I’ve always been aware of John Stanley, the comic book writer and artist best known for his classic Little Lulu stories (drawn by Irving Tripp). But until recently, I had no idea that any of Stanley’s work had been adapted to animation. Apparently two of Stanley’s Lulu stories were adapted (quite poorly and without credit) by Paramount’s cartoon studio in 1961 and ’62. Frank Young, on his excellent blog Stanley Stories, has compared the animated films to the original comics stories, showing up how poorly Seymour Kneitel understood comic timing while at the same time, showcasing how funny Stanley’s original source material was – and still is.
Young also dissects the first cartoon, Alvin’s Solo Flight. It was through Young’s blog that I discovered Stanley also wrote hilarious stories for Tom & Jerry, Raggedy Ann, Andy Panda and other Western comics titles.
Animation director Yvette Kaplan (Beavis and Butt-head) not only grew up reading Stanley’s stories, but his influence has inspired her storytelling talents and her career as an animation director. I asked her to explain her passion for John Stanley’s comics and what animators can learn from his work. She responded with the following essay:
When I was a kid, nine, ten, eleven, I loved reading comics. “Archie” mainly, as the luncheonette down the block had a rack reliably filled with them. Betty was my fave. Sure, Veronica was rich and pretty enough, but I didn’t get her at all. How could I, growing up in working class Bensonhurst, Brooklyn? Couldn’t Archie see how great Betty was? Apparently not. Clearly, Archie was a jerk.
I liked Betty so much that I once even dreamt she had her own comic book! I was sad when I woke up and realized the dream wasn’t real. But guess what? Within weeks of having that dream, it came true! Betty suddenly had her own comic called ”Betty and Me.” I was amazed! Thrilled! Butâ€¦ if truth be told, I was bummed: my secret was out. I was jealous! She wasn’t ”my” Betty anymore. She was –(gasp!)– popular! So what did she need with me?
Happily, miraculously, the pain of my loss was eased when I found another comic that I loved even more. Starring (could it be?) another blond! She, and the comic book itself, was so funny it made me laugh out loud, and I found myself searching the comic racks day after day in hopes of more — usually in vain. This comic was scarce, not omnipresent like the Archie bunch. “Do you have any new Thirteen Going On Eighteen comics?” I’d ask Murray, the owner of the luncheonette. “What?” he’d bellow. I’d say it again louder; “Thirteen Going On Eighteen!” “What the heck is that?” he’d mutter. “Get an Archie.” But I was hooked. Having no other choice, I was content to read my few precious copies over and over and over, and soon I knew every panel, every line, and every crazy, energetic, life filled drawing by heart. Dog eared, worn down and shamefully cover- less, While a pile of Archie’s languished in a shopping bag in the back of a closet in my mother’s apartment, I’ve kept my Thirteen Going On Eighteen’s with me for my whole life; through high school, college, marriage, motherhood, 3 houses, divorce, and a cross country move. Over the years I managed to collect a few more issues — thanks to a dear comic-collector friend of mine who tracked them down. But it wasn’t easy, since hardly anyone seemed to know they ever existed. This was surprising especially since my comic-collector friend told me they were drawn by a famous cartoonist named John or Stanley something, I didn’t pay much attention at the time. Because I didn’t really mind that nobody knew about it. Not one bit. Because for all these years, all these wild, loud, crazy, funny, larger than life characters; Val and Judy, Evie, Billy, Wilbur, Judy Jr. and Jimmy Fuzzi have been unpopular, undiscovered and absolutely perfect. They’ve been my little secret. Until now.
I knew it was coming. With the recent publications of the other wonderful John Stanley collections, Melvin Monster, Nancy and Little Lulu, it was clear that the world would soon know about his somehow hitherto unacknowledged masterpiece, my beloved Thirteen Going On Eighteen. And the truth is, I’m delighted. Happily, I’ve finally matured enough to be able to share.
I first became aware that I had a knack for comedy timing in 1993 when I started directing on Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butthead series for MTV. Luckily for me, I had been reading John Stanley’s brilliant, and insanely funny, Thirteen Going On Eighteen for years. I have no doubt whatsoever that I learned, or more accurately, absorbed the essence of comedy timing from inhaling pages just like these:
Judy has convinced Wilbur that she just fed him his ratty old hat for dinner.
