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Jack’s Compass

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“True enough, this compass does not point north….it points to the thing you want most in this world.” – Captain Jack Sparrow

Captain Jack’s compass is one of the most iconic props featured in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  In “Curse of the Black Pearl” the compass leads Jack and his crew across the Caribbean to the dreaded Isla de Muerta and to his precious ship, the Black Pearl.  In “Dead Man’s Chest” Jack can’t seem to make the compass work on his own and has to con others into using it so he can find the heart of Davy Jones.  And in “At World’s End” the compass is constantly changing hands from one character to another as the double-crosses and triple-crosses pile up.

While looking for a replica of the compass for my costume I have found everything from elaborate wooden replicas priced over $200, to cheap plastic toys that barely look like the original at all.  Forgotten Seas Trading Co.  offers a fantastic resin version of the compass that uses earth magnets to make the dial spin (hide one in your palm glove to make it point in whatever direction you desire).  It’s a version I certainly wouldn’t mind having at some point since a wooden replica might be a bit fragile, and if I got up to some crazy Captain Jack high jinks I’d hate for an expensive compass to get damaged.

But probably the most common compass that a lot of Jack Sparrows out there carry is a modified version of the Disney Store compass.  These have become a bit of a rarity, though, and as such are usually a bit pricey when they show up on eBay.  It wasn’t my first choice (naturally I’d prefer a wooden replica or the Forgotten Seas version), but when I found one on eBay that wasn’t outrageously priced I thought, “why not?”

The compass arrived looking every bit like the children’s toy it is, packaged with a vinyl replica of Sao Feng’s map, an eye patch, a pint-sized plastic skull ring, and a plastic clip-on hoop earring.  But what makes this particular compass such a favorite among Captain Jack cosplayers is that it’s a fairly accurate size and has a free spinning dial.

Of course the dial face is all wrong, as is the latch and the lack of a ring to attach a leather cord to for tying it onto your belt, but that’s why this compass is a modifying project and not a ready-to-use prop.

One of my Jack Sparrow pals over on the message boards and facebook offered to do the mod, so I sent the compass his way to be decked out and made to look more authentic.  First, he used a dremel to replicate the nicks and dings and make it look a bit beat up.  Then he gave it a new coat of paint and replaced the dial using a more accurate one from an image he printed off the internet.  Next, he replaced the flimsy plastic latch on the front with a metal one.  And lastly, he added a brass ring to the back and a leather cord, and the compass was complete.

Once the compass was returned to me I finished it up by giving it a bit more age and weathering using acrylic paint and a sponge.  And thus, the finish product looks something like this:

Is it a perfect replica of Jack’s compass?  Of course not.  But for an inexpensive plastic toy from the Disney Store I’d say it came out looking pretty darn great!  Eventually I hope to own a more accurate version of Jack’s compass, but for now this one looks really good and will work just fine.

One vendor’s site that I’ve browsed many, many times is called Swag Arts where Tia Jill offers up some fantastic replicas of Jack’s Piece ‘O Eight and other various beads and coins for his wig, as well as some other awesome trinkets for Jack’s gear.  I’ve recently been lucky enough to grab a couple of her items while they were in stock, and I’ll be discussing them in an upcoming post, but for now I just want to mention one small item I purchased from the site a few months ago.  Tia Jill had been going through a big move and most of her items were out of stock, but since I was on the site with a few extra doubloons to spend I ordered some kohl eye makeup because it was available.  Sure, any old black eye pencil could probably be used to achieve the same effect, but I like buying things within the Jack Sparrow costuming community whenever possible.  I’ve only played with the makeup once since it arrived, and (although I clearly need a lesson or two in applying eye makeup) it seems to work really well.  It was the middle of the night and I was bored, so I put on a silly Rastafarian beanie with dreads and my Jack Sparrow bandanna and snapped a selfie.

The checklist of things I need in order to finish my Captain Jack outfit is getting ever shorter, but the things still left on that list are also some of the biggest and most expensive parts of the costume.  Some things I can substitute with bits of my Captain McAnen costume for the time being, like the shirt, pants, and waistcoat.  But there is one item I need above all others in order to pull off even a passable Jack Sparrow look:  the wig.  Luckily I know exactly where I’m going to get it, and it’s going to be my Christmas present to myself this year.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been bumbling around mimicking everyone’s favorite wobbly-legged pirate for over 10 years, but it looks like 2014 will be the year I finally look the parts as well.  So until next time, here’s wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


The Costuming Adventures Continue….

Finally, the long awaited first video.  Sure. it’s just an introduction, but it’s the beginning of bigger things to come.  Check it out, and stick around, because more costuming adventures are on the way.

The Adventure Begins Here!

