Harvey Kurtzman and Sesame Street

Kurtzman and Sesame Street

Michael Sporn has posted an amazing article about Harvey Kurtzman’s animated work for Sesame Street. There’s a lot of rare artwork in the piece alongside info on how he collaborated with Phil Kimmelman and Associates to make the cartoons.

In particular what stood out to me is this unbelievable page of animation drawings by Dante Barbetta. Loose, free and funny animation–it’s what shows like Chowder can only dream of being.

Kurtzman and Sesame Street

Here’s the finished piece:

Craig Yoe’s Milt Gross Comic Books and Life Story

How do I love thee, let me count the ways: this isn’t so much a book review, but a book RAVE. Craig Yoe’s massive new tome reprinting the comic book art of Milt Gross (IDW/Yoe Books, 354 color pages, $39.99 or cheaper on Amazon) is an absolute must-have by everyone reading this blog. Buy it now. Gross was the dean of funny cartoonists, influencing everyone from Bob Clampett and Harvey Kurtzman to R. Crumb. He pioneered what we call today the graphic novel, worked in animation, wrote songs, coined slang, had a long running newspaper comic strip and directed two insane MGM cartoons in the 1930s (I’ve embed one of them, Jitterbug Follies (1939), below).

Yoe’s new book reprints Gross’ rarely seen comic pages for Picture News magazine and for the American Comics Group (ACG) from the 1940s. He precedes this with a 38 page detailed history of Milt Gross, loaded with rare cartoons, advertisements, still photos and frame grabs that are worth the price of the book alone. A Foreword by Herb Gross (Milt’s son) and a clever “Fold-INtroduction” by Mad’s Al Jaffee set the zany tone. The Complete Milt Gross Comic Books and Life Story; To paraphrase both Jack Kirby and Milt Gross: Dun’t Esk, just buy it!

PREVIEW: Slim Pickings Fat Chances

Slim Pickings

It’s not often that I plug an animated short that isn’t finished yet, but I can’t resist this time. Slim Pickings Fat Chances is an almost-finished short by David de Rooij and Jelle Brunt from the Netherlands. The film makes no pretensions about being anything other than a funny cartoon (dialogue-less to boot), and it reminds me of a 1950s Tex Avery short in the best way possible. The timing is sharp and spot-on, the animation is funny, the characters are appealingly drawn, and the backgrounds have a delightful Paul Julian vibe. Usually, whenever artists try to capture the animation style of a bygone era, they fall short in some area or another and the effect is ruined. It’s rare when all the cogs are in place like this cartoon. It reaffirms my belief that there are superbly talented young artists working in animation today, and even when the mainstream industry doesn’t provide them opportunities, they create their own. The filmmakers have a production blog with concept art, animation tests, character designs and more. Keep an eye out for Slim Pickings Fat Chances when it hits the festival circuit later this year.

(PS: I found out about this short when David de Rooij won the caricature contest on the Brew a few weeks ago and told me about his film. A silver lining in a difficult situation.)

1940 textbook predicts animated Penguins

I had a wonderful time in the City of Orange yesterday, guest speaking at Bill Kroyer’s class at Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. While there, I visited a few antique shops in town and came across this vintage public school reader, In The City and On The Farm (1940). What caught my attention in the book was a 3-page chapter (thumbnails below, click to enlarge) about going to the movies to see a cartoon – Papa Penguin. It’s rare enough to find any acknowledgement of animated films in American culture at the time, even rarer in an elementary school text book. And this one sort-of predicts the spate of Penguin films to come (Happy Feet, Surf’s Up, et al). The third page even illustrates, via film strip, how the cartoon tells its story through pictures – just like a storyboard. I bought it (cheap) and decided to share – enjoy!

LAT: Disney Restyles Rapunzel to Appeal to Boys

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the title Tangled isn’t the only thing being changed about Disney’s production of Rapunzel – it’s repositioning the film to attract a male audience.

From the article:

The makeover of “Rapunzel” is more than cosmetic. Disney can ill afford a moniker that alienates half the potential audience, young boys, who are needed to make an expensive family film a success.

Concluding it had too many animated girl flicks in its lineup, Disney has shelved its long-gestating project “The Snow Queen,” based on the Hans Christian Andersen story. “Snow Queen” would have marked the company’s fourth animated film with a female protagonist, following “The Princess and the Frog,” “Tangled” and Pixar’s forthcoming “The Bear and the Bow,” directed by Pixar’s first female director, Brenda Chapman, and starring Reese Witherspoon.

Since the release of its first movie, “Toy Story,” in 1995, Pixar has uniformly featured male leads in its films, including Buzz and Woody; Mr. Incredible, the middle-aged superhero in “The Incredibles”; and Lightning McQueen, the stock-car star of “Cars.”

Disney’s Tangled open on December 10th, 2010. Below is the latest teaser:

Help the Hodges Charity Auction Continues

Help the Hodges

The Help the Hodges charity auction, which we wrote about last December, is still continuing on eBay. As explained earlier, the money raised will support animator Tim Hodge whose son’s car was struck by a train last August. His son, Matthew, remains in a coma today. There are plenty of primo pieces including a lot of production and pre-production artwork from animated projects as well as illustration art, toys and books. New items are being posted to eBay regularly, and full item descriptions can be found on HelptheHodges.com.

Oscar Talkback

The Oscar winners were announced tonight.

UP won two Academy Awards: It won for BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM and Michael Giacchino won an Oscar for its musical score.


The highlight of the broadcast was a segment featuring lead characters from all five nominated animated films, Coraline, Mr. Fox, Louis the Alligator (from Princess and the Frog), Aisling (from Kells) and Carl & Dug from Up talking about being nominated. We’ll post this as soon as it’s online. In the meantime, congratulations to Pete Docter and Pixar – and let the talkback begin!

