MORE OSWALD

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We love Oswald Rabbit, so when Tee Bosustow recently shared with me a copy of his father’s business card from his days at the Walter Lantz studio (above, left), and a Christmas photo taken during that period (above right), I had to post it on the Brew. It gives me another chance to plug Tee’s UPA website, Cartoon Research’s Winkler Oswald page – and for a crash course on the history of Oswald, see the Walter Lantz-O-Pedia!

POPEYE’S PIPE

Not to prolong any debate about Popeye’s politics, but we just received this missive from Dana Larsen, editor of Cannabis Culture Magazine, who offers some fresh evidence in making the case for the sailor man’s spinach high:popeyehooka.jpg

Hi there,
I am Dana Larsen, the author of the article you linked to about Popeye’s spinach being a metaphor for marijuana. I saw the reply you posted from Bobby London, denying that there was any connection between spinach and cannabis. Of course, he is not the creator of Popeye and there’s no reason he would have any more insight into the thought processes of Popeye creator Segar than anyone else.I thought your readers might like to see this Popeye cover (at right) from October 1939, drawn by Joseph Musial. I only came across this cover recently, after I had written the original article posted on Alternet. The comic cover shows Popeye lounging among pillows in an Arabian sort of tent, smoking out of a hookah labelled “Spinach.”This cover illustration shows that, to at least some people involved in the early formation of the Popeye comics, the spinach/marijuana connection was obvious, and not something they were ashamed of, as King Comics put it prominently on the cover.Thank you for your attention.

Animation’s greatest executives

Leon SchlesingerIt’s time for my monthly “things could-be-so-much-better” post. When I complain about the state of the industry, friends frequently tell me, “But look at how much better animation is today than it was twenty years ago…” True. But shouldn’t we be asking, “How much better could it be?” Look at the talent working in the business today. It’s a solid bet that there are more talented individuals working in animation today than at anytime since the 1950s. And yet, you’d never know that from looking at the product that makes it into theaters and onto television. Granted, it may be a step or two above THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS MEET THE FONZ or whatever the hell they were doing back in the 70s and 80s, but since when have Filmation and Hanna-Barbera been the yardstick of quality by which all other animation is judged.

So how much better could animation be? That question could be answered with more questions, like, Why doesn’t Michel Gagné have a show on the air? Why doesn’t Aaron Springer have his own show? How did James Baxter work at DreamWorks and all we ended up with was SPIRIT? The list goes on forever. Fortunately artists are smarter today than they’ve ever been. If the industry can’t accommodate them, they create independently, just as all the artists I mentioned have done. But why not examine the source of the problem. Why is it impossible for talented artists to find support within their chosen industry?

As usual, we can learn from the past. Let’s look at how some great animation executives of the past supported their talent — executives with last names like Schlesinger, Quimby and Selzer. These guys get a bum wrap in history books, but many of the greatest cartoons were made under their watch. What was their secret? What did they do that today’s executives don’t? Here’s director Tex Avery speaking about his experience with executive Leon Schlesinger at Warners:

“We worked every night — Jones, Clampett, and I were all young and full of ambition. My gosh, nothing stopped us! We encouraged each other, and we really had a good ball rolling. I guess Schlesinger saw the light; he said, ‘Well, I’ll take you boys away from the main plant.’ He put us in our own little shack over on the [Warner Bros.] Sunset lot, completely separated from the Schlesinger studio, in some old dressing room or toilet or something, a little cottage sort of thing. We called it Termite Terrace. And he was smart; he didn’t disturb us. We were all alone out there, and he knew nothing of what went on.”

The key isn’t to be completely oblivious to your studio’s operations. Schlesinger recognized talent. He had the good sense of hiring Avery away from Walter Lantz. And then he built a team, partnering Avery with like-minded individuals such as Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett. But then he did one more thing that today’s execs don’t — he trusted his talent. He created the environment in which his talent could flourish; Avery, Clampett and Jones were willing to work all night because they knew their work wouldn’t be trashed the following morning by Schlesinger.

