I Brought You Some Coffee! Is It ... Boiling Hot?
December 22, 2009 3:39 PM   Subscribe

On a Friday in the waning months of the 20th century, a Macromedia employee was getting ready to meet with the creator of Beavis & Butthead the next Monday to demonstrate Flash v.4's new feature, synchronized audio tracks – a feature he needed to learn over the weekend. So he put together the simplest model he could: a floating skull sans lips, tongue or physique. The meeting was postponed, so the employee continued to spitshine the animation and put it on his website. His friends e-mailed their friends, and soon, everyone met a heavy-metal animated floating skull demon and his adorable little devil pal. Sparks had created Radiskull, who will kill you one by one. (Atom)

Nowadays, one can throw a rock and hit about 40,000 web cartoons. However, Radiskull and Devil Doll was one of the very first web cartoons out there, and is still considered one of the best by many nostalgic Internet "old-timers."

As Sparks introduces the character in the Radiskull book later released (yes, there was a book, as well as three issues (1, 2, 3) of a comic), Radiskull – a portmanteau of "radical" and "skull" – is "a huge disembodied skull with glowing eyes, thick black eyebrows, a mouth full of long, sharp teeth, and a spiky purple Mohican that magically always seems to be side-on. He's got a taste for boiling coffee, refers to himself in the third person, likes pain, and dreams of ripping up small towns with his mighty jaws. Since he's just a skull, he moves around by levitation, which he finds extremely tiring. That means he needs a lot of sleep."

As for his little red-suited pal, "Devil Doll is short and bubbly, with a cute grin, button eyes, a big yellow head, and horns. He's enthusiastic and outgoing, grins compulsively at the thought of mayhem, and rides a growling Harley-Davidson. He can breath fire – and fireworks – and he's a cool dancer. He's got lots of energy, and can never get enough of rocking and rapping with Radiskull."

The initial episode, wildly popular (and noticed on Metafilter), soon had its follow-ups:
  • Hella Weenie (Atom), in which the pair bring justice to a Ned Flanders-esque neighbor with a cruel streak;
  • Radiskull Hate Snow (Atom), in which Devil Doll and Candy Angel first meet (Mefi);
  • Love 'n' Stuff (Atom), in which the pair independently pine after each other in Hades Minor and Heaven Academy #999, respectively (Mefi);
  • Angel This is Wrong (Atom), in which Candy navigates from Heaven into the ether in-between the universes, warned off by the Rappin' Dishonorable Judge Radiskull;
  • Wicked Nikki (Atom), in which Nikki the Succubus attempts to corrupt Devil Doll and Candy finds Hades locked tight;
  • Radiskull's Cave (Atom), in which Devil Doll tries to make his buddy okay with his angelic crush; and
  • Candy in Hell (Atom), the last produced episode of the series, in which Nikki learns that marshmallows and cotton candy aren't to be taken for granted, but manages to get in one last act of malice.
The series ended up having a hugely creative fan base. A.V. Phibes' "I was a Teenage (Give or Take 8 Years) Radiskull & Devil Doll Addict" is one of the more amusing, but there were also handmade dolls, cosplay, remixes, artwork, and tattoos.

The series had a sad end in real life: when dot-coms crashed, Macromedia laid Sparks off in the summer of 2001 along with almost the entire staff of AtomShockwave at the time – but, as Radiskull and Devil Doll was created by Sparks while Senior Designer there, the company owned the copyright to Radiskull and Devil Doll – and proved spectacularly unwilling to work with Sparks on somehow releasing to or cooperating with him in continuing the series, or even getting out the partially completed ninth episode, "Hot Date." USA Today briefly touched upon Sparks' story in a 2002 news story. (In fact, Sparks receives no money even from the book, unless you buy it at his site and he gets the small Amazon referral fee.)

Sparks released a music video preview for what was supposed to be his next endeavour, Dickie & Jackie, but nothing else was seen of the series. Sparks had a brief flurry of activity on three online repositories at the beginning of this year – Post-It Note Art by Joe Sparks, his blog, and Sparkmical – but none have been updated since February 2009.

Fans interested in the back end of things might be interested in Sparks' production notes for Episodes 1 & 2 and Episode 3, as well as some notes on how he works.

