I have long been fascinated by the origins of Project Sword toys box art. The prospect of unearthing an entire folder of original art proofs marked PROJECT SWORD TOP SECRET has kept me awake on many a long winter night! In the early days of the blog, reader Darth flagged up the fascinating link between the wondrous Nuclear Ferry toy with the famous US space artist Robert (Bob) McCall, whom he knows personally and showed the toy to the artist for the first time - in 2008. Subsequently co-blogger WOTAN found the original and magnificent 'Look and Learn' comic art behind the box art of the said Ferry, also painted by Bob McCall.
Top - Look and Learn comic illustration
Bottom - comparison of Look and Learn and Century 21 box art
Both courtesy of WOTAN
In turn I have discovered that this 'Look and Learn' illustration was based on an earlier painting by Mr. McCall called Earth to Moon Shuttle (only a detail shown on his official site), excitingly a Time Life magazine cover although I have been unable to verify this. There is also a Nuclear Ferry-esque craft in McCall's Rendezvous in Lunar Orbit, which WOTAN earlier spotted as the source of a TV21 rocket. Knowing that Darth had shown the artist pictures of the Century 21 Nuclear Ferry for the first time only last year (off this blog) and much to his pleasant surpries, I decided in Summer to contact the Mr. McCall to try to establish whether he was ever approached by Century 21 Toys in the 60's for permission to use his artwork or some other arrangement or whether it was simply 'lifted' by the unidentified Century 21 box artist. Catherine McCall, the artist's daughter, kindly sent this reply:
"Hi Paul, I've forwarded this email to my father and discussed it with him today. He found it interesting but is unsure exactly where that image is today. As far the original art being copied or lifted, that happens all the time and we have decided to consider it the highest form of compliment. It becomes an interesting debate when one artist begins to set the style for future artists and this is how we at McCall Studios choose to view any followers of Robert's art. One of his primary goals has been to inspire.Thank you for contacting me,
For further information about Bob McCall check out the artist speaking about his work on You Tube and his official website.
The lifting of the Earth to Moon Shuttle art doesn't simply stop with the Century 21 Nuclear Ferry. I have also discovered at least two further copied illustrations of the passenger craft at the front of the ferry. The first has been covered partially on the blog before - the Space Watches on the Nuclear Ferry backing card posted by WOTAN (see below). Working on a hunch I acquired a set of the watches and lo and behold, the passenger cab also appears on the picture dial of half of the actual watches! Its a simple rendition of the McCall Shuttle cab but unmistakable.
Spurred on by this discovery I began to scour toy sites and catalogues for more Ferry images and just when I thought the trail was going cold I stumbled across the same 'passenger cab' image on a small Japanese tinplate spinning top at Main Street Toys! As with the watches, I acquired said top to have a closer look and once again its unmistakable! Ferry nice indeed!
I continue to search occasionally for further Nuke Ferry images but no joy since the Spinning Top. As for proper toys we will have to settle for the magnificently large Century 21 and demure Spacex versions unless blog reader Arto's recent discovery of a Hover Booster Rocket is a harbinger of even greater Hover finds!
Alas, we are no further in finding out who the actual box artist was at Century 21 who copied Bob McCalls painting but at least we know what the original is. There will be further posts on box art over the next few days as the bloggiversary sadly draws to a close next Sunday.
One last thing, for those readers interested in furthering your collections of Nuclear Ferry-related toys then check out the side-bar for two blogsclusive offers.