The exotic alien influence on my own sci-fi art of the French television show Les Mondes Engloutis (better known in English-speaking countries as Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea) only became apparent to me sometime within the last 10 years, though I haven't seen the show since I was 10-years-old…possibly even younger. Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea was markedly different than other Saturday morning fare with its steady stream of esoteric concepts.
Conspiracy Theories in Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea
Even a brief glance at the premise of the show would indicate that the story alone acts as an influence on sci-fi art. The show was like a buffet of conspiracy theorist mythology, presented through the filter of an extradimensional fantasy so it never felt too heavy. A race known as the Arkadians living at the center of earth are facing the end of the world as their artificial sun is extinguishing. Two Arkadian children create a being named Arkana tasked with seeking assistance from the people of the surface. For reasons I can't quite recall, Arkana returns with only a duo of earth children, an escaped gladiator named Spartakus, and two pangolins with strange powers.
Throughout their journies, the band of unlikely protagonists are confronted with adventures involving transdimensional travel, lapses in time, and the hollow earth theory. It was almost as if Jodorowsky had made a Saturday morning cartoon for children. Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Seais very direct about these concepts within the show's plot but I find similar themes are hinted at within my own fantasy and sci fi art thanks largely to the bizarre influence of Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea.
The Exotic Alien Influence on Sci Fi Art
I never felt a warm connection to the characters. Rather it was as if I sensed something slightly askew in the world of Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea in addition to the obvious. It's a cold, foreign feeling that I've strived to work into my own sci fi art but can't say for certain I've even come close to achieving. And there's something reassuring about that because I find the atmosphere of Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea to be genuinely unsettling. It's a stranger in an even stranger land mentality; a parade of unpredictable behavior, colorful and unable to be processed. It's a feeling so alien that only great sci fi art would be able to obtain it. It was impossible for me to feel comfortable when I watched the baffling episodes on Nickelodeon in the late-'80s.
For a work that I feel had such a pronounced influence on my sci fi art, Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea was actually a show I tried to avoid. I was creeped out by its grotesque earthy colors. But there was also an iciness in the presentation of Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea, the same qualities that scared me in the paintings of Patrick Nagel (also an enormous sci fi art influence), the smell of hair salons, and the disconnection in watching an exotic, deranged interdimensional fantasy that almost felt post-apocalyptic from the futuristic, yet cold utopian sheen of the 1980s.
Media-Manipulating Punk Pirates
The Interstrata Marine Pirate Federation were one of the most disturbing elements of the show for me. This quartet of sci fi art punk pirates would appear fairly often, typically preceded by a strange, boisterous pop song about the pirate philosophy. But these weren't typical pirates. They operated in a society that was carefully controlled by media manipulation. The only female in the group, Massmedia, piloted a radio craft from which she broadcast her pirate propaganda. All of the pirate's names were plays on word, one even being named Seskapil as in "sex appeal" (though this was changed in English versions to Sleazeappeal). The pirates flew about in metallic red lip vehicles lined with fangs.
The Corrupted Archetype
Another immense sci fi art influence reinforced by Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea was the inclusion of the archetype of a character born into morally honorable circumstances who is then thrust by fate into a situation in which s/he is raised, presumably against his/her nature, into a villainous character. It's a strange tragic element to incorporate into the story of a villain because there's a frustration in it; the frustration that this character could have been such a positive force but was corrupted without much chance.
In Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea, the archetype wears the face of Rainbow, Spartakus' younger brother. Spartakus is separated from Rainbow when they are children. While Spartakus is sold into slavery as a gladiator, Rainbow is adopted into a lavish life and raised by gladiator trainers, adopting their cruelty. From what I can recall, Rainbow is never swayed from his villainous path.
A somewhat similar character from another work that had an impact on sci fi art was Feyd Rautha-Harkonnen of Dune. It was the wish of Feyd's father that he'd break the Harkonnen penchant for violence and cruelty. Upon hearing this, Feyd's uncle took the child and raised him in his name according to the vicious and arrogant Harkonnen philosophies.
The Sci Fi Art Animation of Spartakus...
Since we're talking about sci fi art, the animation of Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea would seem primitive by today's standards but it incorporates a style akin to a simplified Moebius. Intricate structures are paired alongside visually exotic characters with a disjointing effect. I'm not sure if there's an actual term for this type of cartoon sci fi art although I've heard it termed French anime.
The influence of Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea on my sci fi art may have the strangest endurance of any of my influences considering I didn't enjoy watching it in the '80s and I've never seen it since, yet at least 15 years later it spontaneously came to me from the back of my mind with sudden relevance to my life. To see if you're similarly affected, you can watch full episodes of Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea on youtube (in some cases with translations) including the theme song that accompanies the appearance of the unnerving pirates. For some reason, I prefer the French version.