A while ago Ryan Dosier at The Muppet Mindset asked me if I would be interested in starting up a new article series about being a muppet fan outside the US. WOULD I BE INTERESTED!? Immediately I started writing. Didn’t stop until I had a looong article that had to be divided into two to fit into the Muppet Mindset format.
Since then I’ve been waiting for him to publish my article. Until I found out that the good Ryan had already gone ahead and done so! You can read the article in its two parts at Muppet Mindset, or in its entirety here below.
Warning for total and utter nerdiness! And congratulations in advance to anyone patient enough to reach the bottom!
The Life of a Swedish Muppet Fan
by Andreas Qassim
Where it all started
The Muppet Show was an early acqcuaintance for me. While the original show aired 1976-81, Mupparna didn’t reach Sweden until 1978. Born in 1977 that would’ve made me around five or six when the show ceased its successful run on Swedish Television.
I clearly remember the Linda Ronstadt episode, the last but one episode of the entire series. Five year old me was enchanted by the closing number When I Grow to Old to Dream, and I have loved the song ever since. After that, Mupparna left Swedish television screens for what seemed forever.
1981 a Swedish version of Sesame Street called Svenska Sesam premiered. The title sequence with Hansson and Fia Jansson (the parrot and the pink hippo) was animated by Owe Gustafson. In the seventies he’d animated the titles for the highly popular Fem myror är fler än fyra elefanter (Five Ants Are More Than Four Elephants), an educational children’s show that was clearly inspired by Sesame Street. Svenska Sesam mixed live action segments starring Swedish actors and no puppets with dubbed puppet segments from Sesame Street.
Swedish television in the early 80s
Things were quite different in the early eighties. Today, in our part of the world, everything is available at an arm length’s distance. Back then we had only two state owned channels, TV1 och TV2. Cable TV was on its way, but it didn’t reach our household until a decade later. TV-series aired one episode per week. That means whenever popular series like Mupparna or Dallas were on, the whole country watched.
TV-shows were commonly preceded by this digital clock, counting down the seconds. Just before the hand reached its destination, my mother would say “NOW!”, and then as if by magic Mupparna began. I never understood how she did that. I tried placing myself in front of the TV when the clock was on, saying “NOW!” repeatedly, but Mupparna wouldn’t start. It only worked when my mother did it…
There wasn’t too much merchandise around in those days. So whenever you got your hands on a drawing pad with a Rolwf the Dog cover, or a Fozzie Bear mug, your luck was made. Not to mention if you got a plastic figurine. Boy, that was really something. Then there were the trading cards. All kids collected these and traded with each other in kindergarten and school. I had about half of the 78 cards (they were numbered, so you could keep track of which ones you had and didn’t have). When I moved to Malmö in my early twenties, I was flabbergasted when I found the complete collection in a toy collector’s store. I bought the remaining ones and mounted all the cards on a black piece of cardboard and framed it.
There were no more than three muppet comic books altogether, Full rulle med mupparna (The Comic Muppet Book), Mupparna går i däck (Muppets at Sea) and Det milda gänget (The Mild Bunch). I read these over and over, drew in them, and cut out the muppets, until they literally fell apart, so we had to re-buy them every now and then. Then there was of course the Gilchrist Brothers’ Mupparna (The Muppets) in the news papers and magazines. I used to collect these and make my own books. A month ago I got my copy of the first Gilchrist collection Short Green and Handsome. That was super precious. I felt like a kid again.
We didn’t have a VHS player until I was like ten, so the only way I could stay in the world of the muppets was through the merchandise, the comics and drawing. As a kid I was always drawing. My best friend Axel was also good at drawing. We used to play with action figures, make clay films, stage puppet plays and draw books and comics. I often credit the muppets for being the starting point of my creative life. The truth is that I was very much affected by TV in general. If you go through my childhood drawings you’ll clearly see what was on TV at the time, whether it was the Muppets, Tintin or V. The greatest inspiration was the combination TV-series/comic book/merchandise. Thus I watched, played with and drew Mupparna, Sesam, Fragglarna, Tintin, Star Wars, He-Man, G.I.Joe and Bamse. The latter is the Swedish children’s comic book for which I’ve now been drawing professionally for ten years.
Fragglarna did its first run on Swedish television 1984-85. Like Svenska Sesam it was dubbed to Swedish. The voices were great, but I remember reacting to Doc’s (Gerard Parkes) bad lipsynching. Of all Henson productions, Fragglarna is the one I have the most vivid memories of. Probably because I was at that age when your mind is like a sponge, absorbing everything it comes into contact with.
I remember the first time I saw fraggle merchandise. I was at the local swimming pool with my mum, and in the reception, on the desk, right in front of my nose stood a Wembley plastic figurine. I was so excited! Shortly after we went down to the toy store and I got my first plastic fraggle and doozer. I think I collected them all in the end. Or is there anyone missing?
Then a few days before Christmas, I saw on the top shelf in our wardrobe a wrapped present that had been torn a bit in the corner. Underneath it I could spot a Fraggle Rock plush doll carton. On Christmas Eve (when Swedes open their Christmas presents) I discovered it was Boober, my favorite fraggle. Next Christmas I got Uncle Traveling Matt, another favorite. These worn out toys are still sitting on my bookshelf today.
By the time of Fragglarna I had developed a system of recording the TV shows (still no VHS player). I would hang a microphone in front of the TV loudspeakers and record the sound to magnetic tape. It required that my mother, my friends or whoever was in the room had to stay absolutely silent during the show. I was totally fascist about this! Didn’t tolerate any noise whatsoever. Then I would listen to the sound and draw from memory. I made books and paper dolls, and sets or “cities” as I liked to call them. Through drawing I found I could stay in the TV-worlds as much as I wanted to.
I took this to an extreme with Tintin. At the age of seven or eight, I was so intrigued by Tintin going to the moon, I recorded the miniseries – four episodes I think – and then drew the whole story. I ended up with 460 pages that my grandfather later bound into a nice hard cover book.
The Muppet Movie
It must have been around 1985. I was seven or eight. We visited my auntie in Älmhult and I found out they had just bought a VHS-player. My ten year older cousin took me to the video store and we rented Star Wars V – The Empire Strikes Back and The Muppet Movie. Imagine seeing those two films for the first time on the same day! I used the technique I had developed for Fragglarna and recorded the sound of The Muppet Movie by hanging a microphone in front of the TV loudspeaker. Back home I listened to the tape over and over again. Thus I knew all the lines and sounds from the film by heart, even though for many years I had only watched it once.
It’s a special film in many ways. I think everything that the muppets represent for me is in that film. Seriousness and zaniness happily married. And the music is outstanding. When Kermit and Rowlf sing I Hope That Something Better Comes Along, the melancholy is for real. When Gonzo sings I Hope to go Back There Someday, he really means it. I don’t even have to mention The Rainbow Connection. The message of the film – follow your dreams, and pick up crazy friends along the way to share it with you – and those songs had a big impact on me.
In fact, making art wasn’t the only thing Jim Henson and the muppets inspired me to do. Through the muppets I came in contact with pop, rock and jazz. I digged The Electric Mayhem, Rowlf and all the crazy music numbers of The Muppet Show. Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock also had great music. Later I realized how music oriented the muppets really are. The music runs through everything, not least their sense of timing. The musical precision is often what makes it funny. Manah Manah is the perfect example of that.
When I was ten my mother registered me in the music school of Växjö. I got to choose which ever music instrument I wanted. It was like Christmas! And the choice was not hard. The coolest muppet of them all was Zoot, so I picked the alto saxophone. It was love at first sight, and the sax has been my axe ever since. Today I play regularly in a big band run by an old friend.
When I studied 3D animation last year, I felt I had to do something to sum up my appreciation for the muppets and the music. I chose to do a version of the classic sketch “Sax and Violence” from season one of The Muppet Show.
Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock have returned every now and then to Swedish television. They did a rerun of Mupparna in the late eighties. But after the intial media hype of “Mupparna returning to Swedish television screens”, the show only lasted one season. Season 1 to be more specific. As muppet fans know the show as we remember it came together in later seasons. Why didn’t Mupparna make it the second time around? Seemed like times had changed somehow. Since it wasn’t dubbed (which I’m very happy about) the preschoolers didn’t get it, school kids weren’t really interested, neither were the parents after the initial nostalgia had worn off. And by now commercial TV had entered Sweden. Everyone didn’t watch the same programs anymore.
Anyway, the rerun started off with The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years, which was the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. I was up in the air for weeks about that TV special. My grandparents had also gotten a VHS player by then, so my grandfather recorded the 30 year special and some of the episodes from season one for me. He also recorded A Muppet Family Christmas, another one of those rare occasions when ALL the Muppets, Fraggles and Sesame characters are gathered. I always loved that, when the whole screen is filled with muppets. And now, for the first time in my life I could watch the muppets whenever I wanted. And so I did. Here’s a great clip with Big Bird and the Swedish Chef from A Muppet Family Christmas:
When I was thirteen, we went on vacation to Florida. Me, my mum and her partner. This was in the summer of 1990. I was still very much a kid at heart, but by that time I was more into the Teanage Mutant Ninja Turtles than the muppets. I guess the turtles are not too far from the muppets anyway.
The first Turtles feature had just come out, and I was exhilarated about playing the arcade game at the highway restaurant between Miami and Orlando. I saw both the Turtles and the Muppets (people in scary costumes) at MGM studios and I had an amazing time. Unfortunately this was a year before Muppet*Vision 3D came out, so I had to stick with the Michael Jackson 3D-film Captain EO, which wasn’t too bad.
When we were about to leave the country, I saw some magazines in the airport kiosk. There were covers of Jim and Kermit, and headlines like “The muppets say goodbye to their best friend” and such. My heart froze. I didn’t know too much about Jim Henson back then. I knew that he created the muppets, but the muppets were the muppets for me and Jim Henson was just a name. I regret not buying some of those magazines.
Ten years later I had started pursuing a career in cartooning, and I had rediscovered all those things I loved during my childhood and why. In that process I read some of those articles about Jim Henson’s death on the internet. It made me peculiarly sad. It was almost like having lost a family member, even though it was so many years later. It’s strange how someone you’ve never met can have such an impact in your life. I guess that’s the power of art and entertainment. It can overcome any geographical or language barriers and reach the hearts of people.
Today I try to make a living as a cartoonist, working in comics, illustration and animation. I’d love to draw the muppets professionally one day, if only a cover for a comic book or so. But more importantly, I always try to be creative and acknowledge the power of the imagination. That’s what Jim taught me. Whenever I need inspiration, I return to the muppets. It was where it all started for me, and I’m pretty sure I won’t grow out of it as long as I live.
Come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination. Another favorite song from the Ben Vereen episode of The Muppet Show. Starts 3 minutes into the clip.