Sure, Leon may have spent his weekday afternoons playing eighteen holes or chasing the pretty secretaries around his yacht, but he’d already laid the foundation for the creation of great animated entertainment. The results of Schlesinger’s business acumen? Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and some of the finest cartoons ever made. Executives today are afraid to invest that amount of control and trust into their artists. They insist on putting their “personal stamp” on everything that gets produced, and they do so at the expense of stifling the artist’s creativity. It’s not that the industry has lost its ability to produce great cartoons — rather the powers-in-charge have gone to extreme lengths to ensure that the conditions which would allow for the creation of quality animation don’t exist. The solution? Today’s animation executives need to spend more time aboard their yachts.

Update (9:34am): Mark Evanier has a nice response to this piece at his always enjoyable blog NewsFromME.com. He agrees with the premise of these comments, but isn’t quite so head-over-heels for Schlesinger.

BIG POP FUN

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In case you were wondering whatever happened to “Biff” from Back To The Future – he’s making his living doing voices in cartoons such as Spongebob Squarepants and Stripperella. Actor Tom Wilson (above left, with Spongebob creator Stephen Hillenburg at right) is also a painter and will be having an exhibition of his work at Nickelodeon Studios in Burbank starting April 29th. For more details check Wilson’s website, Big Pop Fun.com

Seth MacFarlane Speaks

There’s a first time for everything, and I believe this is the first time I’ve ever agreed with something FAMILY GUY creator Seth MacFarlane has said or done. In this week’s NEWSWEEK article about the upcoming return of FAMILY GUY to Fox primetime, MacFarlane says of Fox’s original decision to cancel the show: “They kept the show on longer than they really should’ve. Canceling it was absolutely the right decision.” Can’t argue with that. And to celebrate the return of the show, here’s a link to Jaime Weinman’s piece “Why I Hate FAMILY GUY.” Also can’t argue with that, though I could easily list twice as many reasons for why this show represents the nadir of primetime tv animation.

Hey Look!

Hey Look!

Harvey Kurtzman is among a handful of cartoonists who can be labeled a true genius, and just one example of his genius can be found in his pre-MAD comic strip HEY LOOK!, which he created in 1946. These full-page strips still look and feel remarkably fresh today, nearly sixty years after they were first drawn. They were reprinted in a book collection in the early-90s which is now out of print, but it’s possible to see over 150 of the HEY LOOK! strips online at the Cartoonist Group. When you go to the search page, just select Harvey Kurtzman as the artist. For even rarer Kurtzman, check out this amazing Cartoon Retro forum thread. (HEY LOOK! link via Frog Blog)

Ace in the Hole

Whoever said corporations don’t listen to their customers? Cartoon Brew has found out that following the embarassing debut of LOONATICS, the fine folks at Warner Bros. have taken significant steps to improve the quality of that cartoon concept. Here’s a chart to help you understand the comprehensive changes WB has made.

Loonatics Name Change

LA REMINDERS

Tonight:A tribute to Frédéric Back, with a screening and a panel discussion with Pete Docter (Pixar), Production Designer Paul Felix (Disney), Glen Keane (Tarzan), Bob Kurtz (Pink Panther), and Charles Solomon (The Los Angeles Times). The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ 9th Annual Marc Davis Lecture on Animation, tonight at 7:30pm at their Samuel Goldwyn Theatre on Wilshire Blvd. For more program information, go to oscars.orggoldenawards.jpgToday:
There are a few tickets left – and today is the last day you can reserve them – for the Golden Awards Banquet that The Animation Guild is holding on April 9th, 2005 at Pickwick Gardens in Burbank, California. This event honors animation veterans with fifty years in the industry of screen cartooning and related fields. Award presenters include Tom Sito, Floyd Norman, Mark Kausler, Tim Walker, Tee Bosustow, Scott Shaw, Tina Price, Leonard Maltin, Gary Owens and yours truly, Jerry Beck. For further ticket information, please contact Dave Brain. Any questions, suggestions or if you’d like to advertise in their program book, please contact event organizer Bob Foster at [email protected] or check the Animation Guild website.

