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Happy 70th Birthday, Michael Barrier

Issues of Funnyworld

Happy birthday to Michael Barrier who is celebrating his 70th today. Many Brew readers are already familiar with his achievements, but for those who aren’t, Michael Barrier is a historian of the finest kind and a true champion of our art form.

Michael BarrierBarrier began interviewing animation artists in the late-1960s, and by the 1980s, he (along with his Los Angeles-based research partner Milt Gray) had recorded the most comprehensive collection of interviews with artists from the Golden Age of theatrical animation. To put his work into perspective, when he started chronicling the lives of these artists, few film critics took animation seriously, and even fewer regarded the classic Hollywood cartoons as a field worthy of study. In the face of such indifference, Michael had the audacity to not only interview the famous directors but hundreds of little known artists who contributed to the success of Hollywood theatrical cartoons ranging from animators and layout artists to cameramen and composers.

The research and interviews appeared in his seminal journal Funnyworld which was published during the 1970s. It was before my time, but I’ve heard the stories. As the first American publication to write about animation thoughtfully and critically, every issue was eagerly anticipated by artists, researchers, and fans, and its contributors included some of the leading researchers of the day including John Canemaker, Joe Adamson, Mark Kausler, and Bill Blackbeard. It remains to this day the gold standard for magazines about Hollywood animation.

Barrier has also written a number of books about comic art and animation. Most notably in 1999 he published his impeccably researched and feistily opinionated history of animation Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age. More recently, he wrote the noteworthy The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney, an indispensable resource for anyone interested in the life of the legend.

It’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be doing what I do today if not for the trailblazing work of Michael Barrier. Our collective understanding of the animation art form is richer and more nuanced because of his tireless efforts, and this is a fine occasion to acknowledge his contributions to the field of animation.

Keep up to date with his latest projects at

  • Paul N

    When I was in college in the late 80’s, there was a used book store near campus. I went in one day and saw a pile of back issues of “Funnyworld.” To this day I regret that I was a poor college student when I ran across them, but I’ll never forget the thrill of seeing that Chuck Jones cover and realizing that someone was actually WRITING about animation.

    Happy Birthday, Michael!

  • Jorge Garrido

    Michael’s interview with Lloyd Turner is the most insightful and eye-opening account of the Golden Age of Animation I’ve ever read. Truly a great interviewer.

  • Hear hear!

    I can’t imagine what things would be like if we didn’t have hard-working, inspirational people like Michael around :)

  • I could not agree more Amid. Walt’s People or my passion for animation history would not exist either if I had not stumbled upon an old issue of Funnyworld in a small store in Madrid, when I was a student 20 years ago. Long live the King of Animation History.

  • Roberto Severino

    I hope that Mr. Barrier has a wonderful 70th birthday. Overall, he’s done a great service for animation, documenting the history of it very well and posting all those rare interviews on his blog, even though I still think he’s very biased.

  • I remember the odd joy/pain of Funnyworld’s erratic publishing schedule–agonizing waits punctuated by brilliant issues at all-too-rare, seemingly random intervals. My personal Top 20 Things I Love About the Internet would include the fact that Barrier writes for it so frequently and so well.

  • Peter H

    His meticulous research and scrupulous documentation put his books head and shoulders above other histories: that he is writing on a subject for which he has a passion is the icing on the cake.

    Happy Birthday and many of them!

  • Thanks for being THE first to seriously document on the history of animation, Mike! We wouldn’t be here without you.

  • Happy Birthday Michael Barrier. I may not agree with some of his opinions, but I deeply respect him and the work he has done for the animation world, which has led to even more in-depth research into the world of animation, as well as comics. I’d tip my hat to him, but I haven’t got a hat. I wish I could find those back issues of Funnyworld.

  • R.J. Laaksonen

    The first issue of my Funnyworld subscription was number 13 (1971), with the fascinating Fawcett portrait of Mickey Mouse on the cover, and with a long Chuck Jones interview inside. I was, to put it mildly, impressed. A magazine with every word worth reading, and the interviews are still models of how an interview should be conducted and edited.

