This item came into my possession during an ill-advised home decorating experiment. It’s not an amazing piece of art or anything, but a laughing Ming the Merciless from Filmation’s 1979 Flash Gordon cartoon was too iconic to pass up. At least once per episode, ol’ Ming would throw his head back and cackle like a total dick at our heroes’ misfortune. This might be tied with a rotoscoped Flash Gordon jogging across the frame as the most-repeated image of the series.
The cartoon itself was a pretty faithful retelling of the original Flash Gordon comic strip stories, and the behind the scenes story is fun. Filmation, the production house responsible for the Star Trek animated series, as well as Fat Albert and cartoon versions of Tarzan, The Lone Ranger, and Zorro, originally planned to produce a live action version of Flash Gordon, similar to their 70s Saturday Morning shows Shazam!, Jason Of Star Command, and Isis. When the pilot proved too expensive to produce, Filmation’s Lou Scheimer raised capital for an animated TV-movie by selling the live-action rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis. De Laurentiis got the eventually-beloved 1980 feature film out of the deal, and Scheimer’s animated TV movie got him two seasons of Flash Gordon on the air. (The animated feature, subtitled The Greatest Adventure Of All, was a nice bit of rotoscoped WWII-set animation, but for whatever reason didn’t air until after Filmation produced two seasons of this much cheaper, serialized version.) Filmation went on to produce He-Man, The Real Ghostbusters, and all manner of nostalgia stickybombs throughout the 80s.
The tiny rush of knowing this very painting flashed past my eyes for 1/24th of a second 30 years ago is about all the magic it holds now; the show’s animation looked so great at the time because the Filmation crew would backlight the frames, creating a glittery effect that set the show apart from its contemporaries (a similar technique was used in the first Tron).
But on an animation cel, it’s just a crude painting, traced countless times over an identical image by an animation crew who, according to the DVD commentaries, often came back from lunch feeling no pain. You can pick up where they left off with painted backgrounds found on Ebay (or create one yourself; I made some abstract Ralph Bakshi-esque watercolor backdrops for the two I framed). Or you could just go online and get all postmodern, placing Laughing Ming into any number of scenarios:
Want it? Tweet a link to this article with the hashtag #uncollecting and I’ll choose a winner at random. US residents only for now (unless you want to pay postage, then have at it!)
Last week’s winner of the April 1964 issue of VICE SQUAD is @mrs_french!