John Dilworth Remembers Michael Sporn

Sporn Hears A Snark
by John R. Dilworth

Can you believe he even existed? Did we conjure him up in a strangely unexplainable collective?

I was a puppy jumping up and down over everything animation when I encountered Michael. This was in the age prior to the latest technology. I tried out on a short bit of a cat doing some benign business. Michael was impressed—or desperate, but that started a long soulful friendship and mentorship and the materialization of my life as an animator.

He was brave. I experienced him often under budget in the pursuit of a standard. He was like the Bogart of animation, taciturn emotionally with a canny candidness and a silent assertive character. I seldom heard him complain about not having the resources enough to make animation art. How fearless for him to laugh at his own circumstances and forward on, making no deals with Mephistopheles.

He reminded me of a character out of Homer with his ringlets and beard, especially the spry and thin Michael of the Raggedy Ann era. He just needed a cuirass.

I much teased him over his drawing skills. He would grin and his eyes would pinch in quiet commiseration. Michael drew like Michael Sporn would draw. Line as melody. A route materialized in black Penstick letter ‘F,’ his tool of choice. He told me its tip would break in to brush-like elasticity. He was like his tool. Outlining the confident and vulnerable qualities of his subjects.

Michael was generous with art. He gave a lot of room to animators, to discover themselves as well as the art. When he handed out scenes to animators, rarely did he offer how to do the scene. There was little instruction as I would expect ( and hope from Michael ). He would say, ‘Have fun. See what comes out.’ This sounds contrary to experience, but he has an alchemy. His book adaptations to storyboard were thorough. His translations distilled what the human sentiment was for each character, whether it is a yearning for a family crocodile or a romantic shipwrecked mouse.

He enjoyed a laugh. His face would collapse into a smiling tiered landscape, flesh mashing together like the grinning of the Grinch’s grin looking onto Christmas.

And he enjoyed his big blue Cadillac back in the day, the Fine Young Cannibals playing on the tape player, an inexplicable golf ball tucked in the pouch of the back seat. He drove. The air filled with motion, movement of shapes and colors, a substantial wind blowing on the face and scattering hair like sparklers on Chinese New Year. I was filled with a curious joy and pride. And everything moving on ‘three’s’.

Early in Michael’s career he adapted a poem by Lewis Carroll, “The Hunting of the Snark.” This brilliant film spoke to me of Michael’s inner life, a most personal identification of inescapable dread. In the poem an encounter with a force beyond human or animal control is experienced. It is called a Snark, a kind of mythical bird whose black shadow circles our lives. And when encountering a certain kind of Snark, a ‘Boojum,’ one silently and unexpectedly vanishes away.

In the end, a Snark vanished Michael. It was a Boojum, you see.


JOHN R. DILWORTH is an animation artist based in New York City. His most known works include The Dirdy Birdy, Life in Transition, and Courage, the Cowardly Dog. His work can be seen at StretchFilms.com.


  • jonhanson

    Such an eloquent and touching eulogy. It always breaks my heart to read these things but at the same time no one can ask for a better legacy than to have had this sort of an impact on the people around them.

    I never knew that Mr. Sporn worked with Mr. Dilworth, it’s crazy to realize just how connected is the animation world. I know that as Mr. Sporn paved the way for Dilworth so will Dilworth pave the way for others, and so our words and actions echo through history, even after our names are forgotten.

  • Roberto Severino

    This makes me very sad and only reminds me that we’ve lost one of the greatest modern animators ever due to that stupid, dreaded cancer. Mr. Sporn deserved a lot more time on Earth to share his animation knowledge and wisdom.