I keep my Adventures in Odyssey collection neatly organized on a shelf in my bedroom. Friends who come to my house and who have never heard of the show might be surprised after looking at the artwork of each Odyssey album, and wonder: "What on Earth...? Why is he collecting all this kid stuff?" In terms of representing the show, the album cover will either attract or repel listeners. The image on the front cover is important. People say never to judge a book by its cover, but often, the cover doesn't want you to not. After all, the effectiveness of marketing requires buyers to have some sort of attraction to the outside product, whether it is a movie poster, a comic book, or even an 'Adventures in Odyssey' album cover, the sad reality in today's society is that "looks matter". Why else is Focus spending so much money on repackaging, creating new looks for its characters, and, as this article's horror, creating a new logo? Perhaps, the covers do end up shaping the success, including the feel, of each album. And it now seems like the program will never finish "repacking", according to this tentative schedule. How many of us aren't too thrilled knowing that we will never have a perfectly consistent looking AIO shelf? According to the link, only fans seven years from now will be able to have the first consistent collection. I for one started collected CDs quite late in the game, and now my collection just looks awkward:
Here is my problem with Odyssey artwork: first, whenever someone asks my opinion of radio dramas (which is rare), I tend to heighten its importance to that of books because both enable the audience to use their imagination, compared to film and movies, which tend to limit one's imagination to what is shown on screen. Because of this, one, perhaps, may not realize that their "experience" listening to Odyssey is quite different from another fan's experience. Even though seeing an album's artwork might seem unimportant in affecting the show itself, to others, seeing the artwork has the same effect as seeing your favorite book brought to film. In some ways, it ruins how someone imagines events, characters, and places described in the book, and as a result, they can't enjoy the book the same way again. Nobody can ever have the same visual "interpretation".
According to the discussion at the forums, this distaste for the new artwork is attributed to its new style. Many have described the new style as "caricatures", which would explain why every character has exaggerated features in them. You know what? I'm not a big fan, either. However, one might say that caricatures fix the problem stated above: that it is impossible to create a single perfect visual representation of everyone's interpretation of how the "event", or scene, looked. While many previous styles of art were meant to accurately portray Odyssey characters, caricatures, by definition, are meant to be interpretative. If you take a look at someone's caricature, you only have an approximate idea of what the subject looked like when they first sat down to be drawn. If the artist wanted an exact representation, he would drawn one. Because these caricatures are only an "approximate idea", does it not leave room for the imagination to come up with its own interpretation, too? Perhaps, then, the caricature style is an ideal form of art for the program since nobody could ever have have the same "vision" of what a character looks like.
Here's the challenge: sit down and take time to compile a top ten list, listing your favorite Adventures in Odyssey album cover. Try to think up reasons for liking them besides "it looks pretty". You will soon discover that this is a near impossible task. It seems that whatever style, whatever period, and whatever design the album cover depicts, there is something very appropriate about each of them; every design and illustrator communicates something very true about the world of Odyssey.
The only thing that we can do is judge its content, its appropriateness and effectiveness, bearing in mind that these pieces of artwork do not stand alone in a museum but are meant to compliment the world of Odyssey. TOO Member, Trent DeWhite comments on one of the newest album covers, "I like the style of the artwork better in the repack--but the content is simply less intriguing". Comparing whether Bruce Day's work or Gary Locke's work is better isn't judging their skill but people's tastes. It would be the same as asking whether Rembrandt or Escher is the better artist. Figuring out which types of illustrations are the best kind for Odyssey is ultimately an impossible task, but here are some albums that may not necessarily be the most attractive looking ones, but they, for one reason or another, include the characteristics of what makes an Odyssey album cover truly great.
#7: "The Early Classics"
If there is ever a need to re-make an album cover, they should follow the example of "The Early Classics". Docle et Utile, it not only introduces a perfectly drawn Mr. Whittaker as he is supposed to be--warm and friendly, notice the light colors and jolly blue eyes on this Michelin-man version of Whit--but it includes a lot of information about the show's history. With a single glance, new audiences are given clues to what the show is all about.
On the other hand, albums such as "The Sky's the Limit" focuses primarily on Grady's feet, and communicates very little about the content within the album. "The Early Classics", however, educates the audience about Whit's wife, his love for writing and train sets, his dedication to Whit's End, his appreciation for children, as well as his involvement in the war. Two other albums do this well and could have easily taken this albums spot on my list: the original versions of "Passport to Adventure" and "A Time of Discovery". Nowadays, potential fans wanting to become acquainted with the show have to buy this album's repackaged version, "The Adventure Begins", which unfortunately, falsely communicates to a new audience that Adventures in Odyssey is about an old man and his Pizza shop.
