Originally Posted Online: June 22, 2013, 11:42 pm
Last Updated: June 23, 2013, 11:24 am

Q-C puppeteer crafts heavy foam rockers

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By Seth Schroeder, sschroeder@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti | staff
Seth Cheppell has created close to a dozen foam puppets -- including his own puppet avatar, Beardo. The Rock Island resident has spent hours constructing puppets for famous musicians that are then used for on-line web casts.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti | staff
Some of Seth Chappell's hand-made puppets stare out from his workspace inside his Rock Island home.

The first puppet Seth Chappell built was a monster.

The fairy tale villain made out of cardboard tubes and yarn was covered in burlap and had golden horns. The Quad-Cities resident made it when he was 8 as part of a play for a children's art class at Augustana College.

He said he grew up around creativity. His father was a photographer at Augustana, and his grandmother taught him early how to sew. He taught himself how to build toys such as space ships and the AT-AT Walk from "Star Wars" out of cardboard.

"Cardboard, masking tape, scissors -- you could set me down for hours, and I would just go," he said.

Now 40, Mr. Chappell is making puppets that resemble heavy metal musicians such as Scott Ian, of Anthrax, Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister, of Motorhead, and Brian Fair, of Shadow's Fall.

His work is part of an ongoing project called Foam Foolery, with Mr. Chappell using the puppets as stand-ins for video interviews and skits on his website, foamfoolery.net. The puppets are the stars of the videos, with the audio taken from conversations between Mr. Chappell and the artists.

The rod puppets are busts from the waist up, with heads that Mr. Chappell has carved from Styrofoam and bodies covered in a high quality felt. He said he works hard to add personal details to each puppet -- Sharpie tattoos, facial hair or moles.

Some get special additions, such as special devices to let their eyes move. A puppet he constructed to resemble Zakk Wylde from Black Label Society can move his fingers as if playing a guitar.

Most of Mr. Chappell's work occurs in a small home office he and his wife, Ren, call "The Lair." The room is lined with heavy metal posters, memorabilia from Jim Henson's "The Muppets" and rows of completed puppets, including Butcher Pete, the mascot of an online show through Hot Topic's former music site, ShockHound.

Mr. Chappell said that it was through his work as a Hot Topic manager that he started Foam Foolery. While working there, he interviewed Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante for an in-store magazine. But he didn't believe the interview transcribed well. So he decided to try a stop-motion animation project.

"But stop-motion takes three years to do two seconds, so I thought OK, I can't do that," he said.

Instead, he opted to use puppets. He began researching how puppets work and how to build them. Though he did not stay with Hot Topic, his work has evolved into his current project.

Recently, he has created a puppet version of S'tan, the mascot of the UK music festival Bloodstock. He currently is working on a puppet for actor Wil Wheaton. He also takes custom orders of individuals and nonlicensed characters through his website.

One of his puppets is featured at the Mellow Blue Planet comic shop at 2212 5th Ave., Rock Island. Atop the store's T-shirt rack sits a zombie version of Tim Johnson, the store's owner.

Mr. Johnson said Mr. Chappell had been shopping at Mellow Blue Planet for more than a year before telling him about Foam Foolery and asking if he could make Mr. Johnson a puppet.

"I didn't know what to think or say to that," Mr. Johnson said. "Then he came in carrying a zombified puppet of me."

The puppet catches the attention of a lot of people, he said. Most are quite impressed with it, Mr. Johnson said. Some children are scared by the puppet, he said, and he moves it when they enter.

Not all children are scared by Mr. Chappell's work. His 8-year-old son, Seth, said he thinks his dad's puppets are cool.

One of Seth's favorites is Beardo, his dad's own puppet avatar that sports long, blue hair from his chin, similar to the beard Mr. Chappell used to wear.

Mr. Chappell said he plans to enroll Seth in art classes at Augustana, just as he attended. Right now, he said, the two are looking for the right class.

"Eventually he'll get in there, and he'll do that," he said. "He makes comic books now."