Rapid mood swings
Lots of yelling
As far as I’m concerned, Wilbur stopping in the midst of his agony to stare pensively at a motorcycle is comedy timing at it’s best. A single panel, that’s all. He doesn’t notice it as he passes, doesn’t turn around and go back. We don’t see him stop, he’s just there. (cue the soundtrack of your choice; sometimes I hear a soft whistling, sometimes crickets, sometimes muzak) And then he’s screaming his head off again a panel later. Ah, the beauty of manic behavior!
And in this one, Judy has just informed Val that she saw Val’s boyfriend Billy with her dreaded rival Janie Kilboy. Cool as ever, Val feigns indifference, but thenâ€¦
Thinking characters with an unedited inner life
Zen-like self-obsession and commitment to a cause
And lots of yelling
And on the very next page of the same story (above), Val’s search for Billy and Janie Kilboy; one of the funniest, most effective and definitely most economical time passage I have ever seen:
Instantly understood body language
Obsessive, compulsive behavior
Periods of relative inactivity
The surreal and the downright silly
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s more, lots more. Thank you John Stanley, from the bottom of my heart. I don’t know what I’d have done without you and your wonderful cast of delusional egotists. And to everyone else out there, those who already know and especially those who don’t, I welcome you to fall in love with my favorite comic book of all time.
We recommend all three volumes of Drawn and Quarterly’s excellent hard bound John Stanley Library: Nancy, Melvin Monster and Thirteen Going On Eighteen.
Here’s the reel from London-based boutique animation studio Sweetworld. Founded in 2006 by Yasmeen Ismail and Sandra Salter, the studio specializes in designing, directing and producing commercial animation with an emphasis on traditional hand-drawn styles. Check out their website for complete examples of their work.
The master of Chinese animation, Te Wei (Sheng Tewei), has passed away at age 95.
Te Wei, a pioneering animator and cartoonist, was one of the founding fathers of the Shanghai Animation Studio. His most significant film of the 1950s was The Conceited General, which I’ve embedded below:
In the 1960s his animation style was influenced by the painter Qi Baishi. His 1963 mastepiece, The Cowboy’s Flute (Part 1 below), is one of the most beautiful films from China – or anywhere.
This animated short was made with post-it notes and markers for Dutch channel RVU. They asked several animators to illustrate and interpret the writings of philosopher Bas Haring. Mustafa Kandaz – we posted his film protesting foie gras at Euro Disney last April – created this one about instinct. It was made in 3 days: 1 for animation, 1 for editing and 1 for the sound.
I did a post about Cathedral Films back in 2007 when we found a connection between this religious film strip producer and Bill Hanna and Gene Hazelton. Filmstrips are still in a side-alley of animation history that has yet to be explored. Artists from MGM, Disney and others worked on these after hours. Here’s another filmstrip somebody posted in its entirety on the internet, and artwork here is pretty good (note Paul Frees as the voice of the ocean). Anyone recognize the art style?
Cartoon Network may be trying to attract teens through live-action, but never fear – they haven’t left animation completely behind. Apparently in an effort to sponsor the worst animation in the world, they’ve greenlit a new sci-fi cartoon show being made by an Italian company called Mondo TV (the lovely people behind Titanic: The Animated Movie). It’s called Virus Attack and it’s about five teens who fight alien viruses who turn out to literally be aliens. It’s coming to Italy in December 2010, just in time for the holidays, before coming to Cartoon Network USA sometime in 2011. Here’s a sneak peek:
Coraline – Henry Selick The Fantastic Mr. Fox – Wes Anderson The Princess And The Frog – John Musker, Ron Clements The Secret of Kells – Tomm Moore UP – Pete Docter
Also: UP was nominated for 5 Academy Awards. In addition to BEST ANIMATED FEATURE, the Pixar film was also nominated for BEST PICTURE (!), SOUND EDITING (Michael Silvers and Tom Myers), ORIGINAL SCORE (Michael Giacchino) and ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY (Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy).
