'Read it, Loved it. Marty Allen has ... simplified and elevated the art of designing... sock puppets.' Peter Linz (Walter from the Muppets)
Marty Allen is a Boston-born, Brooklyn-based puppet-maker, artist, writer, musician & liker of life. He's got a very cool website at martystuff.com and he's got an equally cool book coming out on sock puppets on Valentine's Day so we thought we'd let him take over our blog for a day ...so here's Marty!
(Above: Abraham Lincoln the sock puppet which is featured in the book)
People often ask, "Hey Marty, what inspired you to create all of these crazy characters out of sock puppets?" And while the answers "a wild ride with some bad sushi" or "a disgruntled leprechaun with a baseball bat" are always tempting, the truth is far less entertaining, and much more organic. (Author's note: stay away from back-alley sushi stands, regardless of your need for inspiration.)
Let's start with the facts. For the last six years I have made and sold Sock Puppet Portraits for a living. Not Sock Puppets, but their portraits—up-close photographs of sock puppets with elaborate stories and (often internet-based) lives. And what inspired that? A few things actually:
2 A love of weird knick knacks
3 The desire to make an odd little object that I myself might find and say, "Huh? Well that's neat!"
4 To establish an organic path that would lead me to understand my love of character and storytelling
In a wonderfully roundabout fashion, the Sock Puppet Portraits were born over six years ago, shortly after I finished a series of Sock Puppet-making workshops in Boston's parks. After completing these workshops, I made a bunch of puppets from the leftovers (one a day for thirty days, as a matter of fact). In related news, I've always had a love for finding strange, small picture frames. One stray night at work, I shot some stark, simple, and up-close photos of the sock puppets just for fun. I put these puppet pictures inside the little frames, and with little ceremony the Sock Puppet Portraits were born. I occasionally gave them to friends or hung them at shows here and there. I noticed that there was something oddly appealing about them. A kind of universal reaction of "Huh, that's neat," when people encountered them.
When I moved to New York in 2006, I thought, "Maybe people would like these and buy these if I tried to sell them..." They did. Then it was my job. Sock Puppet Portrait Salesman. The only one in the world...to the best of my knowledge.
In their earliest (and some might argue, purest) form, the Sock Puppet Portraits were all small photographs in ornate, Victorian frames, with just my signature on the back. They've now graduated to larger pieces, framed and now on VERY fancy stretched canvases, with ever-more-complex structural notions for the puppets themselves. But the real evolution has been in the form of building their characters and the narratives that surround them.
I've always been a natural namer: Uncle Monsterface, Mozzarella Botticelli, Claudius Von Cudgel…
(Above: Claudius Von Cudgel)
Names fall out of my brain like Pez from a broken (or functioning) dispenser. So I gave them names: The Jazzclops, Terrycloth Green, The Fabulous Flying Zambinis. Then I gave them individual Myspace profiles pages (I told you this was six years ago. We'd just invented the printing press, too!).
Myspace was a unique way to expand the characters in their own words. Sadly modern social networks don't lend themselves as well to this, as they are more based on moment-to-moment expressions as opposed to profiles that can interact. Nonetheless, the first thirty or so were firmly entrenched in that old timey social network, and they had started to expand beyond it, too. Soon, one of the Series 1 Portraits, Uncle Monsterface became the mascot for the touring and related rock band. The nine from Series 2 each got their own individual bands and at least one song in the first person. Series 2.5 came along right as Facebook broke, so these characters became the subject of a Facebook quiz-related “Appreciation Society” Group, and one of the more popular characters, Spot, received a Facebook of his own. The organic growth continued as I kept on selling my art on the streets, in fairs, and at rock shows. As I talked to people, I got to know them (both the people AND the puppets), and my love of character-building flourished. "Does the Earclops like crossword puzzles?" Yes, yes he does. "Can Uncle Monsterface fly?" No, but he is a fly dresser. Then Terrycloth Green got a Twitter (he was already in a bunch of other loud-mouthed NSFW videos on Youtube, anyways). The Fabulous Flying Zambinis
(above: Plim Zambini, one third of the Fabulous Flying Zambinis)
were featured in a video. Others appeared in more videos, including an outrageous cover of Madonna’s Like A Prayer. Meanwhile, I secretly began work on a permanent social network home for the Sock Puppet Portraits: MONSTERFACEBOOK.
Amidst this wonderful chaos, my love of character had evolved into a love of story. Or my love of story had revealed itself from behind the safe cover of my love of character. My first great experiment was the Series 3 Sock Puppet Portraits, who would become the cast of the internet soap opera, Sock Puppet Manor. I wrote the script for an ambitious nine episode series detailing the torrid lives of The Lollybottoms and The Durtlingers, two powerful pickle-canning families. We produced six of the nine episodes, and eventually aired three of them. Yours to see over at Sock Puppet Manor, many of whom are yours to build in "Sock Puppet Madness." (Small word of caution, while I like for most of my work to put be appropriate for "small children of all ages", the soap opera leans slightly more towards the PG-13 crowd).
After that dust had cleared, I focused a bit more on the puppet-making for a year or so, and I started to think more deeply about the larger story that I was telling, or seeing grow around me. I began to truly focus on the bigger universe that I'd been jotting down notes from and building without even knowing it for so many years now. I pushed a few other lines of artwork that were tied into the bigger mythology (The Automatons and The White Book) publicly and worked privately on a few others (The Case Files of The Magician Detective, The Power Patterns and The Doodlings of The Grid), all of which helped to solidify the story. I dug into the process of telling one epic tale from The Seven Layers of Space—that of a young boy named Theodore and his quest to find his friend, save the day, and find his place in the world that he feels so separate from. The Nine newest Sock Puppet Portraits, Series 4, are the cast of this novel, all of which was funded by a successful Kickstarter in June of 2012.
I'm also working on new music with Uncle Monsterface, a conceptual album called "RISE of the LAVA MEN", which has its own set of ties to the larger story of The Seven Layers of Space. The first three songs, The Ninja,
Scuba Diver, and Sports Robot, will also have accompanying Sock Puppet Portraits and lessons in "Sock Puppet Madness." The first single was released August of 2012, "(don't fear the) NINJA." The second single was released in September , for S.C.U.B.A. Diver.
I'm fascinated with this idea of creating a body of artwork that acts as artefacts from a larger tale and extends throughout a strange array of media, and I'm excited to let the already-successful Sock Puppet Portraits act as a cornerstone for that universe. And now, thanks to the good folks at Cico Books, you can build your own versions of characters from my weird brain and world. Goodness knows what that will do to the storytelling, but I can't wait to see!
Sock Puppet Madness (published by CICO Books on 14.02.13.)
includes 35 of the most fun, outlandish, off-the-wall and enchanting characters on the planet, and by following the simple step-by-step instructions, you'll be able to put together your own puppet in no time.
If you would like to be notified when the book is available just add the book to your cart and follow the instructions!
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