Animator/director Joel Brinkerhoff emailed me with a couple of his recent historical discoveries that he wanted to share. I thought they were both interesting observations and worthy of further debate, so here they are:
Many know the German humorist Wilhelm Busch (1832-1908) to be the inspiration for the comic strip creation of “The Katzenjammer Kids.” I suspect he also may have fathered the outrageous ‘takes’ and gags of the Avery’s and Clampett’s. The accompanying image shows examples of the steamroller pancake gag, the rubber hose body, and very interesting ‘takes’ involving enlarged organs, morphing, multiple appendages, and smearing–all forty years before animation introduced them to a new audience.
(click on image for larger version)
Undisputedly Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese created the 1953 classic cartoon “Duck Amuck,” but the ideas and comic bits were around for a long time before they brought them to new light. The springboard seems to be Buster Keaton’s 1924 masterpiece “Sherlock Jr.” In it we find the continuity gags of changing backgrounds and props pulled and replaced. Next, a very specific split-frame gag can be traced to an obscure 1941 Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson adaptation of the play “Hellzapoppin.” Director H.C. Potter continually broke the fourth wall in this self-referencing farce, and created a projectionist joke where the film became stuck with the framing splitting the screen. The characters comment on their condition before the supposed projectionist can make the correction, twelve years before Daffy found himself in the same situation.
UPDATE: Another fine animator/director – Steve Segal – offers some thoughts about the DUCK AMUCK entry:
Thank you for the insightful treatise on “Duck Amuck.” Any discussion that brings attention to “Sherlock Jr.” is OK with me. In a sense, the earliest animations broke the fourth wall since the early chalk talk animations showed the animator’s hand. That was followed by Fleischer’s Inkwell series, where the animator is as visible as the toon, plus Koko and Bimbo can be seen having heated discussions with the animator. Another early cartoon that seems to echo Jones’ classic is “Comicalamities” (1928) where Felix argues with the animator and talks him into making his girlfriend cuter.