All art is the product of limitations. A movie will change its entire plot because they couldn’t shoot in a certain location, video game characters’ entire designs are shaped by what the hardware can render, Michelangelo didn’t have enough paint to finish Adam’s dick, etc.
“Eh, I’m sure the people of the future won’t be hung up on penis size.”
That’s why our favorite pastime is to dig up iconic pop culture moments that were the result of blind accidents, laziness, or corner-cutting measures the creators were hoping you wouldn’t notice at all. For example …
#7. Lex Luthor Is Bald Because An Illustrator Mixed Up Two Characters
Considering Superman is basically a god in red underwear, it’s impressive that his greatest adversary is a bald guy with a platinum credit card. Lex Luthor has been sparring with the Man of Steel ever since the ’40s, and through three different film franchises where the only consistent characteristic is his distinct lack of hair. However, his trademark baldness isn’t the result of supervillain-related stress, laboratory accident, or even cancer — the illustrators accidentally got him mixed up with another character.
“I wish someone told me that before I shaved my head for this piece of shit.”
Hardcore Superman fans know that Luthor originally had a flowing mane of red hair.
He looked more like Mickey Rooney as the Joker than anything else.
The unintentional change is a lesson in trying to do too much. After debuting in Action Comics in 1938, Superman quickly became the most popular comic book character ever created. In a matter of years, there were Superman graphic novels, spinoffs, and newspaper dailies. Creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster couldn’t keep up with the trend, and soon started employing ghost artists — illustrators who could mimic Shuster’s style while Shuster still got the byline. Because of the massive turnover, these artists often worked with little preparation and strict deadlines. Superman’s newspaper ghost artist, Leo Nowak, had the difficult task of drawing Superman comics on a daily basis, and did so by quickly reading the script Siegel sent him. Unfortunately, when Luthor popped up again, Siegel’s script didn’t mention anything about his sinister red locks.
The story goes that when Nowak went through back issues to see what Luthor looked like, he mistook another bad guy as the manipulative millionaire (specifically, one of Luthor’s henchmen, a stocky bald guy who did most of the villainous work in that particular issue).
He was this close to giving Lex a TV for a head instead.
Before anyone noticed his mistake, Siegel and Shuster invited Nowak to ghost draw Superman #10, in which Luthor also appeared. So of course, Nowak once again drew Luthor as a broad-shouldered cue ball, rather than the tiny, purple-suited ginger he had been in his original appearance. When Nowak presented his work to the creators, Shuster liked the bald version of Lex better — a decision which surely had nothing to do with the fact that Shuster had a habit of drawing hair like a mold of shiny plastic melted atop his characters’ heads. Over the years, Lex’s hair loss has become official D.C. Comics canon, despite the fact that it was really a product of overworked cartoonists.
“I just lost all of my hair! Save yourself before the radiation consumes you too!”
Meanwhile, for a weirdly similar story from the other side of the globe …
#6. Dragon Ball Z Made Super Saiyans Blond To Save Ink
Dragon Ball Z is credited with popularizing anime in the West and giving thousands of American teenagers something to watch while their Linkin Park album finishes downloading. Power in the Dragon Ball universe is not a static thing, so when the main characters of the show (the alien monkey-humans called Saiyans) crossed a threshold of awesomeness, creator Akira Toriyama wanted a physical change to mark their Pokemon-esque transformation. So their clothing explodes and their hair erupts into golden flames, letting the audience know that they have become Super Saiyan and people were about to be punched through mountains.
And like the Hulk, his pants don’t rip off for some reason.
However, there was also a second, equally important reason for these guys to light up the screen with their dazzling makeover: It saved Toriyama and his assistants a bunch of time and money.
Pictured: some poor man or woman getting to spend more time with their loved ones.
Before Dragon Ball Z was adapted into a television show, Toriyama was drawing the original manga in grungy black and white. He was also used to only having one assistant helping him, performing such vital tasks as coloring in the hair of all the characters — which was a lengthy, grueling job, as most of the characters are 40 percent hair, like muscular Troll dolls. Making a bunch of characters blond meant that all that hair space could simply be left white, clearing out a lot of work.
“Gaze upon my awesome ability to cut overhead!”
The time-saving design worked out well for everyone. Fans loved it, assistants were grateful, and Toriyama can point to his P.A.’s laziness every time someone mentions the weird overtones of making his superhumans look like Aryan poster children.
