Spent the weekend going over some new book acquisitions (and one DVD) and surprise! most were pretty good – and a couple were really great. Here’s what I’ve been reading (and viewing), in no particular order:

Funny Pictures: Animation and Comedy in Studio-Era Hollywood (University of California Press), edited by Daniel Goldmark and Charlie Keil, is a fascinating collection of essays by noted animation historians and academics, exploring the link – from the outset of the medium to today – between comedy and animation. Fourteen pieces in all, including J.B. Kaufman comparing Disney’s characters to Chaplin and silent comedians; Mark Langer putting Fleischer’s early films in context to Vaudeville and comic strips of the era; Donald Crafton observing the effect of Hollywood cartoons on Depression era audiences; Linda Simensky on the influences of classic cartoons and earlier animators on the TV cartoon creators of today; and Daniel Goldmark writing about “funny music” in funny cartoons. This one is aimed at the scholarly – but is highly recommended (by me) to all!

Krazy Kat & The Art of George Herriman, A Celebration by Craig Yoe (Abrams Comic Arts). Another Krazy Kat comics compilation? Not quite. In fact, not at all. Once again comics archaeologist Yoe has unearthed a treasure trove – this time of all things Herriman and Krazy. And once again I’ll say that even if you know nothing about Herriman and his most famous creation, you MUST buy this book. If you love great cartooning, funny drawings, and 20th Century pop culture this is a absolute gotta-have-it volume. It is an absolute joy to leaf through these pages filled with rare unpublished Herriman art – in comics, paintings, doodles, merchandise, etc. This is a companion volume to all the incredible Herriman material now being reprinted – a collection of jaw-dropping “bonus material” (as we say in the DVD world) that even includes several pages devoted to the Charles Mintz animated cartoons of the 20s and 30s. The artwork overwhelms the reader, yet Yoe tops that by including several rare essays on the Kat from the likes of E.E. Cummings, Gilbert Seldes, Bill Watterson, Craig McCracken and Herriman’s grand daughter Dee Cox, among others. I’ve run out of space to continue raving. Only have room for four more words: Buy this book now!

The Saga of Rex by Michel Gagne (Image Comics). I figure there are two types of people out there: those who know the work of Michel Gagne, and those who don’t. Those who do should already have this graphic novel (it came out late last year and I’ve been remiss at plugging it here). If you don’t have it – get it. What a beautiful “trip” this is. This is pure Gagne psychedelia unleashed on 190 color pages. If you don’t know Gagne’s work – he’s an amazing special effects animator (The Iron Giant, among others), currently living in the Pacific northwest doing his own thing when he isn’t animating or designing games…. The Saga of Rex will introduce you to his world in the best possible way. Don’t let the cute l’il furry cover fool you, this is a mind-blowing sci-fi adventure; visual storytelling at its best; and highly recommended!

The World of Smurfs: A Celebration of Tiny Blue Proportions by Matt. Murray (Abrams Image). What’s more surprising than a first place box-office win for The Smurfs movie? This book! Self described “Smurfologist” Matt. Murphy (former president of New York’s Musuem of Comics and Cartoon Art – and a student in my 1996 History of Animation class at NYU) has put together an informing and entertaining history of the Peyo, his comic strip and all the subsequent animated adaptations. Lavishly illustrated with pull outs (like my The Hanna Barbera Treasury) that include facsimile reproductions of the first “Schtroumpfs” booklets, cels, model sheets, stickers, et al. It’s the ultimate word on the whole Smurfs phenomenon. I never thought I’d say this, but I highly recommend this book. It’s a lot of fun.

Uncensored Animation #2: Cannibals! by Steve Stanchfield (Thunderbean Animation). Stanchfield does it again! He’s just released his latest DVD compilation of classic cartoon obscurities, and I hereby order you to buy it. Here’s the link. You will not be disappointed. This time Steve’s collected the rarest, most obscure cartoons based around the theme of Man-Eating Cannibals. Warning: much of this material is Politically Incorrect. These are rare cartoons from the 1920s, 30s and 40s, from various studios, lovingly preserved in their best possible presentation. Oddities include Korn Plastered In Africa (1931) narrated by radio’s Uncle Don, Chiquita Banana and the Cannibals (1947) by Hugh Harman, and Aroma of the South Seas (1926) with Mutt & Jeff paired with its rare 1931 color/sound remake. Incredibly strange and incredible fun. Highly recommended.

And finally, Animators of Film and Television: Nineteen Artists, Writers, Producers and Others by Noell K. Wolfgram Evans (McFarland & Company), is a book that can best be used by students as basic text to get a grasp on key figures in animation history. As a teacher of animation history myself (currently at Woodbury University in Burbank) I’m well aware that good text books (in print) are hard to find at this time. In this book, author Evans essentially reviews the career highlights of nineteen key figures – including John Hubley, Max Fleischer, Frank Tashlin, Art Babbit, Matt Groening and John Kricfalusi. Notably absent are Walt Disney (intentionally according to the introduction), Chuck Jones, Tex Avery and Bob Clampett. If you are a longtime fan and have the essential histories and bios, you don’t need this one. Still, this is a worthwhile primer for the interested novice, animation student or casual enthusiast.

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