1950S-1960S COMMERCIALS

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This Saturday, March 26th at 3pm, Asifa-Hollywood is presenting a program of the coolest animated television commercials from the golden age of TV. We will be screening rare 16mm prints and will include a selection of Ford spots created by Playhouse Pictures (above), including some of the earliest animation of Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang. It’s two hours of cartoon fun – and much of the material being screened on Saturday is not on video or viewable in any other format.Join us! Uber cool designs, commercials for cigarettes & beer… from the greatest animators in the business.Saturday March 26th • 3:00pm
The American Film Institute

TED ASHLEY/WARNER BROS. SCREENING ROOM
2021 N. Western Ave.
Hollywood, CA

Book Review: the ARt of robots

Art of RobotsThe only thing I enjoy more than plugging the work of animation artists is plugging my own work, so with that in mind, let me direct you to a positive review of THE ART OF ROBOTS posted at FanboyPlanet.com. Derek McCaw writes:

Sure, it’s a given that these coffee table books will show up as tie-ins, but this effort by Amid Amidi (with a preface by Joyce and foreword by Wedge) does a better job than earlier efforts from Chronicle at really taking us into the process of designing an animated film…One of the advantages that this book has over previous efforts lies in a greater access to detail. The layout on some pages draws clear lines between inspiration and final product, highlighting specific elements on a character or a building. A few illustrations also have detailed color “callouts,” guides for the animators that provide another way in to the creative process.

In the end, The Art of Robots makes a satisfying book to flip through, and stands firmly with Chronicle’s growing library of movie art books. Whether you end up liking the movie or not is almost beside the point.

Thorsten Hasenkamm

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Thorsten Hasenkamm is an illustrator/painter working out of Germany who is influenced by all facets of pop culture: lucha, tiki, 60s-mod, blaxploitation. His paintings have a solid sense of design, color and cartooniness, and his work has been showing a lot of growth recently, particularly with efforts like “The Lucha Libre Bar” and the one above, “Don the Owner.” Check out his work at Hasenkamm.de.

Belleville Wins Top Canadian film Prize

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The 25th annual Genie Awards, the Canadian film industry’s equivalent of the Oscars, announced their winners yesterday, and the winner for Best Motion Picture of 2004 was THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE. The film was competing against four live-action features and still managed to come out on top. It’s nice to hear that Canadian filmmakers still have the good sense to judge each individual film on its own merits, and don’t automatically relegate their animated films to a separate, lesser award category. (Thanks, Karl)

NICKELODEON DOES ODDBALL COMICS

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The April 2005 issue of NICKELODEON magazine features an article/game on Oddball Comics, titled “Odd Comic Out” (on pages 42 and 43), co-written by FOCB (Friends of Cartoon Brew) Scott Shaw! and former NICKELODEON “Comics Section” editor and DARIA writer (and future guest Brewer) Anne D. Bernstein.
Scott writes:

It features classic Oddball issues of CRIMINALS ON THE RUN (fish-in-the-face), THE OWL (the Terror Twins kidnap Abe Lincoln’s head), STRANGE ADVENTURES (“The Hand From Beyond!”), SPACE WESTERN (pictured above, with a sex-changed space cowgirl/boy), RICKY AND DEBBIE IN SARDINELAND and a nonexistent comic, UPSIDE-DOWN ROMANCE (conceived by Anne and drawn by the magazine’s staff of artists). That’s where the “game” comes in; young readers are encouraged to determine which of the six funnybooks is a fake. The NICKELODEON editor and Anne selected the comics from my column’s archives; Jolly Jim MacQuarrie scanned ‘em and Anne and I co-wrote the copy and funnybook captions.(Unfortunately, there’s no mention of my ODDBALL COMICS column, the NICKELODEON editors deemed that the website just wasn’t “parent friendly”. They DID spell my name with the exclamation point, though!)This issue of NICKELODEON — the “2005 Kids’ Choice Award” special — is on newsstands right now, and also features original material by Roger Langridge, William Van Horn, Gary Fields, Mike Mignola, Henry Scarpelli, Klaus Janson, Johnny Ryan and many other big-name funnybook types!

