bluth movie. Heavens!

Ludmilla Roar

Yes, yes, the dragon is evil. It happens! The downside to this is she gets relatively little screen time. (Only good dragons can get main character status, but that's okay.) What presence she does have is played up for all its worth since its the climax and conclusion of the movie.

Ludmilla Crash

I happen to like the way Bluth designs dragons; Ludmilla here, Singe from Dragon's Lair, and a case could be made for Elliot from Pete's Dragon. All of them are plump and suitably stompy. They do have a bit of the "warty" complexion common in many of his characters, and it fits well here. There's a break from tradition using them as the lines defining the contours of the form rather than the typical banded undersides that nearly every other dragon has. The tail also reminds me of an armadillo rather than that of a serpent. And what's with the candy-like horns? I can't say, but they work nicely!

Ludmilla Perch

Another deviation from the norm is the complete lack of wings. Perhaps it is because of the anthropomorphic nature of the design. But, the other notable Bluth dragon, Singe, also does not have any and is much more beast-like. Can't say I argue with this decision either, although I'm a bit biased. Who said all dragons need to fly, anyway? Admittedly, that particular lacking feature is what eventually spells doom for Ludmilla. She was evil! We already went over this! It does however make me yearn to see a feature-length, traditionally animated feature with a dragon as an intelligent main character. Alas, they seem to be relegated to sidekick status in 3D movies. Such is life!

I certainly consider the movie worth the $2 I paid for it, if just to study the animation. I leave you with the final musical number, which, sad as it may be, was better than any song in the recent Princess and the Frog movie.

Reboot

I've been meaning to do this for awhile.

Sometime late last week, I got the itch to finally get my personal website up and going. It was just one of those things nagging in the back of my head, telling me I could do more than just stick image files into a random web directory.

Why go through all the trouble, though, when there's several art websites to stick pictures onto? Part of the reason is a more nuanced control. I may have whole groups of pictures I want to show to particular people. Like, say, all purple dragons that I've drawn viewed in one place. Well, now I can do that! I'm still going to post pictures to art sites—heck, I run one—but now I've got everything in one spot, too.

I gave myself until the end of the weekend as a deadline. There were a couple server-side issues that prevented me from getting it working Sunday night, but it was at least up even if not at one-hundred percent! There are rough spots, and parts I still want to improve. But the big barrier is past. Now starts the iterative process of tiny improvements here and there, changing or adding nitpicky details as I see fit.

Oh, and of course, art! The other big part of getting this up was to make me feel good about presenting my work, and thus get me drawing more again. That reason alone is worth the effort.

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