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The Colored Cartoon


I just got a copy of Christopher Lehman’s latest book, The Colored Cartoon: Black Representation in American Animated Short Films. 1907-1954. It’s an un-illustrated, 137-page survey of the black stereotypes and African American cultural influences in the Hollywood cartoons we all grew up with, and most of us still enjoy today.

Lehman goes out of his way not to applaud, criticize or denounce these films. He mainly reports in an even handed way, that they were made, what images they contain, and records any controversies surrounding them. Though he covers almost every black character I’m aware of (including Lantz’s L’il Eightball, Pal’s Jasper and Famous Studios’ Buzzy) he neglects to mention Chuck Jones’ Inki, a pretty significant character. And I’m not sure I agree with his assertions that Bugs Bunny’s personality was essentially a “black cultural characterization”. But overall Lehman did his homework, with considerable research on the NAACP’s protests against such cartoons as Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs and Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat. For more info on this publication, visit the University of Massachusetts Press website.

  • That’s interesting that the NAACP protested those cartoons, since they (at least initially) supported Ralph Bakshi’s “Coonskin.”
    This is definitely a book for me to check out. Unbeknownst to my parents, that Porky Pig tape they gave me when I was five had “Jungle Jitters” on it. I had an odd childhood.

  • Steven Finch, Attorney At Law

    Call me childish, but who would want to read a book about cartoons without illustrations?

  • Chuck R.

    I agree that Inki is a pretty glaring omission. While we’re on the subject, when are the Inki cartoons going to appear on a LT Golden Collection set?

  • Some Guy

    Oh, boy, I can’t wait to write on essay on THIS one…

  • Quiiiite interesting. Can’t wait! And I was due for a good new book!

  • Unlike the author, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with the late Bob Clampett about “Coal Black,” and other un-PC cartoons.

    There’s a great story to be told here, but I don’t think this book is it.

  • cha0tic

    I’m afraid I have to agree with Steven Finch. The book sounds like it needs pictures.

  • Zep

    The books that comprise the vast majority of university press output are grad students’ final papers and dissertations-that’s why there often aren’t any photographs.
    That, and the fact that photo inclusion takes 1)rights clearance, which costs money-more than you’d think in many cases; and 2)adding glossy pages with photographs costs the publisher a lot more money and tsuris. But in the main it’s simply the fact that these authors are writing papers, not doing multimedia presentations. Although of course it seems a contradiction when the subject is film, that’s just the way it is.

    I should add that having seen hundreds of these sorts of books-sometimes they’re great, too often they’re extremely dry and read like the academic dissertations they are. We’re not talking Maltin style here.

  • greg m

    Floyd, pleeeeeeeassseeeee share!!!

  • “And I’m not sure I agree with his assertions that Bugs Bunny’s personality was essentially a ‘black cultural characterization’. ”

    Yea…I always thought it was pretty obvious that Bugs was probably based off a New Yorker…most probably someone born and raised from Brooklyn who was 2nd generation eastern european.

  • That would take a whole book.

    Let’s just say that Mr. Clampett was making cartoons, not doing social commentary. It was all in fun. That’s what cartoonists do. Ward Kimball told me much the same story about the crows in “Dumbo.” When critics asked, ‘were you trying to be funny?’ The answer was an obvious, YES!

    Though well intentioned, most books by academics tend to be dull, dull, dull. Mainly, they just don’t get it. Again, you can’t analyze humor. You’re either funny or you’re not. Having worked with many very funny guys – – I know a lot about that.

    Bob Clampett was a very funny man. Enough said.

  • Jess Price

    According to Jerry, this book is an adaptation of Lehman’s doctoral dissertation.

    I had a chance to read Lehman’s American Animated Cartoons of the Vietnam Era not long ago. It had that academic-feel for the most part (and there were no pictures). All that being said, it was still a very good read with thorough research and thoughtful arguments.

    I’m definitely interested in checking out this new publication.

  • I’m wondering, how does THE COLORED CARTOON compare with THAT’S ENOUGH, FOLKS, published some years ago. were reprints of contemporary reviews of the cartoons. This feature was especially interesting because it showed firsthand what the inititial reaction to such cartoons as “Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarfs” , “Uncle Tom’s Bungalow”, “Jasper and the Watermelons” and so forth. The actual text of the book was only passable, but as a compendium of reviews of black cartoons, it has no equal.

  • Ron

    Floyd- seriously why don’t you write a book? I’ve read your “faster cheaper” books and I think a Bill Peet style illustrated autobiography from you would be very well received. You could cover that subject and many others I’m sure.

    No kidding.

  • Who needs pictures when we have youtube? I imagine we can find most of the cartoons that’d be referenced in the book without a great deal of trouble.

  • Mark Kausler – THAT’S ENOUGH FOLKS is a better survey, film by film, than Lehman’s book. In fact, Lehman’s text would have made a good introduction to Sampson’s filmography. If I had to choose one, I’d go with THAT’S ENOUGH FOLKS – in other words, on this topic, Sampson’s book is “enough, folks!”

  • Nelson: I’ve seen at least one interview with Mel Blanc where he describes the voice of Bugs Bunny as a cross between Bronx and Brooklyn accents.

  • About the Bugs Bunny black cultural characterization thing – did Lehman mean this as a way of relating the character to the “trickster rabbit” myths popular in pre-colonial Africa, or is he saying that Bugs has, to be direct, a black man’s swagger?

  • I don’t know, Jerry.

    From a literary standpoint, one could see Bugs Bunny akin to Joel Harris’ Br’er Rabbit. That character is essentially a Black trickster fooling Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear not unlike Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd.

    Yes, voice and attitude-wise, he’s a New Yorker, most likely a Bronxese character, but Bugs is the spiritual cousin of Br’er Rabbit and owes a lot of his character development to him, even more so than the obvious Groucho Marx influence.

    Try reading a Uncle Remus Stories tale about Br’er Rabbit and imagine Bugs Bunny in his place.

  • This sounds like an interesting book. Although I bet a DVD of cartoons that he would’ve gotten the rights to use would have been a better thing to include if only because of the visual and audio samples.

    What I’d like to know is if it includes that old black lady from the Tom and Jerry cartoons; apparently stations that air those cartoons today have dubbed her voice so it doesn’t sound so…..zany.

  • mmtper

    Let me add I would buy Floyd Norman’s book, too. I’m sure it’d be terrific.

    I don’t know if this was Mr. Lehmann’s intent, but maybe he left off Inki because he wasn’t African American: he was African, period.

  • Sure to be a Educational Historical treat.

    I’m Glad Lehman took the time to document such an interesting part of Hollywood history. Books like this should be made. For they delicately preserve an American Era.

    Hey Mr. Floyd Norman your a living Legend! Glad to see you find the time to drop great little tidbits information about the Old Golden Age of Animation.

    The Colored Cartoon looks to be a another worthy add to the collection.

  • Find me a publisher and I’ll write the book. I’ve been lucky on occasion to have a publisher approach me about doing a book. I much prefer that to self publishing. Plus, the book has a better chance of being marketed effectively.

    I’ve self published, and that’s cool. But, I consider that more of a hobby than a business venture. However, I’m still open to the idea.

  • Diana Green

    NAACP may have initially been in favor of Coonskin, but Congress of Racial Equality protested it before it opened. We got bomb threats when we showed it on campus in Madison, WI in the late 70s.
    Also, as insulting as many of the racist cartoons are, why does nobody take offense to the homophobic treatment of GLBT characters that persisted much longer than the racist stuff?

  • Ron

    Which GLBT characters are you referring to Diana?