Dumm Comics Roundtable

Dumm Comics

As written up on the Brew yesterday, Dumm Comics is a new daily comic site launched by some of the today’s top talents working in TV animation. All of the Dumm artists recently worked on Nickelodeon’s El Tigre!, and prior to that, their combined credits include The Buzz on Maggie, Ren & Stimpy: Adult Party Cartoon, Mucha Lucha!, Coconut Fred’s Fruit Salad Island, Brandy & Mr. Whiskers, Dexter’s Laboratory, The Ripping Friends and Teamo Supremo, to name just a few.

This past Tuesday, May 20, I conducted an online chat via instant messaging with all the comic artists involved in Dumm Comics: Luke Cormican, Ricky Garduno, Fred Osmond, Katie Rice, Gabe Swarr and Sean Szeles. Our conversation touches on a wide range of subjects: why a group of successful animation artists would choose to branch into comics, artistic influences, Cintiqs, their working process, and what’s wrong with the TV animation biz. To maintain the flavor of our rapid-fire anything-goes IM exchange, I’m presenting the discussion largely in its original form and with minimal edits.

Discussion follows after the jump.
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One Big Happy Animation Blogosphere

Group Hug

In light of some amusing controversy over a recent entry, I thought it would be an appropriate time to point towards this blog post, entitled “One Big Happy Blogosphere,” by indie animator Tim Rauch. In it, he raises some worthwhile questions about the role of blogs in the animation community. He writes:

“While it’s reasonable to make thoughtful criticisms of a studio product, at what point is an artist’s ego fragile enough that we should avoid going out of our way to provide negative feedback?  You wouldn’t walk up to a three year old working with crayons on his kitchen table and poo-poo his choice of color.  I believe the same kind of “protective zone” should be extended to non-professionals or professionals doing personal projects: respect their desire to create and provide negative criticism only when it is asked for and can be constructively received.  Leave the wrestling-match of serious criticism to work that has entered the wider world in a more public way; but please keep in mind that individual artists have been involved and resist the urge to slam, insult or generally denigrate their contributions.”

While I strongly disagree that adult filmmakers with fully-developed minds should be offered the same “protective zone” that we allow immature infants (a practice that benefits neither artist nor audience nor the development of the art form), a lot of what Tim writes is not too far removed from the personal rules that we employ when writing posts on Cartoon Brew. Jerry and I have no strictly defined rules about how we write, though common sense guidelines have evolved over the years.

Certain pieces of animation are fair game to all types of criticism: examples are films from major studios and TV series. In other words, commercial animation that is supported by significant budgets. Similarly, when an indie does mainstream commercial work, like a TV commercial or music video, that opens the artist up to a more critical assessment of their work than if they were making a personal film. We obviously take into consideration that they probably do not have the resources of a major studio, but we also compare and contrast it to the capabilities of other artists creating animation within similar constraints and circumstances.

Where we tread carefully is with student films and personal films. If we see something of poor quality, there’s no reason to denigrate it. Likewise, if something stands out, we’ll be sure to let everybody know. We receive a multitude of links, press releases and artwork on a daily basis, and even if we wanted to post all of them, it would be impossible with our limited resources. Some of the projects that arrive in our email are actually quite good, but because every post requires time and effort to compose, we aim to post on the Brew only the truly exceptional things that we’ve enjoyed.

At the end of the day, our goal remains simple and largely unchanged since we started the blog in 2004: write about the things that personally inspire and educate us, while calling out the shysters who flood the mainstream market with crass and poorly produced examples of animation art. Sometimes these posts inspire and educate readers, and other times, well…

Carlos Ramos exhibit

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The Corey Helford Gallery is preparing Natural History Museum Part I, an exhibition of new paintings by animator Carlos Ramos (The X’s, ChalkZone). From the press release:

For his first solo show in Los Angeles, Ramos replicates the natural history museum experience for his audience, fusing the natural world with the art world. A series of twenty four large-scale paintings based on classic grand dioramas and a special installation of skeletal structures will transform the gallery into an epicenter of flora and fauna. The concept of the exhibition is based on Ramos’ childhood fascination with natural history museums and the “authoritative” impression they made on him growing up.

