Animation Writing Roundup

Berke Breathed

Quick Stop Entertainment has a lengthy interview with Bloom County and Opus creator Berkeley Breathed. Breathed talks about the earlier troubled adaptations of his comics to animation, his current work with Robert Zemeckis to adapt one of his children’s books into a mo-cap feature (“just to annoy the animation community”), and his thoughts on the recent Calvin & Hobbes student film (“Bill [Watterson] is going to have a cow when he sees this. Not that it isn’t terrific. I think it’s like how we’d feel finding our wives naked on YouTube… no matter how hot they look.”)

Godfrey Bjork and Friends

File this one under Tragically Amusing: it’s the Super-Short Animation Career of Godfrey Bjork courtesy of Joe Campana’s Animation—Who and Where blog.

Ren & Stimpy

This essay by Troy Steele is surprisingly insightful, managing to seamlessly weave together a discussion of gender politics in the movie industry, the live-action films of Jane Campion, and the Ren & Stimpy: APC episode “Naked Beach Frenzy,” about which Steele writes:

    Kricfalusi’s sexism is so innocent, so reverent of a sex he clearly doesn’t even begin to comprehend. The inclusion of a grotesquely hirsute male lifeguard only helps to make the women look that much better in comparison. Kricfalusi clearly doesn’t understand women beyond objectification, but at least that pedestal he’s putting an entire sex upon isn’t one of dour victimhood and sour grapes.

    Bill Thompson and Droopy

    WFMU’S Beware of the Blog tells you more than you could ever want to know about one of my favorite voice actors of all time: Bill Thompson, the voice of Droopy. Interesting factoids abound including that Thompson was originally cast as the voice of Fred Flintstone, and that he left show business in the early-’60s to become a business executive at Union Oil.

    Travis KnightInterview with the boss’s son: Animation Magazine interviews Laika animator Travis Knight, who also happens to be the son of Laika owner and Nike founder Phil Knight. I’ve heard many positive things from stop-mo folk about Travis’s animation skills, and it’s clear that Laika is embracing more interesting and promising projects than when the studio was Vinton’s, so I tend to be cautiously optimistic about Laika’s future. (via Ward-O-Matic)

    And finally, the LA Daily News looks at what happens to CalArts students after they graduate with their $120k chararacter animation degrees.


  • http://www.lyris-lite.net David Mackenzie

    Interesting link, but my alarm went off here:

    “I think the problem lies in Kricfalusi and his hand-picked staff of animators, who were so clearly excited to be given a practical outlet to display their cartoon-mechanics manifestos that they forgot to write a script worth hinging the animation on.”

    Script?

  • amid

    David – I think you’re reading the piece too literally. He’s saying that the animation didn’t have good storytelling to support it. Whether you agree with that point or not is another question, but his point doesn’t change if you replace the word ‘script’ with ‘story’.

  • Kris

    Troy’s article was really interesting. I have to say that I am a lot more disturbed by someone stereotyping women in a serious film than I am by images of a cartoon cat ejaculating on a woman’s head. (I grinned really big when I imagined the latter, but then again I like dirty jokes. I guess I’m a bad woman!)

    Honestly, John K could be a lot more sexist without me getting upset about it though. For a while I’ve thought of him as an angry grandpa, and I just can’t get mad at a grandpa.

  • LNG

    Campion thinks men can’t understand women nor make decent films reflecting that understanding? Has she ever heard of Pedro Almovodar? And no, it doesn’t matter that he’s gay.

  • Nick

    Ok Ok I get it, Cal Arts grads get jobs… That sure is encouraging for those of us who cant afford a $120k degree.

    Maybe its time to let other talent seep in to “the Industry”. I think we will all benefit once we start letting go of Institutional loyalties and start being loyal to the craft of animation. Lets make animation the new Cal Arts… as it should be. Maybe then all this snobbery will go away…

  • http://chrisbattleillustration.blogspot.com/ Chris Battle

    Nick- I’m not a Cal Arts grad (or a grad of any art school for that matter), and I’ve enjoyed a healthy career working side-by-side with the Cal Arts crowd. Don’t get discouraged; there’s room for everyone out there.

  • http://www.animationarchive.org Stephen Worth

    Katie Rice is one of the most talented artists I’ve ever worked with, and John recognized that early on. He accepted her as a peer, gave her a chance to shine in Adult Party Cartoon and publicly acknowledged her great work in the DVD supplement and on his blog. The example of equality in the film business that Steele was looking for was staring him right in the face and he didn’t see it. If you want fairness, the place that it really counts is in the production process, not the jokes. The surest way to kill humor is to insist that it be “appropriate”. Cartoons are not supposed to be role models. I’d think that even the first year film student would know that.

