Don't Send Your Talents to the Land of the Lost

By | Tuesday, June 16, 2020 Leave a Comment
Land of the Lost coloring book
I recently stumbled on the old Land of the Lost TV show. I know I had seen it as a kid back in the '70s but I remembered almost nothing about it, other than the general notion of the effects being laughably horrible. So I sat down to watch the very first episode, curious to see how they set up the show at launch.

Like many shows by Sid and Marty Krofft, the premise is described in plain detail in the opening theme song. Dad and his two kids are out rafting, the river gets out of control, and they wake up in a land of dinosaurs without a way to return home. The show is then about them surviving and trying to find a way home. From jump, though, things are awful. The theme song is this banjo-driven number -- which seems tonally way out of step with the show -- and they apparently couldn't afford actual acoustic effects as the singer's actually sings the lyric "Land of the Lostlostlostlostlostlost..." fading his voice out in place an actual echo. The visuals are kind of absurd, too -- the river the family careens down is clearly a miniature model set with a live action shot of the raft crudely super-imposed on top of it, the historically inaccurate dinosaurs are a mixture of stop-motion and puppets which I suppose in and of themselves aren't terrible for a 1970s Saturday morning kids show but trying to superimpose the live actors over the shots really didn't work well. The show continues on in that vein with a clunky combination of live action imposed over miniature sets, stop motion sequences that are repeated several times even in a single episode, and sets that look like they were pulled from the bins after they'd been used on Star Trek almost a decade earlier.

So by the time the opening credits were done, I'd more or less written the show off. I figured I'd watch that episode, still curious to see how they set up the initial story, and then go about my life without thinking about it again until I come across a comic con guest list that includes one of the actors.

But what struck me as I watched, though, was that the story was actually pretty solid. They dispensed with additional exposition, and there was an immediate assumption that the family had searched for and found a cave suitable for shelter and had already begun building tools they'd need in day-to-day living. The story actually starts with the family encountering the a primitive race called the Pakuni and making friends with one in particular, Cha-Ka. The writing was actually pretty solid, with a good plot and strong characterization. And despite the bad effects, the actors all committed pretty heavily to their chroma key performances. And interestingly, it didn't include the Sleestaks at all, which is one of the few concepts from the show that I know of. (I couldn't tell you if I actually remembered that from the show itself, or it was something I primarily remember from later pop culture references to them.)

Still curious, I watched the second episode. Another solid effort, this time introducing the infamous Sleestaks. The third episode featured a baby brontosaurus that the daughter rode like a pony. The fourth episode caught my eye because it was written by Larry Niven, a favorite author of mine, and the story dropped the idea that time displacement was not linear -- that you could fall into the Land of the Lost from 1974... or 1862.

As I kept watching, what I saw was some actually reasonably sophisticated storytelling. While each episode was a stand-alone adventure, they kept building on each other. Small character elements are picked up and capitalized on -- the daughter makes a passing comment about being afraid of falling down a deep crevasse in one episode and in a later one, she's shown her deepest fear -- which is mostly her screaming and crying, but it does include a quick line about "I don't want to fall!" That kind of thing isn't huge, but it suggests to an overarching concern on the part of the writers for the characters. They're following each other's lead and building elements to strengthen what the others have put together. I expect there was a show Bible that charted an overall plot structure and major character points, but some of what I'm seeing strike me as small touches individual writers lent to the series.

Where I'm going with all this is that not having the best visuals for a creative piece of storytelling are not necessarily a reason to limit what you do in comics. While the effects in Land of the Lost absolutely do NOT hold up in 2020, the actual storytelling pretty much does. Which I suspect why the show has a following to this day.

There's no reason NOT to start working on your webcomic right now. You might think your drawing ability isn't as good as it should be, or you don't like your coloring or what-have-you. But that's not what captures your audience. It's the storytelling -- separate from the art! -- that draws people in. Andy Weir actually wrote and drew Cheshire Crossing as a webcomic starting way back in 2006 (I wrote about it here!) but he took the same story and had Sarah (Sarah's Scribbles) Andersen redraw the whole thing. The story holds up as well as it did a decade and a half ago, and it's only been visually updated to better fit the newer format. Weir said in the book's preface...
I'm a terrible artist. Always have been. That didn't stop me from making the comic, though. I wanted to tell the story so I gutted it out...
Be like Andy and don't let your own talents stop you. Tell your story. If you improve, great! If you don't, you can still bring people in if you're telling your story earnestly and sincerely. Get a new artist later if you need to sell it to a wider audience! Just grab your pencil or stylus and get going!
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