Located in the Culver City Art District, the Corey Helford Gallery was established by Jan Corey Helford and her husband, television producer Bruce Helford (The Oblongs). The opening reception is on Saturday, June 28, from 7 to 10pm, at 8522 Washington Boulevard in Culver City, California. Ramos’ show will be on view until July 16th.

Dumm Comics Have Arrived

Skadi
Skadi by Katie Rice and Luke Cormican

Beautifully drawn cartoony comics are now available on a daily basis at Dumm Comics. The site was started by some of the most talented folks currently working in the TV animation biz (I know because I’ve worked with a number of them in the past), and every weekday one of them presents a new comic: Big Pants Mouse by Gabe Swarr on Mondays, Through the Port-Hole by Sean Szeles on Tuesdays, Skadi by Katie Rice and Luke Cormican on Wednesdays, 1930 Nitemare Theatre by Ricky Garduno on Thurdays, and Earthward-Ho! by Fred Osmond on Fridays.

I recnetly conducted an online roundtable chat with all the Dumm artists involved, and will be posting that tomorrow. It’s a lively and fascinating discussion that you won’t want to miss.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

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Madhouse’s 2006 film, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, is going to get a limited U.S. theatrical release next month through Bandai Entertainment. It’ll be screening June 13 through June 19 at the ImaginAsian Center in Los Angeles (251 South Main Street, Los Angeles, California 90012), at the ImaginAsian Theater in New York (239 East 59th Street, New York, NY, 10022), as well as from August 29 through September 4 at the Landmark Varsity Theatre in Seattle (4329 University Way N.E. Seattle, WA 98105). In Los Angeles and Seattle, the English-subtitled version will be screened, and in New York, the English-dubbed version. Show times will be posted on the theater websites closer to the actual screening dates.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was directed by Mamoru Hosoda. The film was recognized with the Special Distinction honor at the 2007 Annecy International Animated Film Festival. It also won numerous honors at festivals in Japan, including the Animation of the Year Japan Academy Prize (akin to the American Academy Awards). I’ve seen it and it’s a wonderful film–well worth seeing on the big screen.

(Thanks, Nicholas Zabaly)

Girls Drawin’ Girls Vol. 2

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GirlsDrawinGirls are having their Volume 2 premiere show at The Hive Gallery, 729 S. Spring Street, in Los Angeles on June 7th. I’ve been told some really cool bands will be playing that night – and lots of girl artists will be there. There’s also a preview of art for volume two, this time with a fairy tale theme. The Hive Gallery party starts at 8pm. The art show runs through June 28th. The new book comes out at the San Diego Comic-Con in July.

Morcheeba Video by Joel Trussell

Joel Trussell has directed a second video for the English band Morcheeba, based on their single “Gained the World.” Animation leaves a lot to be desired and visual pacing is disconnected from the flow of the song, but design and color are typically pretty Trussell. It’d be great to see his visual sensibility applied to stronger animation and direction one of these days. Video credits on Trussell’s blog.

Plympton’s Latest Feature Idiots and Angels

Idiots and Angels

Critics are beginning to weigh in on Bill Plympton’s latest feature Idiots and Angels, which is now playing around the festival circuit. There’s not many indies who can claim to have made their own animated feature, but this is, quite amazingly, Bill’s fifth(!) full-length animated feature, all funded entirely with his own money. My favorite review so far is this one from Variety which uses an uncommon if not impressive grouping of words to describe the film–words like “Manichean,” “Bukowskian,” and “physiognomic transmutations.”

This review from the Auteur’s Notebook is more mixed; it applauds Plympton’s visual ingenuity and storytelling over the originality of the story and character development, an argument that would hold water for many of Plympton’s efforts. Eye For Film has a view similar to that of the previous reviewer, though it concludes that the film is worth checking out: “[I]f the storyline is treading over some old ground, Plympton’s animation gives it a fresh lease of life.”

For my part, I’m looking forward to checking out the film next month in Annecy. I thought Bill’s last feature Hair High was his strongest to date, and I’m looking forward to seeing if he can top that accomplishment. Below is a short interview with Plympton from last month’s Tribeca Film Festival:

The Last Terrytoons

The cartoons posted below are two semi-rare TV pilots. They are not particularly good and I direct you to them only for historical purposes. They will probably be appreciated exclusively by die-hard students of television animation and cartoon history.