“Almost There” and “Down in New Orleans” from The Princess and the Frog were nominated for BEST SONG (Music and Lyric by Randy Newman).
THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX also received a nomination for BEST ORIGINAL SCORE (Alexandre Desplat).
AVATAR was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including BEST PICTURE.
Nominated for BEST ANIMATED SHORT are:
French Roast – Fabrice O. Joubert, director (Pumpkin Factory/Bibo Films). Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty – Nicky Phelan, director, and Darragh O’Connell, producer (Brown Bag Films) The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte) – Javier Recio Gracia, director (Kandor Graphics and Green Moon). Logorama – Nicolas Schmerkin, producer (Autour de Minuit). A Matter of Loaf and Death – Nick Park, director (Aardman Animations Ltd.)
The directors nominated for Best Animated Feature will appear in person for Q&A with Tom Sito on at Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Samuel Goldwyn Theatre, on Thursday March 4th at 7:30pm — For more information check the Academy’s Animated Feature Symposium website.
The filmmakers nominated for Best Animated Short will appear in person for Q&A at Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Samuel Goldwyn Theatre, on Tuesday March 2nd at 7:30pm — For more information check the Academy’s Oscar Event website.
The Academy Awards will be presented on Sunday March 7th at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.
Heads up, Angelenos. The USC School of Cinematic Arts invites you (or anyone who can get to USC this Friday) to participate in a retrospective evening and conversation with legendary Russian animator Yuri Norstein. The admission is free. The event begins at 7:00pm on Friday, February 5th, 2010 in the Norris Cinema Theatre/Frank Sinatra Hall. The conversation with Norstein will be led by Ukranian animator Igor Kovalyov (Milch, The Rugrats Movie, Hen His Wife, etc.). Norstein will also present a preview of his feature-length film adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s Overcoat. The evening will conclude with a dessert reception in front of the theater.
To RSVP and for more information check the USC Cinematic Arts website. Below is one of Norstein’s classic films, Hedgehog In the Fog (1976):
Imagine taking off your jeans and impressing your lady with a large Magoo under your pants. Not me. If I want the cartoon face of a grizzled old man on my crotch, at least I’d have the decency to wear Popeye boxers.
MEMO: To all Epic Mickey personnel
FROM: Disney Board of Directors
SUBJECT: New Mickey
Guys–we love the rethink, but we just have a few tweaks:
–When Mickey leers at Minnie in the waterfront bar, let’s have him squeak, “You know what they say, baby. Big ears . . .”
–In the “Brokeback Mickey” flashback, when Mickey makes tender love to Donald Duck, let’s have Mickey murmur, “Leave the little sailor hat on.”
–When Mickey is shown starving to death after the nuclear disaster, and he eats Porky Pig, we feel that Porky should still be alive when his feet are removed.
Mike Owens made this at Puny in Minneapolis. “It’s our first in house short developed from a character that has lived in my subconscious for many years,” says Owens on his blog. Good stuff, says I.
Phillip, the Safety Egg
Creator & Director – Mike Owens
Developed by – Shad Petosky & Will Shepard
Written by & Voices – Eric Knobel, Hannah Kuhlmann & Michael Ritchie
Design – Mitch Loidolt and Mike Owens
Background & Audio Design – Curtis Square-Briggs
Animation – Eyo Peters, Nick Bachman & Mike Owens
Animation, Compositing & FX – Victor Courtright
The original Hoodwinked had art direction and character design that were – let’s face it – piss poor, but I enjoyed the film nonetheless. It had a funny, clever script with good performances — and took me (and a whole lot of other people) by surprise, grossing $51 million in January 2006.
The Weinstein Company has pulled the sequel, Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil, off its release schedule for the time being. It was first set for January 15th 2010, then pushed back to February 12th, and now… who knows? According to his blog, Hoodwinked’s creator himself, Cory Edwards, has no idea when the film will be released. But that hasn’t stopped Weinstein’s pre-existing deal with Burger King to offer toys from the sequel with its Kids Meals this month. Better scoop them up now, they may become quite a collectible.