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Books, Books, Books

Time for another round-up of recent reads I can highly recommend (How’s that for alliteration?). First up, a magazine: Disney Twenty Three (Special Issue, Spring 2012), the “exclusive magazine of D23: the official Disney Fan Club”. I have not been tempted to subscribe to this publication, despite it’s lavish production values and occasional in-depth articles – but this latest special edition (sent to me for review) may change my mind. Its theme is “75 Years of Disney Animated Features” and its a must-have for all Disney aficianados. It is 64 oversized pages (in color) and loaded with articles and images by many of my favorite Disney historians: John Canemaker on the milestones of Disney feature animation; David Gerstein on The Six Older Men, the animators (Ub Iwerks, Grim Natwick, Ben Sharpsteen, Fred Moore, Norm Ferguson and Hamilton Luske) who mentored the famous “nine”; Jim Fanning takes a fresh look at the famed story meeting notes; Didier Ghez on Disney’s merchandising man, Kay Kamen (this piece is particularly well illustrated with rare materials); Greg Ehrbar on the music and songs of the great Disney Features; Don Hahn on “The Morgue”, where the studio keeps its original animation art; Max Lark on inspirational artist Tyrus Wong; and much much more. Did I mention the cover contains a removable facsimile Snow White animation cel. This commemorative issue is being sold through Barnes and Noble and other retailers, as well as available through DisneyStore.com.

Stop Motion has certainly made a comeback (with three stop-mo features being released this year alone) and books about the technique keep on coming. The latest is Tom Gasek’s Frame-by-Frame Stop Motion: The Guide to Non-traditional Animation Techniques. Gasek, a professor at R.I.T. and former animator at Laika and Aardman, concentrates his book on alternatives to puppetry and model animation: pixilation, collage, time lapse and other down-shooting techniques. The book is peppered with practical advice by top pros and animation artists like PES, Joan Gratz, Jim Blashfield, William Kentridge, Caroline Leaf, Dave Borthwick and others. An excellent reference and text book. If stop-motion is your thing, you need this book.
Okay, this one really isn’t about animation – but it’s so much fun I know you’ll want it. Author Kirk Demaris (of SecretFunSpot.com) has unearthed the secrets behind ALL those products sold in comic book and monster magazines of the 1960s and 70s. Remember the X-Ray Spex and Amazing Live Sea Monkeys? This book shows you what those products (and about 100 others) really were. The Polaris Nuclear Sub (“Big Enough for Two Kids”) was apparently nothing more than a cardboard box; the 132 piece Roman Soldiers set was actually two thin pieces of plastic; and all that crap in the Johnson-Smith catalog was, well …crap! Who knew? I was fooled too, back in the day – but this book is the real thing: hilarious fun and a rush of nostalgia. Loaded with reprints of the original ads and photographic evidence of their hilarious junkiness. Mail Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads! is highly recommended!

And last but not least, Laurel and Hardy’s Animated Antics. I was informed of an earlier edition (above left) but by the time I tracked this down, a newer version (the “A-Z Edition”, above right) came out and I grabbed it. What is it? Well, it’s a little pocket-sized (4 1/2″ by 7″) paperback, 152 pages that obsessively documents any and all animated cartoons with Laurel and Hardy caricatures. Apparently the authors are members of The Sons of the Desert (the International Laurel and Hardy fan Club) and were determined to screen every appearance of Stan and Ollie as cartoon caricatures. They describe each cartoon and what the comedy duo does in it, illustrated with a frame grab if possible. In addition to all the golden age Hollywood cartoons you can think of, the authors also document all the Larry Harman/Hanna Barbera TV cartoons, all the Family Guy, Darkwing Duck, even Phienas and Ferb references, mentions of the characters in various TV cartoons… with crazy thoroughness. Do I recommend it? Begrudgingly Yes, if you are collecting books on cartoons or Laurel and Hardy; but unquestionably No, if you aren’t as obsessed with L&H as the authors (or I am).

  • Mike Fontanelli

    Ha! I thought I owned every Laurel & Hardy book known to man, woman, child or beast. Randy Skretvedt’s is definitive, if you can only have one: Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies. He’s currently preparing an updated 3rd edition. (BTW, THE definitive Sons of the Desert fez is available at Fez-o-Rama. It’s a knockout!)

  • Is David Gerstein aware that Marc Davis was mentored by Grim Natwick, and therefore should be lumped in with the Six Older Men? :)

  • That stop-motion book looks like it’s a good read.

  • Brian O.

    I personally can recommend two books: “Frame-by-Frame Stop Motion” and “Mail Order Mysteries”. Both are written with a passion for their interests, loaded with information and just plain fun.

  • Nik

    Thanks for the mentioning the special issue of Disney 23 magazine. I had never heard of the magazine before and this issue looks really interesting. Already placed my order through the Disney Store web site — the total for the issue was $22.50 which included sales tax. You don’t have to join the club or subscribe to the magazine to get this one issue through the Disney Store.

    I’m also going to get some copies of the Mail Order Mysteries book to give as gifts next Christmas. Thank you again for your book recs!

    • Christopher Ryan

      It should be noted that without ordering the subscription to the magazine you are not getting the removable “cel” on the cover. Still should be a great issue!

  • Mahesh

    Thanks for the tip about the D23 issue. Just picked it up today. I bought Mail Order Mysteries during the holidays, it’s a fun book, especially since I always wondered about what they really sent, and those ads were all over those 70’s comics.

  • George

    Thank you/Curse you Jerry! Ordered Mail Order Mysteries, and also got The Great American Cereal Book based on an Amazon suggestion. Excited!

  • Nicholas, Grim is indeed one of our “Six Older Men.”

    I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Didier Ghez for providing me with a wealth of helpful background material for this project.

  • I haven’t seen mention of this exciting, upcoming Disney Archive release:


    A boxset of 9 flipbooks by the Nine Old Men!

  • Thank you for recommending the new issue of D23’s Disney twenty-three magazine, Jerry!

  • Steve Gattuso

    I just acquired the Mail Order Mysteries book and it is indeed a delight. I remember seeing kids in my class with the stuff, and their universal disappointment with these products made me glad I never had the money to get such things for myself.

  • John A

    Only six Older men? How could they leave out Bill Tytla?

    As for Laurel and Hardy, there are moments in many of their live action comedies that place them in the realm of human cartoons. Somebody needs to catalogue (if someone hasn’t already) all of their truly weird gags into a book or video of the “utterly surreal world of Laurel and Hardy”. I know it’s almost impossible these days to get young people to sit through a black and white movie, meaning fewer kids today are exposed to the brilliance of these early film pioneers, but I think even the most jaded young punk would be amazed at some of the things they did on film.