These are the last Terrytoons. Produced in 1968, CBS ordered up several Saturday morning pilots from its in-house animation shop. But producer Bill Weiss had disbanded the New Rochelle studio and had to farm production out to west coast director Fred Calvert, who in turn hired several Hanna Barbera animators (including Jerry Hathcock and Iwao Takamoto!) to produce these.

Neither of these films went to series and it’s easy to see why. The Ruby Eye of The Monkey God is a half-hearted Arabian nights/Kipling inspired adventure cartoon. Hard to believe, but this was later released theatrically by 20th Century-Fox – and eventually circulated to television in the Terrytoons TV package syndicated in the late 1970s.

The more obscure Sally Sargent (below), is a Nancy Drew knock off updated to the swingin’ sixties. It isn’t even listed on IMDB or in any reference on Terrytoons I can find. This was the final new production that Bill Weiss produced. It’s better than the other film by virtue of it’s groovy sixties theme song and Gary Owens voice on the track. This one was eventually also thrown into the Mighty Mouse/Deputy Dawg syndication package. Be warned: it’s a full ten minutes long.

Radio time!

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In case you missed your chance several months ago, voice actress Janet Waldo (Judy Jetson, Penelope Pitstop, etc.) and animation writer Earl Kress will return to the internet radio program Stu’s Show today for a live return appearance. Ms. Waldo will be on live at 7pm Eastern/4pm Pacific talking about her voiceover career post-Jetsons, and they’ll open the phone lines up around 4:30 for listener calls. Listen here!

And, of course, I’ll be back on the Stu’s Show Wednesday June 4th – but I’ll tell you more about that when we get closer to that date.

Lunch with Disney’s “Alice”

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This Saturday, May 24, 2008, Women in Animation will present a salon featuring Virginia Davis, the original star of Walt Disney’s Alice In Cartoonland comedies. Animation historian Ray Pointer will screen several of the “Alice” comedies from his collection, and following the screening, Ray will interview Virginia about what it was like to work with Walt Disney at the start of his illustrious career.

The event starts at 11:30 a.m. at the Smokehouse Restaurant on 4420 Lakeside Drive in Burbank (off Pass Ave., opposite Warner Bros. studios). If you wish to attend, you need to RSVP as soon as possible by sending an email to LAchapterrsvps-at-aol.com. Lunch will be served. The event costs $25.

Hanuka Brothers Art for Waltz with Bashir

Asaf Hanuka

A quick update about last week’s story about the new Israeli animated feature Waltz with Bashir. The Hanuka brothers–Asaf and Tomer–created art for the film and have posted some examples on their blog. It just goes to show that a director who understands art and knows who to hire can get impressive artwork even into a low budget animated feature like Waltz which cost only $2 million.

(Thanks, Meghan Kinder)

Three Interviews

Links to a few nice creator interviews I’ve recently run across:

Wired offers a nice interview with Nina Paley in which she discusses how she made an animated feature, Sita Sings the Blues on her Mac for $200,000.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone reflect on 11 years of South Park in the Onion’s A.V. Club.

An old Entertainment Weekly interview with Brad Bird that was never published in their print magazine. Lots of good behind-the-scenes on Ratatouille.

Making Sense of Speed Racer‘s Failure

Speed Racer

Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal attempts to make sense of the spectacular box office failure of Speed Racer, which raced to becoming a bona fide flop both in the US and overseas. He writes:

“[C]haos isn’t a surefire selling tool, not even when the target audience is sensation-hungry kids…Kids need inoculation against media-generated chaos. That’s not to suggest seeking out entertainment that preaches, peddles homilies, hustles uplift or shies away from the darker areas of human experience that inform some of our most cherished fairy tales (or, for that matter, one of my most cherished films, Carol Reed’s “Oliver!”). It’s more than enough when movies enhance a sense of wonder (and, as a byproduct, a capacity for concentration); when they delight and surprise (as Pixar productions do so dependably); when they open up the world through the window of thrilling fiction.”

