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!
The worst examples of CGI ever assembled: The Gallerie Abominate!(Thanks to Karl Cohen for the link)
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:
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.
An Interview with Spongebob’s Wife
It’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.
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
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.
Larry Loc has posted some photos on the Asifa-Hollywood blog from our Saturday afternoon marathon screening of TV commercials of the 50s & 60s. We had a full house yesterday, and due to the overwhelming response I plan to compile another show (with all-different material) for later in the year.
Spring is here. Time to change the wallpaper on your desktop. Here’s a whole page of Tex Avery scenes to choose from.
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)
Here’s one from the Disney rumor mill. I recently heard that Disney is developing a CG-animated version of Tim Burton’s 1984 live-action short FRANKENWEENIE. Not many details emerged yet, though according to folks who have seen the CG tests, it looks to be a very promising project.
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.
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.orgToday:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or check the Animation Guild website.