HAL SEEGER (1917-2005)

pptitle.jpgWe’ve just learned that animator Hal Seeger passed away on March 13th at age 87.Seeger got his start as an assistant animator at the Fleischer Studios and was a ghostwriter of Bud Counihan’s Betty Boop comic strip. In the late 1950s, Hal Seeger Productions opened in New York City, specialising in television commercials. In the early 1960s, they produced cartoons for syndication and Saturday morning television, including a KoKo The Clown revival “Out Of The Inkwell,” ABC’s “The Milton The Monster Show,” and “Batfink.” Seeger’s studio also produced the main and end titles for “The Porky Pig Show” for Warner Bros. Television.Hal Seeger Productions hosted a virtual Who’s Who of classic New York animators, designers and voice talent. Those who were prominent at the studio included Myron Waldman, Jim Tyer, Johnny Gentilella, Shamus Culhane, Morey Reden, Izzy Klein, Robert Owen, Jack Mercer, and Dayton Allen.Animator Michael Sporn shared with us some his memories of Seeger:

He gave me my start in the film business in 1970.batfink.jpgI worked for him for a bit more than a year after coming out of the Navy. I learned how to edit film and make sound effects and sweep the floor. I also go t to meet a number of visiting animators like Myron Waldman, who came by frequently. There was even a short period where Hal was regularly visiting Max Fleischer in a nursing home. We had made arrangements for me to go with him for a short meeting, when Max died. It was a vitally important year in my film education and memory, and I couldn’t have replaced it. I stayed on friendly terms with Hal and Beverly over the years and often did my tape transfers at Today video where they and a number of his original employees continued to work. I’m really sorry to hear of his death.

For more information on Seeger we highly recommend you visit Dave Mackey’s The Unofficial Hal Seeger Website.

John Hubley’s Navy Films

INSIDE MORGAN'S HEAD model sheet

After posts about Flora, Blair and Kimball, how could I resist posting about another cartoon design genius, John Hubley (1914-1977), the director of ROOTY TOOT TOOT, MOONBIRD and the main creator of Mr. Magoo. These are model drawings he drew for a 1945 UPA training film for the US Navy called INSIDE MORGAN’S HEAD (click on images for larger versions). I’ve never seen the film and have no idea whether it even exists anymore, but I love the fluid, loose quality of these drawings: the character’s pursed lips, his ridiculous frantic wing-like hands, the foot wrapping itself around the other foot – pure, crazy, inventive drawing that looks deceptively simple.

Hubley was involved with well over a dozen Navy training films during the mid-’40s (as both designer and director) and he made the most of this opportunity, experimenting liberally with styles and techniques. The model sheets for another Navy film he directed, IDLING MIXTURE CHECK, have very Robert Osborn-ish characters. And FLAT HATTING is a classic of stylized animation – a film that was conceived as something of an “animated lithograph” according to Hubley’s co-director on the film, Bill Hurtz. A handful of the films – like FLAT HATTING – still exist, but sadly, most of them were probably lost long ago.

INSIDE MORGAN'S HEAD model sheet

Ward Kimball, Painter

Ward Kimball Painting

Here are a couple beautiful paintings by one of Disney’s Nine Old Men, Ward Kimball (1914-2002). He was, of course, a genius animator and director, but what few people know is that he was also a terrific painter who worked in a wide variety of styles. These two pieces are a couple of his more stylized efforts. The top one is from the 1940s and documents the day that Kimball took his son flying. Last October, I blogged “Ladies’ Hat Contest ” (ca. early-1950s), the Kimball painting below, but now if you click on it, there’s a much bigger version available. (Thanks for the bigger pic, Thorsten)

Ward Kimball Painting

Mary Blair at the Contemporary Hotel

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During his recent Orlando trip, Harry McCracken took some photos of the Mary Blair murals inside of the Contemporary Hotel at Walt Disney World. His final analysis: “I can’t say this is great art, great Disney art, or even great Mary Blair art. But I’m glad it’s been there all these years, and I’m not sure if I saw anything during this Disney trip that put me in a cheerier mood.” See the rest of Harry’s photos HERE.

Monday Morning Inspiration: Jim Flora

Jim Flora, 1943

This rare Jim Flora spot illustration is courtesy of Irwin Chusid, author of THE MISCHIEVOUS ART OF JIM FLORA, a terrific book which I can’t recommend highly enough. The above image wasn’t printed in that book and is being seen on the Brew for the first time in many years. It’s from an April 1943 issue of Columbia Records’ CODA magazine. Flora is also online at JimFlora.com.