  • jordan reichek

    Happy happy, joy joy-Day! We animation folk and fans owe a great deal of gratitude for your work. Funnyworld is an animation time capsule that so easily could have passed the world by. Thanks for continuing to give this artform the attention it is so often is deprived. Many more, sir!

  • Bill Field

    I wish Mr. Barrier a terrific 70th birthday, I have not always agreed with Michael on all things animated, but I have always admired his tenacity and writing acumen. He and I are probably even related distantly, as I have family in Arkansas named Barrier. His magazine was the only thing like it when I was a kid growing up in Texas, and it opened my eyes to the career I’ve had for the past two decades! Here’s to you, Michael Barrier, may you still be doing this thirty years from now, on your centennial.

  • Rooniman

    I tip my hat to you, Mr. Barrier, and have a great 70th Birthday.

  • Happy Birthday Mr. Barrier! May you have many happy returns!

  • Fred Sparrman

    I’m sure he appreciated the “happy happy, joy joy”!

    Thanks to Mr. Barrier for the great scholarship and writing, and to Amid for recognizing him today.

  • Bill Turner

    I loved Funnyworld. So much that I eagerly paid for a three year subscription. Unfortunately it ceased publication almost immediately thereafter. Happy birthday, nonetheless.

  • Jenny Lerew

    I wish I’d written this first! A deserved acknowledgement of a trailblazer in animation and cartoon history, a cogent writer, and most especially a generous man. Anyone who visits this site-as fan, pro or passerby with a cursory interest in cartoons-owes him a great debt, as Amid notes.

    Whether one agrees or disagrees with his views(I’ve done both) he always expresses himself thoroughly and thoughtfully-in addition he’s one of a very few nonfiction writers who’s made me burst out laughing (once in the deadly quiet Academy library reading back issues of Funnyworld). For that and a million other words (read his biography of Walt Disney now, people) I’m happy to offer Mike Barrier my thanks and many happy returns.

  • Happy Birthday MB. Don’t let the other guys know but you were always my favorite. Keep going, man, I want to read another Mike Barrier book one day!

  • stavner

    Happy birthday, Mr. Barrier!

  • Art Binninger

    I was fortunate enough to have been living in LA during the late ’70’s-early ’80’s while Funnyworld was still hitting the stands regularly so I picked them up when they first came out. What’s so great about them is that information is so well researched but to this day the issues themselves don’t appear to have aged. You sure can’t say that about the countless ethereal blogs out there.
    May Mr. Barrier, like his publications, continue to defy the aging process.

  • happy B-Day to everyone’s favorite animation curmudgeon! Even when we disagree with your opinions we have to respect you for all you’ve done to uncover & preserve the history of the medium!

  • I love reading Mr. Barrier’s interviews, reviews and editorials, and I hope he keeps writing for a long time. Happy birthday!

  • Mark Sonntag

    If the classic Disney, Warner and MGM cartoons are what wanted me to pursue a career in animation, then the work of historians like Michael Barrier really inspired me to go out and do it. Without him and others like him we would not know terribly much about the industry.

    Happy 70th Michael!!

  • Many happy returns for the day, Michael. :)

  • Kel

    All the best to Michael B on an amazing career. I believe he was the first to bring our attention to the work of Jim Tyer, and his book on animation is one of the rare few to concentrate heavily on the contributions of individual animators and writers and how they compliment the more celibrated directors.

    His analysis of Chuck Jones’ “Fresh Airedale” is well worth rereading.

  • Jill madonia frazier

    Happy birthday , mike!

  • GhaleonQ

    I’d congratulate him for our confluence of tastes, anyway, but the man’s indispensible. He’s my favorite American animation critic, by far.

  • Frances and Dan Keeley

    Hope you have a great day, Mike! Happy, happy birthday!