(illustration above by Oscar Grillo)

A Leg Up by Bevin Carnes

Speaking of the Oscars (isn’t everyone?), when I attended the Academy Feature Animation Symposium the other night I briefly met Bevin Carnes, winner of the 2007 Student Academy Award for Animation (Silver Medal). She made her prize winning film, A Leg Up, while a student at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, and recently posted it on You Tube. Since winning the award, Carnes has since worked for Rhythm and Hues, Disney (on Bolt) and at Blue Sky, as an animator on Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinisaurs. Here’s her film:

Ray Favata

Ray Favata
Ray Favata (l.) with Jules Feiffer at Terrytoons

My pal, Ray Favata, is the subject of a lengthy profile in this week’s Post-Star paper. He started his career at Tempo Productions, one of the early ‘cartoon modern’ studios that was later shuttered because of the blacklist. He went on to design commercials at Academy Pictures, John Sutherland Productions, and Deitch-era Terrytoons (where he boarded an unproduced sequel to Flebus), before starting a commercial studio with Bill Tytla, and then launching Ray Favata Productions. Since then, he’s worked on everything imaginable from projects with Frank Zappa to the TV series Doug. More of his work can be seen on the Cartoon Modern blog.

Here’s an episode of “Billy Jo Jive” that Favata made for Sesame Street:

Pink Panther and Pals

I don’t know much about the new Pink Panther and Pals series – which premieres this Sunday March 7th on Cartoon Network at 7:30am Eastern (4:30am Pacific) – except I like the redesigns of the Ant and the Aardvark. The new show features three six-minute cartoons – two featuring a “teenage Pink Panther” and one Ant and Aardvark short in the middle. 26 episodes were produced by MGM Animation. There’s no animation online, but here’s a bunch of still images to tide you over till Sunday.

(Thanks, Bob Spang)

The Book Nobody’s Been Waiting For

Filmation book

Lou Scheimer tells all . . . like about the time he produced something crappy, or that other time he produced something crappy, or those few decades where he had an impressive streak of producing lots and lots of crap in a row. There’s also an uplifting personal story about the time he vowed to produce something decent, but then realized it was more important to stay true to himself and produce crap.

Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation drops in July.

Frog in a Suit by Joe Murray

That’s a clip from Joe Murray’s Frog in a Suit, a new short film that doubles as a pilot. Here’s the set-up:

Peete Moss has just moved to Croakville ( a town full of toads) with his family. Croakville is a town on the fast track, with Industrialist Harvey Croak running everyone crazy. Peete Moss tries to fit in, sports a suit, and tries to “run with the bulls”. In this clip, he has a run in with a local coffee shop, and offends the love of his life, Lilly Patt, who is the local school teacher.

Murray, who is the creator of Rocko’s Modern Life and Camp Lazlo, has a book (with a really long title) coming out later this year: Creating Animated Cartoons with Character: A Guide to Developing and Producing Your Own Series for TV, the Web, and Short Film. He also writes an online journal.

(Thanks, David Essman)

Happy 90th Birthday, Ronald Searle!

Ronald Searle and Walt
Ronald Searle with Walt Disney. Click for bigger version

Happy birthday to Ronald Searle, one of the true legends of 20th (and now 21st) century cartooning and illustration. His artwork is the first thing that greets visitors to my pad, which should give some clue as to how highly I revere his work. In addition to his print work, he’s worked on numerous animation projects throughout his career including Energetically Yours and Dick Deadeye, and has indirectly been responsible for the look of countless other works of animation, most notably Disney’s 101 Dalmatians. My pal Matt Jones has been posting lots of birthday celebration news on the Ronald Searle blog.

Here’s a new interview with Searle on the occasion of his birthday:

“Je Pars” by Stéphanie Cabdevila

I like the simple but direct graphic concept that Stéphanie Cabdevila employs in this video for Mary’s Dream. She produced it at Paris-based Metronomic. If it’s not already clear from this video and the front page of her website, Cabdevila’s work has a playfully twisted visual sensibility. It’s also on display in this video for Claire Diterzi’s “La Vieille Chanteuse”.

Secret of Kells In The News

Secret of Kells

Today’s New York Times has an article about the surprise Oscar nomination of Secret of Kells. There are some fascinating details in the article about the grassroots campaign to get the film nominated:

GKIDS was aided by a “superfan,” Jamie Bolio, an animator who had fallen in love with the film at Edinburgh. The company essentially enabled her to be a citizen publicist, allowing her to post on “The Secret of Kells” Facebook page and giving her 200 DVDs to distribute to the Los Angeles cartooning industry.

Also, if you’ve seen the film and want to understand all of its historical references and settings, I can recommend no finer article than this in-depth analysis by Robert Tan posted on Roger Ebert’s blog.

John Canemaker’s New Blog

John Canemaker blog
John Canemaker (far left) with John Kricfalusi, Frank Gladstone and Glen Keane

Finally! Our friend, the esteemed animation historian/filmmaker/teacher John Canemaker has started a regular monthly blog column for Print magazine. He says that the blog will take “a wide-ranging look at many and varied artistic influences on animation, including comic art and CGI, games, book illustration, fine art, classic films, literature, and performance art,” and will explore everything “from Giotto to Johnny Gruelle, Elaine Stritch to Snow White, with the same personal perspective I bring to my teaching, lectures, and books.”

In his first post, Canemaker expresses his appreciation for the comic Bone and chats with Jeff Smith about his forthcoming animated adaptation of Bone. My only suggestion is that Print offers a direct link to his blog that always links to the latest article and Canemaker’s archives, otherwise it’ll be difficult to link to his blog or keep up with his posts.