Director and animator Will Finn also shares some worthwhile filmmaking insights on his blog about why Speed Racer was so poorly received by audiences.

Animation Auction

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Ron Stark of S/R Laboratories in Westlake Village, California, sent me his latest animation auction catalog and it’s loaded with goodies. There are some amazing Disney, Warner Brothers, UPA, and Hanna-Barbera cels, drawings and backgrounds, but I was especially excited by several Private Snafu (above) and Seaman Hook originals. Most of the catalog is a collection of jaw-dropping Disney cels and backgrounds (like the Donald Duck title card below).

The event takes place Monday, May 26 and 27th, 2008 and it is not an internet auction – it’s a telephone auction, and Ron personally speaks to all bidders. You can preview all 255 lots online starting Monday, May 19th at S/R’s WebCenter. If you need assistance or have questions the telephone number is 818-991-9955.

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Today’s Book Look

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One more plug for the The 2nd annual Animation Book Look this afternoon in Sherman Oaks. The Creative Talent Network and Van Eaton Galleries are presenting this all day book signing event on Ventura Blvd. It’s free and open to the public from 1:00pm-6:00pm. Join me at the Van Eaton Gallery, 13613 Ventura Blvd., with Martha Sigall, Tom Sito, Rik Maki, Tony White, Willie Ito, Jim Smith, Amanda Visell, Stephen Silver, Maureen Furniss, Jon Gibson, Mike Kunkel and dozens more. For a complete list of authors and books visit the Book Look website or call Van Eaton Galleries at 818-788-2357.

German Car Commercials starring Tom & Jerry

In case you were wondering what Tom & Jerry were doing:

Here they are selling cars – in Germany! I’m sorry, but these commercials from 1994 don’t quite recapture the Hanna Barbera magic (except the last one using vintage clips from MGM cartoons), but I certainly encourage the use of classic cartoon stars selling products aimed at adults (as opposed to toys, sugared cereals and vitamins).

(Thanks Andrew J. Lederer)

Waltz with Bashir, An Animated War Documentary

Waltz with Bashir

While DreamWorks debuted its umpteenth cookie-cutter ‘hip’ animal comedy, Kung Fu Panda, at the Cannes Film Festival this past week, it’s another animated feature that’s been making big waves at the French festival, one that actually uses to its advantage the art form’s vast potential. Waltz with Bashir is only the second animated feature ever produced in Israel. Directed and written by Ari Folman, it is a documentary about the 1982 massacre at the Shatila and Sabra Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, recounted through first-hand accounts from soldiers who participated in the war.

The film, which incorporates a medley of cel, Flash, CG and live-action, has been gaining raves since its debut including write-ups in Cinematical, NY Times and Time magazine. GreenCine also has a nice roundup of coverage for the film. What the film may lack in the animation quality and polish that we are accustomed to in stateside features, it seems to make up for with its ambition and dedication towards using the medium to create something that is actually meaningful and relevant to our times. Below is the film trailer followed by an excerpt from the film. (Thanks, Yoni Salmon, for the tip)

UPDATE: Just noticed that CHF also wrote about the film this morning. They have a link to the film’s official website which has production notes that say the film took four years to produce at a cost of $2 million.

Upcoming Chronicle Books

Art of Pixar Short Films

I received the Fall/Winter 2008 Chronicle Books catalog yesterday, and there are a few animation-related books that should be of interest to Brew readers. The prelim cover to my book, the previously announced The Art of Pixar Short Films, is above. You can find out more about the book by clicking on this info sheet about the book. It’s slated now for a February 2009 release. Pre-order on Amazon.

I’ve also posted the info sheets below for two other cartoon entries from Chronicle (click for larger versions). Rogue Leaders: The Story of LucasArts by Rob Smith is the first history of Lucas’s videogame division, which turned out classic games like The Secret of Monkey Island, Sam & Max Hit the Road, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango. It’s coming out in December 08. Also notable, Disney Feature Animation is releasing its first ‘art of’ book through Chronicle. You guessed it…it’s The Art of Bolt by Mark Cotta Vaz, scheduled for release this November.

LucasArts and Bolt