  • Lois W. Madonia

    Mike, I truly meant to get a very special card in the snail mail. But alas, I didn’t. Have thought of you all day. I just told Johnnie, that if it was midnight, I would still send you an e-mail.( she and I have been playing all day(since she arrived at 2 p.m.) You look great for the big 7 0 ………….. Hope the day was very special, and from all of the above messages, I would say, that made your day!! Take care, and many, many more good years to you. Lois

  • For those of us and live, breathe, eat, and sleep animation your work is like a lifeline of inspiration. There really is an art to interviewing artists, and you’re the Michelangelo. Thanks for everything Michael, and happy birthday! :)

  • Happy Birthday Michael Barrier. May you continue to review animation for many years to come.

  • Dan Keeley

    I see you walking to the grocery store. the library and all over town. You probably have put away a good retirement account just on saved gas. I suspect that is why you look much younger than your age!

    I hope you have a very special birthday Mike.

    Dan Keeley

  • Susan Mehlburger

    Today is your birthday and we will sing “The Song” to you! Happy Birthday Mike, hope it is a great one!

  • Bill Perkins

    Happy Birthday Michael. I still have all my copies of Funnyworld, not tucked away but on my book-shelve, I still re-read your articles. At the time I hung on too every word of your interview with Bob Clampett, your work led me too him, brought him too Canada and kick started my own career in animation. Many many thanks .

  • The first time I read Funnyworld’s articles was about 10 years ago snooping around Waldyr Igayara’s archive. I was so much impressed with them as I am now! Happy Birthday, Michael Barrier!

  • Not only is Mr. Barrier a wealth of information, he is also a very pleasant and approachable guy too. He has very graciously answered any questions I have asked of him.

    Happy birthday indeed. The golden age artists are looking down on you and smiling.

  • Professor Widebottom

    For me, Barrier is like a high priest of animation history. His output always has the a precise and disciplined tone about it. The man takes his animation seriously, to be sure. I always appreciate his stalwart Disney scholarship, during a time when authoring a major biography equals opportunistic revisionism for too many.

    Before Funnyworld, I can’t think of any publication that raised the curtain on the art of animation in the same sensory-satisfying way. For the fan who really wanted to tap directly into the creative cogs and wheels of classic animation talent, it was truly a treasure… and the grandfather venue to all THIS.

  • Paul Dushkind

    I picked up Funnyworld at Comic-con in the early 1970s. It was the best fanzine in its time, and the only one I knew of devoted primarily to animation. It also had considerable wordage devoted to comic books and strips, especially undergrounds, funny animals and other humorous comics, including those of John Stanley.

    At the same time, Milt Gray and Bob Clampett were attending the conventions. Milt showed reels of some of the best Warner Bros. cartoons, and warned that they weren’t being preserved. He said that it was possible that the film he was showing would eventually be the only remaining existing copy.

    I gather that Funnyworld, in spite of its tiny circulation, was largely responsible for cartoon directors becoming household words, especially Chuck Jones. And I get the impression that the Warner Bros. cartoon library is being preserved archivally. I hope that I’m right. Many of the cartoons are out on DVD. It appears that Milt Gray deserves some of the credit for it. And that Mike Barrier is partly responsible for the renaissance in animation, and has had a larger influence on pop culture than one might think.

    (He might lament that, because he has a low opinion of much animation today. I believe that I put less importance than he does on the distinction between higher art and literature. It would rankle him for cartoons and duck comics to be considered lowbrow.)

    Like other great critics, he has brilliant insights. He can be too negative, and he does say things that make my jaw drop. But he has a keen and deep intellect; one argues with him at one’s peril.

  • Paulo Vasconcellos

    Michael Barrier is the greatest Carl Barks biographer. His book “Carl Barks and the Art of the Comic Book” is a classic. This book has been a very important source of several published collections in the world dedicated to Barks’ work. Starting with the great “Carl Barks Library” published in USA.

    In the brazilian version of CBL( “O melhor da Disney- As obras completas de Carl Barks “ published from 2004 to 2008) there are several references to “Carl Barks and the Art of the Comic Book”.

    Happy Birthday, Michael !