#6: "Daring Deeds, Sinister Schemes"
How many of us as children loved laying on our bed after receiving a new album and mulling over Bruce Day's pictures, staring and thinking about the dozen-or-so different scenes portrayed? With every episode listened to, who else would mentally check off the pictures one-by-one and then wonder how and when the remaining images would come into play? Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that AIO should switch back to the Bruce Day's artwork. But you can't create a list of the best artwork without acknowledging one of its original artists. Though I enjoy all the covers he designed, I've always had a fondness for "Daring Deeds, Sinister Schemes" and that wonderful image of Digger Digwillow staring up at the cross. It has often made me wonder what my own face would look like if I were standing there, at that very moment.
#5. "For God & Country"
And then there are albums which, regardless of whether the image has anything to do with the album itself, deserves to be in their own museum simply because of how beautiful it is. A re-imagining of Leutze's "Washington crossing the Delaware", the image calls viewers to take some time and remark its attention to detail, the beautiful folds in the flag, and how beautiful Connie finally looks on album cover. This is definitely an underrated piece of work.
4. "The Search For Whit"
I like how this image doesn't make me feel like I am looking at a cartoon; in other words, it takes its topic seriously. It's "cool" for any age.
Also, this album cover is, thankfully, misleading. How do I mean? Well, Focus on the Family wants to attract consumers; can anyone imagine a more attractive Odyssey-related item than seeing Whit on the cover of an album after such a long absence? Focus on the Family did the same thing with "Eugene Returns", wanting to make sure the entire world knew that their favorite fictional nerd had returned. Both images ruined the album's surprise for anyone who didn't follow on the radio or internet. However, one album managed to ruin the surprise more than the other did. The fun part about "A Most Intriguing Question" was simply trying to figure out what Whit's newest Imagination Station program was all about. If I remember correctly, most people had no clue it was Eugene in the machine. It is a shame that the front cover spoils that moment for other listeners. "The Search For Whit", however, tells listeners when Whit returns without spoiling the very moment it happens; it, after all, gives the illusion that Jason and Eugene will end up finding Whit in a cave (look at their 'surprised' faces) and won't expect the actual moment that Whit does show up.
3. "Other Times, Other Places"
Sometimes minimalism is the key. Notice how we have no idea where the scene is set or what episode this artwork could be referring to. But it's effective nonetheless. Just being able to see the large number of characters grouping around Whit is often good enough. There are very few of these newer albums which show whit as just being his typical Whit self--someone who people trust and receive advice from. In my last blog, I described that "what made [Whit] so compelling was that he was such a powerful and sometimes downright scary figure that I wondered if he embodied, for some children, [an image of] God himself [...] What Odyssey managed to do for many children was to instill a mental image/figure of God". This image brings to life that idea so well; Whit, larger than life, is situated in the picture's center, with Jimmy staring up, on bended knee no less, appearing to be listening to every word Whit says. What a powerful image.
Hopefully Adventures in Odyssey won't follow the ways of recent television series such as "Battlestar Gallactica" and Lost and create a cover which has its characters mimicking The Last Supper. Or does Eugene's finger, pointing towards Heaven like Thomas', suggest that there is some sort of connection between both images?
...probably not. ; )
2. "Battle Lines"
This album cover makes my list because it is one of the best moments of action captured. Remember guys, the show is called "Adventures in Odyssey". "Risks and Rewards", "Days to Remember", and "Through Thick and Thin" also have memorable pieces of art reminding the audience that this show can be action packed. Here, points were lost on the way Cal's foot is drawn, as well as Tom's awkwardly long leg, but overall, this is a great looking album.
Some albums may be better illustrated than others but seem completely wrong in relation to the content inside. For instance, "The Big Picture" now features an image of Mandy having her "worst day ever". Next to her appears the words, "First of the Novacom Saga". Really? Wasn't the old image more suitable? This is the image we want introducing the Novacom Saga?
1. "Darkness before Dawn"
It is appropriate that "Darkness Before Dawn", one of the greatest albums in the series, features the best album cover in show's history. Yes, some may dispute this claim; there are those who may find Dr. Blackgaard's hair too lifeless or metallic looking. However, the lighting combined with his powerful stance creates a haunting image, and overall fits perfectly with the album's title. There is also a similarity between it and Doré's own artwork from John Milton's Paradise Lost, one image similarly revealing its "villain", Satan, approaching its destination, in this case, the Garden of Eden. Notice any similarities?
So on he fares, and to the border comes
Of Eden, where delicious Paradise,
Now nearer, Crowns with her enclosure green
(Paradise Lost. IV. I31)
Much like John Milton's description of paradise, Whit's End is also enclosed by green shrubs and has sun rays shining down upon it. It is a shame that this album, like many others, had to be repackaged with a brand new image. What the new one lacks, in comparison, is a characteristic that made Dr. Blackgaard so alluring: his humanness. The new version features a much more clichéd villain, cartoonish and sinister, standing in his castle-like structure as a diabolical king clutching a ridiculous purple scepter. Truly disappointing.
