art, Crow, Devil Doll, dvd, Gamera, Laserblast, MST3K, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Pumaman, Shout Factory, Simpsons, Steve Vance, Tom Servo, Turkey Volume Guessing Man, TV, War of the Colossal Beast
Today I am discussing the work of artist Steve Vance. Specifically, Vance’s work on Shout Factory’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVD cases. With the series of MST3K DVDs coming to an end with the next set, I thought it would be a good time to examine this aspect of MST3K.
Originally, I knew of Vance’s work from Bongo’s line of Simpsons comic books. I remember seeing his name credited all the time on those. When I saw he was doing these DVD covers, it was notable to see his own artistic style, not emulating the Simpsons look.
Vance has done dozens of these covers since Shout has been releasing the series. Unfortunately, that also means that there are no covers by him for the previous Rhino releases, unless Shout has re-issued it with a new cover. The number of covers he has created means that there are many to consider for this. That’s why I have selected the 5 that I think are his best.
If you disagree with my selections below, or if I left out your favorite, relax, it’s just a TV show.
5. War of the Colossal Beast
Here is a great cover where the tables are turned on Tom Servo and Crow. Here Tom is the menacing giant. not the small fry on the Satellite of Love. The majority of these covers place Tom and Crow in the roles of characters in the movies. I’ve always assumed this is to avoid likeness rights with the actors or other legal entanglements. Either way, it is a great solution and a nice way to tie in the cast of MST3K with the movie on the episode. Tom’s cracked dome is a great reference to the title characters’ facial deformities in this.
Anyone who is a fan of MST3K knows that Gamera is a highlight of the show’s run. While this is a great episode, this is also a great cover. Continuing the theme of incorporating the bots into the movie, here they are re-purposed as the child protagonist and scientist from the story. Tom as a child is interesting, as original host, Joel, had a fatherly relationship with his creations. This feels like it just reinforces those themes here.
3. The Pumaman
Another key episode from the show’s original run, this time from the Sci-Fi Channel era. Pumaman is a fan favorite, and one that it took years to finally get a release on DVD. These factors surely play into why I like this cover. However, Servo as Donald Pleasence, and Crow T. Robot as the titular hero, The Pumaman are also BIG factors.
Seeing how Vance solved the problem of Crow wearing human clothes is notable. His frame wouldn’t necessarily lend itself to mimicking a human shape. The best example of this would be when Crow donned the identity of Turkey Volume Guessing Man in the Riding With Death episode.
Obviously Vance chose another solution as seen above. While his TVGM costume is how clothing would fit onto Crow, Vance’s version is more relatable. It’s also possible that the Pumaman costume adapted to Crow’s body would look too awkward and the reference might be lost on viewers.
Laserblast was the last episode to premier on Comedy Central’s initial run of the show, and at the time, thought to be the last episode ever. Of course, that is not the case as the show was later picked up by the then Sci-Fi Channel, and more recently, Netflix. It’s also a hilarious episode. As I surmised in my review of Sidehackers, I think that the team worked well under pressure and knew when they had to hit it out of the park.
I believe that’s what happened with Laserblast, as everyone thought it was the end.
Here Vance selects Crow for the film’s “hero”, Billy. Tom is one of the number of victims, presumably. What stands out from the other cases that put the robots into roles from the movie, is the lack of wardrobe. Tom is Tom as he appears on the show. Meanwhile, Crow looks like he just picked up the weapon from the movie and is attacking Tom while the turtle alien’s Gillette spaceship is on the way to stop him. This gives the cover a more whimsical, mischievous tone than many of the others.
1. Devil Doll
This is a good episode from the Sci-Fi Channel run, but not one of the best episodes ever. I’ve really liked this cover since it came out and it has sort of eluded me why. Steve Vance’s art is great here. The slick look to the bots in their suits is part of it. Recently though, I think I discovered what I like so much about this one.
The movie is about a ventriloquist and his evil dummy. Here Crow is presented as the ventriloquist with Tom on his knee in the part of the dummy. Tom Servo, a literal real world puppet, is playing a dummy. I think that the meta context of this creeped up on me and it took me awhile to realize it. Being honest, when I’m watching the show, I don’t think of the bots as “puppets”, just characters like the other actors. Don’t look at me like that, you do the same thing with the Muppets, and they are literally puppets with an “M”.
With Shout wrapping up the DVD box sets of the show, it is likely that we will not see too many more of these great pieces from Steve Vance. Presumably, when they release re-issues or new DVDs, Vance will be providing the cover art.
Here’s hoping that we see more of these fun designs from Vance in the not too distant future.