It was recently announced that the complete series of "The Pirates of Dark Water" is being released to DVD. Wired.com is having a little contest to win a free copy of the DVD, so rather than spend my money to support one of the most important pieces of media in my life, I will put wear my heart on my sleeve instead. I mean, I don't have to write about only video games, right?
"Dark Water" first appeared as a 5 part kind of mini-series on afternoon TV while I was in the 5th grade. I remember the Monday it came on the air: I was home sick with laryngitis, which was such a shock to me at the time because I had never had it before. So I basically got to sit at the house all day playing with toys and video games and watching TV. By Thursday I felt fine, but the show was being aired at 2:00 and school didn't let out until 3:00, and after four days of sitting around in pajamas watching this new amazing show I wasn't about to miss the last episode so I lied and said I was still sick. That was the first and only time I missed a complete week of school, and it was a serendipitous one.
5th grade was my height of fascination with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and I had fashioned myself as an artist amongst the kids at school and extensively drew Ninja Turtles, and only Ninja Turtles. And then came Dark Water...
I remember being immediately amazed by this world. It was fantasy, but it didn't feel like what I thought of as "typical" fantasy worlds like The Hobbit or Legend. I never liked horses, never cared for fairies, and didn't like how everything felt old-english and ostensibly in the middle ages of Earth. The setting and tone of Dark Water shaped my create sensibilities to think of fantasy worlds and picture them as planets in other solar systems. To pull worlds and ideas from something like Star Wars (with binary solar systems and forest moons) and think of those worlds in their respective ancient times. By and large the look and setting of the show really made me more of a critical thinker in terms of fantasy and inspired years and years of world and character development which now comprises dozens of sketchbooks and multiple filing cabinets in my home.
Of course these lofty aspirations had a very carbon copy starting point. I don't remember the specific time, but either the week of the show's first airing or the following week I broke from the mold of TMNT and drew my first "original" concept. I called it "(Austin Ivansmith's) The 4 Rulers of Izon: the Three Rubies of Zarkon." I was elated with the work I had done. It was my first attempt at drawing humans, coming up with original names for them, and naming the world itself. And most of all, I did it all in one try without much erasing or re-dos. It was a complete success from start to finish, and I imagine if I had messed up in any major way I would have given up and never tried again. As any good 5th grader would do, I drew it on yellow lined paper and stapled all the sheets together to make it a complete set to show off to friends and family.
I created a cover page, complete with the signature sword which looked nothing like the one in the Dark Water logo.
The four heroes sail the globe in their own ship, getting into adventures along the way. From left to right:
Longwing was like Niddler, but with an attitude. He was sick of monkeybirds being complete morons and wanted to prove there were a few brave souls amongst them. He is outfitted with a crossbow and even wears a stylish medallion.
Martin is the son of the king of Izon but does not know it. He is a great warrior with a sword, bow and arrow, or even a knife. He has a small stud and small hoop earring in his left ear, and his fashionable shirt features the red forked tongue.
Gardeina is not your stereotypical woman. She is a tough fighter but still wears a pink outfit. Really my first foray into the idea that a woman does not need to be helpless. When I created this name I was sure it was 100% original.
Arrowhead is a master marksman. He was once a warrior for Cleaton (as you can see by his elbow and knee pad) but has changed his ways. He has bigger hooped earrings and his hair covers his eyes.
Then there is the group of enemies (which I stapled before the heroes page. Good job me)
Cleaton is the baddest dude in all of Izon. He captains his own ship and has a slew of soldiers at his disposal. He of course has a bare chest and beard, the signs of a brutish evil man. His right eye is dead and petrified, and looks like a piece of onyx in the socket (really the only cool thing I came up with.) He is not big and fat, because I didn't feel that added any fear to the equation.
Sluth is a vicious right hand man to Cleaton. Despite him being of very small stature, I never thought of it as a disadvantage to him. I gave him a deformed face because it made him look more evil, like the monsters from the Last Starfighter. And the peg-leg is made of metal like the arm of Colossus from Marvel comics. I never pictured him being scrappy in any way, just shorter.
Cleaton's Soldiers have a uniform which has some kind of padded chest armor, dark pants and shirts, and some kind of evil hockey masks. I liked this idea a lot because it reminded me of Stormtroopers or the Foot Clan; faceless drones.
This little piece of art really was the impetus for years of character and story development. I spent countless hours drawing in class when I should have been taking notes. I failed many tests and a few classes because I preferred to draw over doing anything else. I was offended when someone called it "doodling", because each drawing had a purpose; each character was integral to the world, and each drawing I made told their story and spoke volumes to their importance. After graduating from high school and not having any boring classes to draw in during lectures I found myself drawing less and less, and spending more time helping to take care of the family (and grow up, I guess. But I still have all the stories in the back of my head and plan on putting together something featuring them, someday.)
I really owe a lot to Dark Water because it was the first, biggest influence on me creatively, inspiring me to create worlds of my own and pursue the idea of being more than just a passive viewer; It drove me to be creative. The unique worlds and style really set a creative tone for me I carry to this day, always looking for a more unique approach for any unique piece of art or story I create. I always loved the show and knew it was important to me, but I never really tried putting it into words before and I am glad that I did, because now I know more than ever how important Dark Water is to my life and I will cherish the memories of it forever.