It is important to point out that what made Milton's own "Satan" unique, as Doré's drawings show well, is the fact he is described with more human characteristics that make him out to be more than simply an "evil villain". You may heard of the great debate associated with the novel, "Is Satan the hero of Paradise Lost?" This debate only exists because Milton has created Satan to be so relatable. Though, this may not be considered necessarily a good thing by some. As C.S Lewis suggests, the result of making Satan so human-like was his domestication; essentially, the public would no longer fear evil as they used to--or should. One needs only to compare these images to those in Dante's Inferno to see the preceding medieval view of Satan as a beast with several heads, horns, and hoofs. However I personally find the effect of "domesticating" Satan all the more powerful. By seeing how "normal" he was, the audience is able to see the "height" that he fell from when he was cast out of heaven, and therefore, have a better understanding of evil, and how it can twist and contort the most "normal" of us. Evil isn't always obvious, but often cunning. In the same way, Adventures in Odyssey resisted depicting Dr. Blackgaard as the explicitly clichéd evil villain. His display of evil is not without moments of uncertainty; Blackgaard was once the owner of child-friendly "Blackgaard's Castle", became allies with Jason Whittaker in Switzerland, and ran for mayor of Odyssey. And though these were all "hoaxes", the audience could sympathize with him during those moments. We can't quite say the same about The Whisperer can we?--whose shallowness and one dimensionality, sadly, only ends up telling audiences that evil is also shallow and one-dimensional.
And like Milton's description of Satan, Blackgaard is on a suicidal mission, of sorts, one in which he firmly believes he can't be redeemed from. As he tells Jack Allen in his final moments, "the flaw in your propsal is that you think my soul is redeemable. It isn't. I auctioned it off years ago". Blackgaard truly believes there is no hope in saving his own soul and truly believes, and accepts, his own damnation. The similarities don't stop there. When Satan finally sees the shape of paradise from a distance (refer back to image), Milton describes his "diseased" body: "His troubl'd thoughts, and from the bottom stir/the Hell within him, for within him/Hell he brings" (Paradise Lost, IV, 21). The "Darkness before Dawn" artwork so powerful because it also shows a--to quote Father gilbert--"a soul in torment", a diseased man, but this time with the Ruku virus, arriving at his destination from a long arduous journey. In addition to this, the artist shows Blackgaard holding a "cane", an item that he doesn't seem to have in previous drawings, to communicate this weakness.
Sorry for the ramble, but if you had never noticed the poignancy of that image, I hope you do now.
My whole point is to show how wonderful and important Odyssey artwork can be and how it can add or take away from the show. I can quote a bunch of overused sayings: "A picture speaks a thousand words", "Art is Silent Poetry", or as Casey Affleck recently quoted in his recent interview with Roger Ebert on the 'Joaquin-Pheonix-hoax', "Art is the lie that tells the truth" (Picasso). The show's artwork is important and fans need the artist to take the subject seriously.
As much as my praise was mostly for "older artwork", this isn't to say I don't enjoy the newest Odyssey artwork. Though I am not the biggest fan of "caricatures", I have grown to enjoy a handful of them such as "Friends, Family, Countrymen", "Moments of Truth", "The Best Small Town". And I am not arguing that every old album also had the perfect artwork. They weren't perfect at all. For instance, I wasn't too fond of how any of the albums between 12 to 16 looked. In them, Whit appeared to resemble a character from the cover of a Animorphs book series, interrupted midway during his transformation into a Walrus. And does anyone else remember how Tom Riley looked like in the original "A place of Wonder"? Yes, that was supposed to be Tom...And there were a half a dozen albums such as "Faith Launch", "Good Grief: God's love in the Midst of Sorrow", and "More than Sundays" which appeared to have been illustrated with your old copy "Adventures in Odyssey: Printcrafter Plus".
In a way, it's the same thing as going to church wearing your very best clothes. Just because you appear very attractive on the outside, it doesn't accurately represent the inner state of your soul. The same is true about the album covers and the episodes underneath them. Nothing about the album artwork can, or ever will, change the beauty of the episodes themselves. However, just as we strive to represent ourselves well on Sundays Mornings with the clothing that we wear, so should the artist strive to represent its product well. "Darkness Before Dawn" does that. And future albums should follow suit. That way, the next time my friends come into my room, and see my Odyssey collection, they'll be attracted to the series instead of repulsed.
I will always remember those older images of Robin climbing the fence, Digger gazing up at Christ crucified, and Whit and Connie hunting the treasure of La Monde from the albums "Amazing Antics...", "Daring Deeds...", and "Terrific Tales...", respectively. And though I personally do not enjoy the caricature style as much, there will be many children who will become accustomed to them while growing up, and find them truly endearing as they grow older. Eventually these new fans will end up on AIO-wiki and discover the older artwork and cry "thank goodness for change!" Sad, but true.