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.
Barrier 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 MichaelBarrier.com.