Now, ahem, it's time to kick it with some Sparks-supplied Radiskull and Devil Doll MP3 jams (YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!):(For some retro nostalgia, check out the "preloading notes" before each video, in which you're told to avoid 8-bit color if possible!)
posted by MikeHarris (38 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Holy shit that's a blast from the past!

God I feel old
posted by graventy at 3:49 PM on December 22, 2009

My word, Macromedia actually employed people who could use their product for animation at one point? Sheeit. I figured there was absolutely no input from end users given the way the UI evolved.
posted by egypturnash at 3:50 PM on December 22, 2009

Filed in my pile of "why you should pay attention to copyright laws before you create things, if you are a creative person in the employ of any company whatsoever."

And at the bottom of that pile? A song I wrote and recorded as a fun placeholder for a Flash ad; when the real music deal fell through, the client decided they wanted the placeholder and it was used for their online advertising campaign. The consulting company I worked for said "sure!" and I never received any credit or compensation.
posted by davejay at 3:50 PM on December 22, 2009

Oh man, Radiskull. I loved these in high school. Great post.
posted by Caduceus at 3:53 PM on December 22, 2009

Oh jesus, the flashbacks. I used to spend my entire day at my well paying dot com internship in the summer of 2000 watching cartoons from shockwave and downloading mp3's from Scour (Napster had just died) on their high speed network.

Back in the day there was also BullsEyeArt (now MagicButter). All this stuff pre-dated Adult Swim, and definitely precipitated it.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 3:59 PM on December 22, 2009

Needless to say, that internship should NOT have been well paid, and the company axed pretty much everyone about 2 weeks after I left to begin fall semester of school.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 4:00 PM on December 22, 2009

Man, that takes me back. Thanks for the post!
posted by m0nm0n at 4:04 PM on December 22, 2009

Now that's a good post. That's what that is.
posted by MrMoonPie at 4:06 PM on December 22, 2009

I can't believe I forgot to put this one fragment into the FPP, but for those who didn't know this already, Sparks did everything in these shorts: the art, animation, story, singing, etc.. (Although I'm guessing someone else did Candy's and Nikki's voices.)
posted by MikeHarris at 4:10 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Silence! I KEEL YOU!
posted by bwg at 5:11 PM on December 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oooohh. That explains Radiskull. I was never sure what the hell it was about. Back then, things on the Internet were there for a reason. I guess this was a harbinger of today's modern, man-on-a-unicycle-wearing-a-burning-banana-suit times.
posted by chairface at 5:27 PM on December 22, 2009

and a spiky purple Mohican that magically always seems to be side-on.

I've never heard it referred to in that manner. The way he phrases that, I picture a man with a unique hairstyle of his own who is lying side-on on top of the skull. Oh, and he's somehow spiky and purple.
posted by thanotopsis at 5:28 PM on December 22, 2009

Once again, I prove that I was in some parallel universe at the time. I was busy developing poor work habits in the run-up to the recession, but they largely stopped at Sluggy Freelance and fighting spam for fun and what turned out not to be any profit.


I feel old, too.
posted by Michael Roberts at 5:57 PM on December 22, 2009

Whoa. We still quote Radiskull at my house, even though it is old old old.

And my toddler now plays with my stuffed Devil Doll.
posted by pinky at 6:18 PM on December 22, 2009

Ooh, I'd forgotten Radiskull. Thanks for the post!
posted by sugarfish at 6:43 PM on December 22, 2009

An excellent level of respect for what was a fun way to show people neat stuff on your computer (and, sometimes, to test how well a computer was running). Loved those things. Knew Macromedia were being turds. Sad that never got cleared up.
posted by jscott at 6:47 PM on December 22, 2009

I can't believe I never saw this... I must have been distracted by Star Wars Gangsta Rap. My six-year old and I watched Radiskull together... he loves it.
posted by crapmatic at 7:18 PM on December 22, 2009

Another intartubes addict who never saw this in its native environment. Where I did see RS and DD was on the back of Robyn "Toybox" Slinger's jacket in the Smax miniseries. I've always wondered what that was about... the more I know! *starswoosh*
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:54 PM on December 22, 2009

I remembered this from back way back when as well. I was supervising three help desk employees and made each of them watch it.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:55 PM on December 22, 2009

thanotopsis: I've never heard it referred to in that manner.