  • Relevan

    You mean it’s actually a meritocracy out there? HOLY CRAP!

  • http://chuckchuckrekow.com Chuck R.

    Thanks for the Bill Thompson link. Droopy’s nemesis Spike is one of the funniest and most underrated characters of the Golden Age.
    “Now, cut it out! Stop hittin’ me with that Shillelagh!”

  • Chris Sobieniak

    (thoughts on the Berkeley Breathed piece)

    Sad to hear of Breathed’s problems with getting anything of his animated then and now. I think he just can’t seem to work with the RIGHT people at all given those technicalities.

    That special in particular sighted, “A Wish For Wings That Work” was aired on CBS around ’91, and was later released on VHS and LD by MCA-Universal Home Video. Of course I loved that special when it did air, despite the fact I assume the network didn’t get it the push it probably needed in the promotion dept. And yes, the voice they had to get for Opus was Michael Bell. The tape though often showed up around Christmas time in most stores for years to come.

    Having “Doonesbury” mentioned in the interview brought back to mine the Hubley film “A Doonesbury Special”. Of course Trudeau had better cooperation with the Hubleys on making that one I’m sure. I only bring that up as I got the book “A Doonesbury Special: A Director’s Notebook” in the mail today. I’ll thank YouTube for having exposed me to such a good piece of animation a few months back (when are we going to get our “A Doonesbury Special: 30th Anniversary Edition” released?).

    And yeah, it would be like him to challenge the animation community in siding with the King of Mo-Capping, Zemeckis! :-) (really, I’ll probably wouldn’t waste my time of that film since I hardly read those books anyway)

    Sad to read his views on why Bloom County isn’t getting an omnibus edition, given his views on the publisher’s discretion, but he didn’t have to call us “Middle Aged”! If I was an even bigger comic book geek, I’d probably correct him by stating “Graphic Novel” as well, but that would be too obvious to point out (just hearing ‘cartoon book’ made me felt small). If he knew better, he could rake in the millions on letting Fantagraphics handle it.

    Of course in the end, the fans are already better off in their quest to complete their Bloom County stash. I’ve downloaded strips from 1981 and ’82 from Bit Torrent already.

    And because someone mentioned that Calvin & Hobbes film to him, that gives me a good idea of what might happen if I exposed “The Great Snake Massacre” to the masses! I know he’ll have a fit, collapse on the floor with a heart attack, and sue me for damages! :-)

  • LNG

    There’s ironic dispariy in Breathed’s onetime disdain for rich, creatively bankrupt strip cartoonists (far more famous than he) littering the newspaper landscape and his current attitude that he deserves wider exposure. The sad fact is “Opus” ain’t “Bloom County”, which he walked away from. And, unlike the superior “Calvin and Hobbes” there was no huge public outcry to bring it back.

  • Chuck R.

    In response to LNG:

    I never heard of Breathed disparaging anyone other than Pat Oliphant, but maybe someone should. Almost all newspaper strips fall into one of 3 categories: Has-been and not funny (Beetle Bailey); kind-of clever but not funny (Mutts, FBOW) and polemical without being funny or clever (Boondocks, Doonesbury) Only a few (Dilbert and Opus included) still make me laugh, and fewer still (Zits and the occasional Dennis the Menace daily) have inspiring artwork. Opus, while not as colorful or clever as Bloom County, is still a sight better than Outland. Masters like Watterson and Larson seem to come only once in a decade (sniff)

    Anyway, I thought Breathed came off as honest and self-effacing in the interview and my respect for him went up a notch or two after reading it, just as it did when he dispensed with the Photoshop effects in his art.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    > Anyway, I thought Breathed came off as honest and self-effacing in the interview and my respect for him went up a notch or two after reading it, just as it did when he dispensed with the Photoshop effects in his art.

    I really don’t know. I felt a tad angry after reading that part in the interview over why we aren’t getting reprints of the Bloom County strips at all, stating they were “cartoon books” and the readers are “middle aged”. That’s about as worse as what I can expect the anime companies to act like to the 40 year olds demanding box sets of the original Mobile Suit Gundam. It’s just rather sad and BS to me to have heard that, given that I know there’s still that retro thing going on in the “old-school” scene that would love to have a complete Bloom County collection in some form or another. I sighted Fantagraphics before since I know they do a good job on this sort of thing anyway, though there’s always some other publisher of a similar niche demographic Breathed could ask as well about it.

