Food Chain

the Clam

Gateway 1 - Best In Show

the "Poop Monster"

With two weeks to go until Archon 22 (1998), I could see that I wasn't going to get The Mask done -- no way, no how. Of course, I was disappointed that I wasn't going to have anything to go on stage with. But then, inspiration hit.

Back in the early '80s, when I first started going to Archon, there were some people who used to enter the Masquerade who made some amazingly clever stuff, usually out of items at hand -- usually put together just days or hours before the show. They used to be collectively known as "The Firehouse Gang". And they often won Best In Show with these things. (A couple of this crew are now special effects artists in Hollywood.) I'd always envied their imagination and ability to improvise. So, I got the notion to attempt to challenge myself and see if I could knock together something in the time I had remaining before the convention.

Having spent a lot of money on essentially one-shot, stage-only costumes in the past, the first thing I determined wass that this would have to be cheap. I eventually put together "The Clam" (above left) out of a few things I'd picked up from estate sales for a few bucks, plus some items we had in the basement. They were: sheets of packing foam, a large paper japanese lantern, an old hoop skirt foundation, fake fur remnants, a couple of nerf-like balls, foam waterpipe insulation and some nylon thread. With just hours to go before competition, the critter was complete.  It had cost me about $20 to build, all told.

"There's Life on Planet Framjazz" didn't win anything, but I was pretty pleased with the results.  The fact that I'd managed to throw something together in a relatively short time gave me a pretty good amount of satisfaction.   The costume did win a prize at a restaurant Halloween contest later, so it did eventually pay for itself -- sort of.

A year or two later, I was in a similar bind. My original project was supposed to involve two other people, and we could see that it wasn't going to get done in time for the Gateway media convention in 1999. Once again, I thought I'd challenge myself -- this time with only a week to go. I still had a disinclination to spend any money on whatever I came up with, so I attempted to build a critter almost completely out of stuff we had in the house.

Step one was to look and see what was available on-hand. From there, I'd determine what I could make using the materials I collected.


more stuff

assorted stuff

Step two was to design the creature. I wanted it to look non-humanoid. So I experimented with various poses to see how practical they were to build around and how comfortable they might be to hold.  From there, I just started sketching. The materials I wound up using were: another paper Japanese lantern, a cat litter bucket, a cardboard tube, some fabric, a couple of styrofoam balls (formerly little snowmen crafts), several feet of outdoor drainage pipe and some paint. To cover up gaps and to disguise some of the materials, I also used some leftover pipe insulation and the costumer's friend -- duct tape. I cut the hose in half and started bolting pieces together. Once the lower half was done, I covered the lantern with an odd-looking fabric we had in the basement.

rear view

front view

The idea was sort of a hovercraft kind of creature. Strapped to the top of my head with a loop of duct tape, the head poked out through the top of the lantern. There was a sort of disguised "view-port" cut in the front of the lantern and the fabric so I could have limited vision in front of me. To finish it off, I wore swimming flippers on my feet, and some quickly sewn-together "pseudo-pods" on my arms that poked out on the sides, between the lantern and the lower half.  By crouching very low to the ground, the creature would be completely alien-looking.

on stage
Photo by Linda Zang

After struggling with ideas for a presentation, I thought to drag in The Clam, since it had not won any awards (thus violating no ethics about competing at a smaller venue, etc.). To pull this off, I needed to enlist the help of one of our Guild members, Jack Below (who'd neither been on stage before, or competed).

The presentation started with The Clam (sort of an aquatic clam/anenome/crab-like critter) drifting around, eating these colorful cylindrical bits of edibles (balloons). Then, the second creature scuttles on stage. The Clam is first puzzled, then sort of amused by this odd-looking thing. Then, as the stranger crosses the stage, out pops one of these "edibles", from ostensibly what is its butt. The Clam, mortified, collapses in a heap.

This is what was seen onstage -- we had a couple of glitches, which, fortunately, we were prepared for. The original idea was to go a little further -- once the Clam discovered the origin of its meal, there were supposed to be explosions inside him. When the Clam collapses, the critter extrudes two pseudo-pods holding a fork and spoon, ready for its meal. Unfortunately, I couldn't find my utensils inside the costume in time, and the lights went down. The presentation was okay without it though, and we won Best In Show.  I really appreciated Jack's help on this one, and I can honestly say that he did a much better job of bringing The Clam to life than I did, the first time I competed it.

I got quite a bit of satisfaction out of these two experiments with improvising. And "The Poop Monster", as Nora called it, only cost me a week's time and $7-$12 to build (most of that was for paint and the nerf balls). In the future, I will use these as examples of what can be done cheaply with unusual materials when you use your imagination

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