Wikipedia says Mohican is British English for Mohawk.
posted by MikeHarris at 7:55 PM on December 22, 2009

However, Radiskull and Devil Doll was one of the very first web cartoons out there

Sluggy Freelance — Started: Aug 25, 1997
According to http://www.webcomicz.com/webcomics/1/sluggy-freelance.html

Browse Doctor Fun cartoons and logos all the way back to 1993 in The Doctor Fun Archive.

Sorry - not even close to 'the 1st'. Not to mention this example needs Windows to have run and who'd have bothered with that OS back in the 'day?
posted by rough ashlar at 8:55 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

ashlar, "comic" != "cartoon"
posted by flaterik at 8:58 PM on December 22, 2009

ashlar, "comic" != "cartoon"

Dr. Fun calls itself (ok himself) a cartoon.

Dr. Fun even says: I've seen some discussion online about what was the first Internet cartoon, what was the first web cartoon, what was the first cartoon for the web, etc. Doctor Fun was not the first Internet cartoon. That would be Hans Borjdahl's "Where the Buffalo Roam". Charley Parker's Argon Zark seems to have been the first comic designed for the web, although it started later than Doctor Fun. So, Doctor Fun was not the first Internet cartoon or the first Web cartoon, but he was in there somewhere.

And, without magical software (macromedia) that is limited as to where it can execute, this pretender to a 1st position is nothing more than a waste of disk space unless a tithe is paid to Bill Gates (or by that time Steve Jobs). Hardly 'best of the web' now or back then when only (self) select(ing) parts of the web could have seen this pretender to a #1 slot.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:14 PM on December 22, 2009

ashlar, "comic" != "cartoon"


a humorous or satirical drawing published in a newspaper or magazine

A humorous drawing, often with a caption, or a strip of such drawings; A drawing satirising current public figures; An artist's preliminary ...

a single caricature or comic drawing. Prior to the 19th century it referred to a full-size preliminary drawing for a painting or tapestry.

Argue with me, argue with The Blue - but you dare not argue with the Mighty Google!
(appeal to authority. Authority older than said 1st cartoon thingy.)
posted by rough ashlar at 9:18 PM on December 22, 2009

Rough Ashlar, it was one of the first web animations to see wide distribution. And while you're correct that the word "cartoon" encompasses single-still comics, it also encompasses animated cartoons, per a few online dictionaries.

By your repeated use of the phrase "this pretender to...", I take it you don't care for it. That's fine: we all have different tastes. But please don't crap all over the thread for those of us for whom it brings back fond past memories. Take it to MetaTalk if you feel that strongly about it, but it would be really nice if you'd take it out of the thread, please.
posted by MikeHarris at 9:28 PM on December 22, 2009

Oh my goodness. Yes I remember these. I painted Devil Doll on my middle school backpack, right next to some Nirvana and The Matrix patches. (Yeah, I was a pretty awesome 13 year old, thanks for asking.) I'm staying at my parent's house, and pulling this backpack from my old closet to take a photo brings back a lot of memories.

Thanks for the post, and the trip down memory lane.
posted by fontophilic at 9:48 PM on December 22, 2009

first web animations

Still not a 1st cartoon. 1st web animations would be the moving GIF spec.

, I take it you don't care for it.

For it to matter to the WORLD wide web - the world would have to be able to see it.

Macromedia doesn't run everywhere. Formats like GIF or JPEG were on platforms like GNU/Linux or FreeBSD. The openness of the web was slapped in the face (and still is) by run only on certain blessed platforms.

(I'm not even sure if this thing now disproven to be one of the 1st web cartoons is able to be seen on something as mainstream as a Goggle Android phone.)

it brings back fond past memories.

Then please don't make claims that are wrong. If you'd not claimed it was 'one of the 1st' I'd have filed this under "yet more things one has to run closed source software". You made the claim that is just not correct. And, as far as I am aware, there is no way to edit what has been posted had you been Metafilter'ed mailed over the mis-statement. All I can do is post the counter arguments and let others decide if your statement was correct or not.