    Oh well, at least there’s a place online to read ‘em anyawy…
    http://www.gocomics.com/bloomcounty/
    Still it’s not as the same as it had been in the print media.

    Speaking of the current “Opus” strip, a freebie publication in town (Toledo Free Press), bothered to pick it up, but runs the strips on a 2 or 3 week delay, and had to shrink it down terribly small to fit in the tabloid-sized paper. At least we bother carrying it at all, otherwise I would’ve had to look at the Detroit News & Free Press for it anyway.

  • Bobby Bickert

    “Of course in the end, the fans are already better off in their quest to complete their Bloom County stash. I’ve downloaded strips from 1981 and ’82 from BitTorrent already.”

    I photocopied them from microfilm back in 1995-96.

  • Chuck R.

    Chris, you make some good points. I guess I didn’t get angry at Breathed because:
    1. I have gray hairs to remind me I’m middle-aged
    2. I bought the first Bloom County Book (Loose Tails) in high school and it’s hiding in a box somewhere with the Calvin and Hobbes collection. I loved reading them at the time, but I haven’t much time to pore over them lately.
    3. I agree that Watterson is a bit too high-minded about comic strips when it comes to adapting them or merchandising them. Seriously, Hobbes is a stuffed tiger! How would marketing a plush version of the plush Hobbes hurt the comic?

    I have my issues with Fantagraphics, but you’re right, their anthology/reprint books are outstanding.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    > I photocopied them from microfilm back in 1995-96.

    Ha! I should’ve done that! Of course then, I’d have to really save up some loose change to use the microfiche copier at my library’s downtown location if I ever want to try combing through The Blade for all those strips they’ve published (dailies only, they never handled the Sundays at all). Eh, it would be tedious and tiresome to leaf through issues for hours this way.

  • Nate

    Let’s look at the record: Breathed and his business associates chose a first time director for “A Wish For Wings That Work”, who he now states was in “over his head.” And for his more recent Nick adaptation of one of his fine books, he admits he and his associates chose a company “with zero animation experience” to do the actual CGI animation, which proved unusable. For someone who is admittedly so influenced by film, shouldn’t he do his homework before leaping into such ill-advised deals only to disparage the creative choices he made years after the fact?

  • http://www.animationarchive.org Stephen Worth

    If you’re going to “look at the record”, you need to know what you’re talking about. I worked with Skip Jones at Bagdasarian before he directed “Wish For Wings That Work”. Skip was then (and still is) a consummate professional- experienced, talented and perfectly capable of directing either TV or feature quality animation. The people who were in over their heads on that project were the incompetent and unqualified exec producers who were totally clueless about animation production and deeply entrenched in studio politics. The reason that show got finished with decent production value was due to Skip Jones’ dedication to the project and the crew he led.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    > If you’re going to “look at the record�, you need to know what you’re talking about. I worked with Skip Jones at Bagdasarian before he directed “Wish For Wings That Work�. Skip was then (and still is) a consummate professional- experienced, talented and perfectly capable of directing either TV or feature quality animation. The people who were in over their heads on that project were the incompetent and unqualified exec producers who were totally clueless about animation production and deeply entrenched in studio politics. The reason that show got finished with decent production value was due to Skip Jones’ dedication to the project and the crew he led.

    True, I didn’t want to knock that special since I thought it looked pretty good otherwise, but often I assume it would be the execs. whom otherwise would otherwise have no clue as to producing animation they way it should be.

  • Bobby Bickert

    “Ha! I should’ve done that! Of course then, I’d really have to save up some loose change to use the microfiche copier at my library’s downtown location if I ever want to try combing through The Blade for all those strips they’ve published (dailies only, they never handled the Sundays at all). Eh, it would be tedious and tiresome to leaf through issues for hours this way.”

    It does have a few shortcomings. The main one is that the Sunday strips aren’t in color. Also, some of the microfilm was quite worn-out, probably from the high-speed motorized rewinding. (I tried rewinding it manually, but the staff yelled at me, though they ignored others who sounded like they were stripping the gears on the viewers.) For at least one strip, I had to write down the dialogue because it was too faded to copy well. And not all of the Sunday strips I have fit on one sheet of paper, depending on which machine I had access to. (I used the USF library, which had only 2 microfilm copiers open to the public; the rest had to be activated by a student ID card.)

    But I wasn’t the first person to do this. When I opened the box for December 1-10, 1980, I found “December 8: first appearance of Bloom County!” written on the inside of the end flap!

  • Ed