#5. Q*Bert “Swears” Because They Couldn’t Program Him to Speak English
Back in the day, video games were considered to be little more than children’s toys, so it was generally expected that they would be non-offensive and appropriate for the whole family. So it was a particularly hilarious novelty when Q*Bert, the titular character of the pyramid-style platforming action game, appeared in arcades cussing his goddamned face off whenever he got hit by an enemy.
“I’m gonna jump on your head you @!#?@!ing piece of @!#?@!”
It was enough to make the game stand out in increasingly crowded arcades, because it scratched a particular itch that still holds true to this day — people love it when adorable characters behave like bastards. However, rather than being the product of design genius, Q*Bert owes his bad temper to the game’s sound designer, who had fittingly gotten pissed off over his inability to get Q*Bert to speak.
You see, the original idea was for Q*Bert to actually speak English to the player, providing useful nuggets of information such as “bonus points” and other such tidbits that need to be spoken aloud rather than merely read off of a screen. But this was the early 1980s; video game technology was still in its infancy, and no matter how hard audio engineer David Thiel tried, he couldn’t get his synthesizer to make the words come out crystal clear. “Bonus points” kept sounding like “bogus points,” which was still a recognizable phrase in the 80s, but not the message Thiel wanted to convey.
“@!#?@! that.” — David Thiel
Eventually, a frustrated Thiel banged random symbols into the system, resulting in Q*Bert spitting out some slightly rude-looking gibberish. When Thiel presented the new Q*Bert to his teammates, they were delighted that the little tube-nosed mutant was now swearing at them in a made-up alien language. They abandoned the idea of Q*Bert providing helpful gameplay tips in favor of him just cussing at players for fucking up his life on the pyramid. Q*Bert wove a tapestry of profanity all the way to the bank, and has remained a recognizable icon of video game history ever since.
You do not want to find out what the Q-word is.
#4. Minecraft’s Creepers Are Failed Pigs
Before it became a multi-billion-dollar hit daring anyone over the age of 14 to understand what makes it great, Minecraft was a small indie pet project of a single programmer named Marcus “Notch” Persson, who designed the game in his basement. He didn’t have high-end software or even any employees, which meant that he had to type in every line of code himself to build the game. This included designing the Creeper, the giant green penis monster that is simultaneously the most recognizable character in the game and the bane of every Minecraft player’s existence.
About 50 percent of you just had a mini heart attack.
But the thing is, Persson created the Creeper completely by accident. One day, while he was trying to create a pig, he typed in the code incorrectly, which switched the dimensions of the creature. What came out wasn’t so much a charming farm animal as Salvador Dali’s impression of a stuffed animal.
Or Picasso designing sex toys.
Rather than erase his mistake from existence like any rational god would do, Persson decided he needed to find a place for it in his world. Up until then, all of Minecraft’s baddies were your run-of-the-mill fantasy skeletons and zombies, but this inverse pig abomination gave Notch the idea for a new type of enemy. One coat of green paint and an unhappy smile later, the Creeper was born — a monstrous mistake that would roam the world, destroying itself if it gets too close to another living creature because it cannot avenge its terrible existence against the creator himself.
“This pig will satisfy my need for shared oblivion.”
#3. A Translator For Mega Man X5 Let His Wife Come Up With The Boss Names
Wow, Axle actually showed up for his boss battle.
Axl Rose got turned into Axle the Red, Slash became Grizzly Slash, and Duff McKagan joined the robot revolution as Duff McWhalen. Squid Adler, Izzy Glow, Dark Dizzy, The Skiver, and Mattrex represented the less-memorable members of the once-mighty supergroup. However, this wasn’t an official marketing crossover with Guns N’ Roses, nor was it a move by the game’s publishers to get a piece of that sweet divorced dads demographic by referencing an ’80s hair metal band. The idea was the work of one rogue voice artist who happened to be married to Capcom’s USA text localization writer.
Behold the face of the rebellion.
Japanese games often change the names of their characters after going international, because direct translations of Japanese to English would leave Western gamers squaring off against monsters with names like “Smile Tooth Demon” or “Boring Skeleton.” So in the original Japanese version of Mega Man X5, the baddies still have perfectly normal abnormal names like Spike Rosered or Crescent Grizzly. The hard rock switch came when localization writer Erik Suzuki was feeling particularly lazy one day and decided to give the honors of naming the robotic villains to his then-wife Alyson Court, better known as the actress who voiced Resident Evil‘s Claire Redfield.