That and expose the young'ns to Dr. Fun!
posted by rough ashlar at 9:52 PM on December 22, 2009

it was one of the first web animations to see wide distribution.


My memory of the 20th Anniversary Mac the 'new to download extension' Macromedia player had some kind of superheroine cartoon that had audio + scrolling graphics. Back when the TAM was still 'New' and 'supported' from Apple as a developer pricing. (perhaps side scrolling isn't "animation-y" enough?) Would take 5-10 mins to DL/spool over a modem as I remember.

Before the time Steve Steve'd the Newton - 1998.

I'd think that seeing the animation as a highlighted 'download this and go watch this cartoon' at Macromedia would be wide enough distribution - but without remembering the name of the dressed in purple angsty superheroine - hard for me to cite it.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:05 PM on December 22, 2009

Perhaps "widely seen" is a better description than "widely available". It's not the fact of it being an animated cartoon - an animated gif is not the same.

Yes, it was only on one platform. But an awful lot of people saw it, and I don't think the same can be said of much earlier entertainment in that format.
posted by flaterik at 10:37 PM on December 22, 2009

I don't even know what your point is, rough ashlar. I'd try to stay away from sarcasm in future.

I remember watching this when it first came out. I'm pretty sure I've seen all of them, but it's time to find out for sure.

Too bad about Sparks not being able to obtain copyright or even continue with the characters.

Filed in my pile of "why you should pay attention to copyright laws before you create things, if you are a creative person in the employ of any company whatsoever."

Yeah, but then what do you do after you've paid attention? Put some of your creativity on hold while at the company? I suppose you could try to negotiate a better deal, but unless you've got something unique then I can't see them changing their regular policies for you. I mean, they've got it for a reason, right?
posted by ODiV at 11:15 PM on December 22, 2009

On a Friday in the waning months of the 20th century...

Are we talking waning months of the 20th century or wanker pedant waning months of the 20th century?

I gots ta know.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:46 AM on December 23, 2009

Hooray, I just realized the Radiskull fan A.V. Phibes is the same A.V. Phibes that runs
OMGKitty!!!!: The blog of Katamari, the cutest scottish fold cat in all of Brooklyn. And as a lover of Radiskull - I've spent many hours watching those shorts over and over again - and a lover of OMGKitty!!!!, this is a perfect storm of... awesomeness. Kick it!
posted by soundofsuburbia at 4:30 AM on December 23, 2009

Guys, Radiskull and Devil Doll has absolutely no merit because it was apparently watched by no one, on a platform no one had, and was not even the first anything because it uses a technology we don't think should get that distinction.

But other than that, it was really novel at the time and my friends enjoyed the heck out of it. I found my stuffed Devil Doll when moving a couple weeks ago, and will probably set him on my counter for the next couple days so we can kick it.
posted by mikeh at 6:20 AM on December 23, 2009

For some reason, this was all new to me, yet I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd heard the Radiskull voice somewhere before. Then it hit me - Joe Sparks was also the creator/lead programmer for the CD-ROM game Total Distortion, which had similar songs and bizarro humor.
posted by anthom at 6:24 AM on December 23, 2009


I tried to watch these not too long ago, and they were not nearly as funny as I remembered.
There will always be a special place in my heart for that adorable Devil Doll, though.
posted by defragmeout at 6:39 AM on December 23, 2009

On top of all that Joe sparks is a very nice guy. Way back in my early burnout days I had a huge deadline that needed completing in shockwave and I was an enterprise programmer and because of the "burnedoutness" and lack of knowledge I was floundering with an obscure problem. I happened to ask Joe about it and he gave me the answer and I implemented it, getting the job done and getting the payment for it. When I asked him if I could compensate him he declined. Luckily Mrsgroweler owns a comic book store and we ended up buying copies of the comic and selling them so I paid him back as best I could.
posted by mrgroweler at 6:52 AM on December 23, 2009

God, I was just thinking about this the other day, and wondered if Radiskull and Devil Doll ever had a post here, Nice post, it's just the way I like it!
posted by Snyder at 9:18 AM on December 23, 2009

I've had Radiskull on my iPod for years. Time to watch the cartoons for the nth time.

posted by Splunge at 10:54 AM on December 23, 2009

« Older Hallelujah!   |   Lantern Slides Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments