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rjpugh's avatar

Outerscope I

If anyone recognizes this fragment of television history, I will be astonished. If someone does recognize it, please post a comment. I'll elaborate on this ship at that time. Let the guessing game begin.

This image was originally hand-drawn using a charcoal pencil in a newsprint sketchbook, roughly 18 x 22 inches. I made this drawing over two years ago when I was thinking of pitching a graphic novel idea. In truth, I would have been the writer and someone else would have done the drawing, but this would have been a piece of concept art to get them started. However, given that the ownership of the original material was impossible to determine at the time, I tabled the idea.

I scanned this image in four sections, then stitched it together using GIMP. I also subjected it to more color filters, saturation changes, and who knows what else, until settling on this sepia appearance. I thought it gave the image a vaguely steampunk look. Or, like it was drawn on a piece of parchment. You be the judge.

Originally, the text was part of the original drawing, but it got badly mangled during the restoration of the image, so it was replaced with direct digital text.

Outerscope I is (or was) copyrighted by someone who used to work for the New York State department of education, circa 1976. For all I know, they may still. Sadly, that's all I know.

Update: May 14, 2014

In addition to the comments visible here, I’ve received some personal comments about this piece.  So, as promised…

Outerscope-I was a segment that ran on a PBS children’s show called Vegetable Soup.  Vegetable Soup was an independently produced educational “variety show” that was produced by the New York State Department of Education, and most of the segments were filmed and edited in the New York city area.  The show appeared on PBS stations throughout New York State and New England for a time, and I understand that some episodes were ran on other PBS affiliates throughout the country.  The rules of TV syndication were different back then.  I don’t know how long Vegetable Soup ran, as my PBS affiliate dropped the show in favor of a locally produced talk show for children.  However, I suspect it ceased production in 1979, as I stopped seeing references to it.

The premise of Outerscope-I was a group of kids building a spaceship, and then using it to explore other worlds.  The ship itself was a structure that was assembled out of scraps and junk in a municipal playground somewhere on Long Island, and one of the kids developed a whoop-ass fuel derived from, if memory serves, cooking oil.  Five kids from racially and culturally diverse backgrounds, and their cat, fired up the ship and explored the universe.  Among the worlds they visited was a place where creatures that look like kitchen tools were locked in a long and bloody conflict, a world where the meanings of all adjectives are reversed (from our standpoint), and my favorite was a world where a junk collecting monster was keeping two city states on the brink of open warfare.

It got pretty darn creepy!  The puppetry that was used to portray the characters was itself rather strange.  One critic compared it to Muppets on acid. But the social messages and issues explored by the show were very bold for the time:  racism, prejudice, drug use, deceit, child abuse, and emotional torture to name a few.  And this was a show aimed at children!  I suspect that for every kid like me who found Outerscope-I fascinating, there are at least two who were scared shitless by it and swore off science fiction for life.

I’d talk about my graphic novel idea, but my agent advised me otherwise, since there is still a tiny chance that it could one day pan out.

One thing that was always ambiguous about the show, however, was whether or not the kids actually traveled in space.  I personally suspect that the entire voyage of Outerscope-I was in the imagination of the children.  At the end of the story, we see the kids get out of their ship, and it’s in the very same playground they started in.  But just because the adventure took place entirely in their minds doesn’t make the story any less interesting, or the lessons any less valid.  The adventure was certainly very real to the kids.  In some ways, the formula was similar to the one used by a more recent animated show, The Backyardigans.

Outerscope-I: the original spaceship of the imagination.

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Thinkbolt's avatar

Outerscope 1! Awesome!

All episodes of season 1 are online now!

dreamhive's avatar
I remember those nightmare-inducing dead-eyed big-handed creepy puppets.

Looks like all the episodes are on youtube now…
Hairboy's avatar
I also remember this show.  I wish I could find more than one episode on youtube.  Creeeepy stuff.
Okay, so it took three years, but here's your comment.  There was also an Outerscope II :)

rjpugh's avatar
Well I'll be damned.  Someone does remember this!  Ironically, I never saw Outerscope II.  My regional PBS affiliate dropped Vegetable Soup in favor of a locally produced children's talk show. 

I guess now I need to explain more about this ship, eh?  :)
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