As one of the evil lairs was literally filled with guns and roses, Alyson decided it would be cute to name the bosses after her husband’s favorite band. The couple had a good laugh about it, though some fans started complaining that the random references meant that the game’s writers weren’t taking it seriously. Okay, they’ve probably got a point.
Yeah, don’t want to sully the naming integrity of a franchise that gave us this.
#2. Yogi Bear Wears A Tie To Save Money on Animation
Ever wonder why so many cartoon animals dress like they’re on their way to a business casual meeting? For instance, Yogi Bear wears a collar and a tie, although the rest of his shirt is suspiciously absent, as if he tore his fragmented outfit off of a mauled camper.
Business on top, exposed genitals on the bottom.
The collar and tie are now an integral part of Yogi Bear’s character, but the decision to dress him up for 10 percent of a homeowner’s meeting wasn’t a stylistic choice. It was an animation cheat designed to save money.
Back in the ’50s, animators were desperate to crack into the new “television for kids” market. The problem was that major studios like Disney or Warner Bros. only knew how to make movie-grade animation — a process way too expensive for TV. This began a race for who could cut the biggest corners without making their cartoons look like a fifth-grader’s flip book.
The winners were two upstarts named William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, who founded the Hanna-Barbera animation studio in 1957. Hanna-Barbera found a way to streamline character animation by layering the images — instead of drawing each individual image thousands of times to get a five-minute cartoon, the company started relying on stock images they could easily duplicate over and over again. This is why every Yogi Bear or Flintstones chase scene looks like everyone is doing laps around the same three houses over and over again.
“How long is this block?”
Because layering only worked with still images, Hanna-Barbera started thinking of ways to reduce all the moving parts in a panel. For characters like Yogi Bear, this meant limiting most of the actual animation to the limbs and, most importantly, the faces, allowing a single drawing of his torso to be reused over and over again. Unfortunately, if the only thing moving in a scene was Yogi’s head, it would look like it was spinning around independently from his body, sort of like The Exorcist. They needed a way to visually separate the two in a way that looked natural, so they dressed him in a disembodied collar.
That way, his head could move around all it wanted, with the collar providing a stationary border between his face and his body, allowing Hanna-Barbera to rubber stamp his torso until the end of time.
“We’ll make him dress smarter than the average bear.”
#1. The Silver Surfer Got His Board Because The Artist Was Sick Of Drawing Spaceships
Despite making as little sense as a comic book character can make, the Silver Surfer has ridden on his intergalactic surfboard in glistening chromatic nudity for over 60 years. And although he might seem like the product of a singular creative instinct, the Silver Surfer apparently only exists as we know him because surfboards are super easy to draw.
“This costs 12 cents. We’re not giving you another ship for less than 15.”
The Silver Surfer was a late addition to one of the greatest story arcs in Marvel history: the battle between the Fantastic Four and Galactus, Devourer of Worlds, God of Oblivion, and Possessor Of Numerous Superlatives. Galactus was the most powerful villain legendary comic creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had ever devised, and Kirby thought the character needed a little extra oomph. So when Kirby presented his initial illustrations, Lee noticed he had added a strange new character out of the blue: a “nut on some sort of flying surfboard.” Even for the ’60s, this idea was too far-out for Lee. After all, it’s not like flying surfboards are a thing, even in fiction. It doesn’t have rockets on it or anything. Why not a flying canoe?
But Kirby defended his choice, saying that a godlike villain such as Galactus should have his own herald, much like the Olympians of ancient myth or a rap crew from the 1990s. When asked about the surfboard, Kirby famously said, “Because I’m tired of drawing spaceships” — something he had to do quite often with Fantastic Four comics.
Now, you’re free to interpret his statement to mean that he was “tired” in the sense of being burned out creatively, and that he wanted something new. And the character became a worldwide phenomenon, so we’re not here to criticize. Still, compared to the panel-busting Galactus, we can’t help but notice the Silver Surfer is like an illustrator’s vacation — a featureless man riding around on a few lines of no. 2 pencil:
No costume, and minimal coloring and facial features …
there’s your lesson, kids: Work smarter, not harder.
For more ridiculous backstories behind your favorite pop culture, check out The 7 Most WTF Origins Of Iconic Pop Culture Franchises and 20 Surprising Origins Of Famous Pop Culture Ideas.