     In 2003 “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” was launched into cinemas, and almost instantly Captain Jack Sparrow became one of the most beloved characters in movie history.  Like many others I became completely obsessed with Captain Jack and started mimicking his voice, his gestures, and that crazy half-drunken swagger.  Actor Johnny Depp describes Captain Jack as a weird blend of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and Looney Tunes character Pepe Le Pew, and says the captain is probably the most fun character he’s ever played.  It’s easy to see why.

  I saw “Curse of the Black Pearl” 4 or 5 times in the cinema, and when the DVD came out I drove to Walmart at midnight to pick up one of the first copies so that I could get a limited edition screen used coin.  No, it wasn’t one of the pieces of Aztec gold, but a plastic gold doubloon used as set dressing in the treasure cave featured in the movie.  But what I really wanted was Captain Jack’s outfit.  Just a couple of years earlier I had put together a completely authentic Indiana Jones costume, but I had a lot of help from http://indygear.com/.  The guys at the website had been researching Indy’s costume for years  and knew where the various pieces came from.  Unlike Indy’s gear, Jack Sparrow’s costume was not assembled from various suppliers.  It had been designed and created by costumer Penny Rose, and back in 2003 there weren’t yet many fans making and selling high quality replicas of Jack’s garb.  At one point I bought a generic pirate sword, a dreadlock wig, a phony mustache and beard, some red fabric that I made a bandana out of, and a black eyeliner pencil just for playing around, but I knew I’d never be able to make an authentic Jack Sparrow costume the way I had done with Indiana Jones.  Of course, that was before “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” hit theatres in 2006, and after that everything changed.

(In full costume as Indiana Jones back in 2001)


     With the release of “Dead Man’s Chest” came a slew of Pirates of the Caribbean merchandise including toys, games, and costumes.  A company called Master Replicas that had previously made replicas of the lightsabers from Star Wars started producing replicas of Jack’s sword, pistol, compass, and rings.  Costume enthusiasts started making reproductions of his hat, clothes, belts, and boots and selling them online on sites like eBay.  Captain Jack mania exploded full force and it looked like I might be able to put together an authentic Jack Sparrow costume after all.  There was just one major obstacle standing in my way: money.  I had fallen on rough times financially the year before and was slowly having to let go of a lot of things.  The people offering Jack Sparrow costume pieces for sale weren’t companies but rather individuals making custom replicas, so everything was very expensive.  Once again shelving any hope I had of ever owning a complete, athentic version of Captain Jack’s wardrobe I came up with a new idea; to assemble a pirate costume for a character of my own.

  I started scouring the internet looking for any and every website store I could find that offered things to make an authentic pirate costume.  Not a fan of cheap Halloween costume garb that falls apart after one use, I was looking for clothes made out of good, sturdy, period appropriate materials.  I drew some sketches of how the character might look and played with different color schemes for the wardrobe.  But to really know what my character should look like I had to know who he was, where he came from, and what his story might be.  My background is in film-making and theatre, so I couldn’t help but approach this new idea with the mindset of an actor, a writer, and a director.  I started doing tons of research on pirates, the Golden Age of Piracy, ships of the era, weapons, and everything else I could think of.  Eventually I settled on a name for the character and wrote a short story, and Captain McAnen was born.

(Design sketch of Captain McAnen)


     After writing the short story I started dreaming up ideas for other adventures the character could go on.  One of my best friends at the time got in on the fun and created a character as well, and pretty soon we had all sorts of epic tales dreamed up for our pirate characters.  Originally I thought I would just continue writing a series of short stories, we even talked about doing it as a comic book at one point, but by September of 2007 it was clear that what I had in mind was on such a grand scale that there was really only one way to do it justice; it needed to be a novel.  Not only that, but three novels!  The story was so big, the only way to really tell it would be as a trilogy.  When I came to the realization that what I was creating was a trilogy and I knew what the story lines for Books 2 and 3 would be, it became necessary to go back and re-engineer the plot for Book 1.  Over the next couple of years I continued to do tons of research as I searched for a story idea I was happy with for Book 1.  Ideas came and went, but like a giant jigsaw puzzle the pieces didn’t always fit.  I would often get busy with other projects and go long periods of time without working on the book at all, but it was always in the back of my mind.  Since 2007 I’ve appeared in 3 plays, directed a production of “Driving Miss Daisy”, and designed and produced 2 haunted houses from scratch.  I’ve also gone through a couple of serious relationships and a number of life changing events.  But finally, one night in late 2011 I had the epiphany I’d been waiting for, and all the problems I’d been having with the plot for Book 1 seemed to solve themselves.  Now it is simply a matter of forcing myself to sit down and actually finish writing the novel.

  But what about the costume?  Like the book, it often took a backseat to other things, but unlike the book it also cost money, and that hasn’t been something I’ve had an abundance of the past few years.  Nevertheless, in 2008 I managed to put together a decent first version of the costume for the Captain McAnen character just in time for Halloween and the Texas Renaissance Festival.

