If I can make each and every one of you buy a book this week, it would be one or both of these – Simply put, these are two of the best animation books of the year. Each completely different from the other, both are absolute must-haves for anyone, everyone who loves animation.
I’ve personally been a fan of Bill Plympton’s since I first saw his print cartoons in the Soho Weekly News (an NYC alternative newspaper in the 1980s). I actually met Bill at a comic con back then, but he wouldn’t remember that. However, I was lucky enough to become a personal friend of his since the time of his first short Your Face, which I helped distribute through the Tournee of Animation.
That said, I had no expectations for this large coffee-table art book, except to see lots of artwork from Bill’s films and comic strips. Boy, was I in for a surprise. First off, Bill got David Levy to co-write the book with him. Readers of this blog know that I am a huge fan of Levy’s writings and previous books. Chris McDonnell (Meathaus; Bakshi’s Unfiltered) did the layout, so the book is gorgeous. What I didn’t expect was how moved, dazzled and entertained I was by Bill’s story and the abundance of varied art and images.
This is Bill’s journey, told through his voice, and every page of this 264 page book is pure joy to read or to look at. Your Face (1987) was the film that introduced us to Plympton and was a breakthrough for him as an artist. It’s fascinating to see his early work fill the first 75 pages, as you can see his many influences (Yellow Submarine, Milton Glaser, David Levine) in his drawings. Your Face really nails what we are to know as Bill’s style – and from there on, in this book, we are able to see how he’s grown as an animator through storyboards, rough comics, production cels and pencil drawings. The text recounts his entire professional career. As “the king of the independent animators”, aspiring artists will find lots of inspiration in his story.
Terry Gilliam contributes a hilarious Foreword in the front, and Bill provides a detailed Filmography in the back, along with a list of his personal inspirations (it’s a great list and includes Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Rod Scribner, Hayao Miyazaki and R. Crumb among many many others) as well as his all time favorite and worst films (where Bill counts The Chipmunk Adventure as one of the worst – even though he animated on it!).
Independently Animated: Bill Plympton is available now on Amazon.com and at whichever book retailer still exists in your city. Also, New Yorkers can pick up the book directly from Bill on Monday May 2nd. Plympton is opening the doors of his New York City studio (153 W. 27th St. #1005) Monday from 4pm to 8pm to have a gala Starving Animator’s Sale of discounted artwork from all his classics: Your Face, How to Kiss, Guard Dog, The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger, Idiots and Angels. Refreshments will be served!
Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse: “Race to Death Valley” (Vol. 1) is a brand new hard-cover comic strip compilation from Fantagraphics (Peanuts, Dennis the Menace, etc.). However unlike the others, this should be of particular interest to animators and Disney fans. The book reprints several early continuities (more than 200 pages of comics, all unedited) of the Mickey Mouse comic strip by Floyd Gottfredson (whose occasional collaborators included Win Smith, Jack King, Earl Duvall, Al Taliaferro and Walt Disney himself). The strips themselves are great. In fact, it’s a crime these aren’t more well known. These daily strips are part of why Mickey Mouse became a popular character and world famous icon. The serialized adventures are exciting and fun, establishing a real personality for Mickey beyond what was possible in the animated shorts. The book has lovingly restored these strips from the original negatives and proof sheets – each one crystal clear and absolutely beautiful.
If that were all there was to this book, I’d recommend it highly. But that’s not all. Co-Editor David Gerstein has, as he did with his previous Mickey and the Gang volume, loaded this book with over 60 pages of supplementary articles and features that are a MUST for all Disney history buffs. Gerstein has packed the pages with all manner of extremely rare promotional material, newspaper clippings, artwork, rare strips, publicity art, merchandising, still photos, etc. none of which I’ve ever seen published anywhere before. These “sidebar” pieces include an appreciation by Floyd Norman, an introduction by Warren Spector and a Foreword by Thomas Andrae. Gerstein himself writes over 10 articles filling in the backstories of the cast of characters, as well as bios of Gottfredson and his collaborators.
I cannot praise this volume highly enough. I want to thank Fantagraphics for sending me an advance copy hot off the press. It will be available next month in book stores and comic shops, as well as Amazon and other online retailers. Order it NOW! You will not regret it.