(In costume at the 2008 Texas Renaissance Festival)

There was still a lot to be done with the costume at that point, things to be added and things to change, but overall it was a good first attempt at the look I was going for.  The waistcoat was a part of my then girlfriend’s costume that we had found online and it didn’t really fit me (her’s was actually a pretty well made costume considering it was an out-of-the-bag Halloween pirate costume).  The shirt would later be turned pink when my teenage sister borrowed it for a school project and washed it with a red bandana.  To salvage it I used Ritt Dye and dyed it black, but it later ripped and I never got it fixed.  By 2010 I was dating a different girl and her mother offered to fix it, but it was apparently misplaced and now we have no idea where it is.

In late 2010 I decided it was time to revisit the costume and try to finish it.  My girlfriend at the time bought me a new shirt for Christmas and I started up again.  This time the shirt was black (the white ones in that style were sold out), and I added a purple bandana to my gear.  Everything else was the same as before, but I knew I would be making plenty of changes and additions.  I was perfectly happy with my hat, sash, and breeches, but the belts were just a regular black belt I wear all the time and a rope belt that came with a pair of shorts.  The boots were okay, but were basically just a decent pair of costume boots made out of pig leather.  The soles were rubber and just glued on, and I actually had to mend them with super glue at one point when the heel tried to come off.

(The second version of the costume, April 2011)

Over the next few months I started making some extra money again and kicked my costuming adventure into high gear.  I was able to get my hands on a new white shirt, added a waistcoat, and had a belt and baldric made (a baldric is the belt worn over the shoulder that holds a sword).  The biggest addition was a pair of custom boots from http://www.caboots.com/.  These are the same guys that made Johnny Depp’s boots for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  Mine are based on Will Turner’s boots from “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End”, only mine are brown instead of black.  I also added a couple of replica pistols and a new sword.  It had taken almost 5 years, but Captain McAnen’s costume was now essentially complete.  There’s a ring I would like to get and I still want to have a frock coat made, but this is damn close to the finished look I had in mind when I drew that original pencil sketch back in 2006.

(My complete Captain McAnen costume, November 2011)

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The bad thing about this hobby is it can get a bit addictive.  As you acquire certain pieces you find changes you want to make, and new looks you want to explore.  For example, while I did eventually find a white shirt I also now had a really cool black one.  I ordered the black waistcoat in the photo above from a second vendor after I didn’t get a reply back from the first one I picked out, only to have the original vendor contact me a couple of months later.  When they did finally get in touch with me I went ahead and ordered a brown waistcoat from them because I liked their design so much.  I also had a green bandana that I purchased back when I bought the purple one.  This basically created a completely different version of the costume for me, and over time I will probably add other pieces to mix-and-match with.  This September will also mark the 5th anniversary of my decision to make the story of Captain McAnen into a novel, so my plan is to have a completed first draft by then, or at least one that is damn close to finished.

(My alternate-look costume for Captain McAnen, October 2011)

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So what about Jack Sparrow?  After all, the title of this blog is “Becoming Jack Sparrow”, not “Becoming Captain McAnen”.  Well boys and girls, you will all remember this as the day that my Jack Sparrow costuming adventure begins!  Well, sort of anyway, at least for the blog.  You see, my costuming adventure has already begun.  Back in 2008 when I started making my Captain McAnen outfit I purchased a Jack Sparrow bandana (yep, the same red bandana that turned my original white shirt pink), and last year I got my hands on an incredibly authentic replica of Jack’s emerald skull ring (plenty about that in the next blog).  Over the past couple of years even more vendors have started making Jack Sparrow wears and it is finally possible to put together an incredibly accurate costume.  The release of “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” last year certainly didn’t hurt matters either.  There’s also a new website, http://jacksparrowcostuming.wikispaces.com/, designed to help us Jack Sparrow wannabes find the best gear.  It reminds me a lot of the way indygear.com made my Indiana Jones costume so easy to find back in 2001.  Then there are the message boards at http://www.keeptothecode.com/ and http://www.brethrencourt.net/ that have been very helpful.  I’ve even chatted with a couple of people that worked on the production of “On Stranger Tides” on them!

When 2012 rolled around I decided it was finally time to take the plunge and set out to do what I’ve wanted since “Curse of the Black Pearl” came out all the way back in 2003: put together an authentic Jack Sparrow costume.  If all goes well I might just have the whole thing finished in time for the 10 year anniversary of “Curse of the Black Pearl” next year.  To make this goal more feasible I will attempt to purchase one new item each month rather than trying to buy it all at once.  For budget reasons this needs to be a marathon, not a sprint.  Since it is now May I’ve already got my hands on a few great items and I will discuss them in upcoming blogs.  Using my Captain McAnen costume as a base,  I plan to slowly morph it into a complete Captain Jack Sparrow outfit; that’s what this blog is all about!  So set sail with me, mateys, and join in on the fun as I become Captain Jack Sparrow!!!

Yo ho yo ho, a pirate’s life for me!

(My favorite photo for costume reference)