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MichaelBarrier.com Exploring the World of Animation and Comic Art

"What's New" Archives: January 2015

 

January 23, 2015:

More Funnybooks Feedback

"Those Aggravatin' Animations"

 

January 21, 2015:

Funnybooks Feedback

 

January 16, 2015:

Funny, Books

The Sweatbox

 

January 23, 2015:

More Funnybooks Feedback

As I hoped, the book is stimulating some thoughtful comments. You can go straight to the most recent such by clicking here.

[A February 4, 2015, update: I've posted more meaty comments in the last few days, including Mark Evanier and Kim Weston on whether Barks was "exploited," either because he wasn't credited in the comic books or wasn't paid enough. It's very gratifying to me that Funnybooks has stimulated this sort of discussion.]

 

"Those Aggravatin’ Animations"

Garry Apgar, compiler of the invaluable new volume A Mickey Mouse Reader, has written to me about a point of usage on which I may have been too strict:

I recently revisited your errata page for the Disney biography by Neal Gabler where you chided him for

calling the Disney cartoons "animations," in preference to "animated films" or "animated cartoons." I’d never before seen such a use of the word, and it reinforced my sense that Gabler lacks a clear understanding of how the films were made.

Keith Scott, an Australian cartoon voice expert, agreed, though he had a somewhat different take on the matter:

In your list of corrections you mention (with regard to page 235) his [Gabler’s] usage of the word "animations"—that kept niggling at me throughout his tome from the moment I began reading it. I immediately thought of late 1960s Britain and Terry Gilliam’s contributions to the TV series Monty Python’s Flying Circus. In various articles about the Python team, as well as in the credits of the TV episodes themselves, "animations by" was used to describe the linking by Gilliam of one sketch to another by means of imaginative (ostensibly "free-associative") cut-out animation. I don’t know if it is a term used in Europe or maybe just Britain; but certainly I recall older British film weeklies and annuals of the 1930s and '40s simply using the word "cartoons." It seems a useful term to describe a one-person job like Gilliam’s work, but not the products of a studio like Disney’s. I guess it just feels very strange to me for an American author to apply the word to American theatrical animation (shorts and features), when the films have always been known as cartoons or, generically, simply animation.

Prior to reading this exchange, I, too, could not recall seeing (or hearing) the word "animations" used in this way, and it struck me as pretentious. However, to my surprise I have since learned that the term has been around for at least 97 years.

In May 1917, Motion Picture Magazine featured a piece written by an Indiana cartoonist, Walter "Hi" Sibley, "Those Aggravatin’ Animations," relating "the trials and tribulations of an animated cartoon artist." A generation later, in the May 1938 issue of Popular Mechanics, in an article by Bill Garity about the making of Snow White ("Latest Tricks of the Animated Film Makers"), Disney’s chief technical wizard said that the studio felt that

the theatergoer would have to be convinced that he was not looking at so many colored drawings but real personalities, animations which lived and breathed.

In the early 1940s, the Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art, referred to Gertie the Dinosaur as "one of the earliest of American animations." And in 1998, several years before Gabler’s biography came out, Steven Watts used the term in his book The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life, referring in one instance to "Disney’s early feature animations," and in another to Disney’s "feature-length animations."

So, though it still strikes me as slightly affected, the term does have a history. And I see no harm in using it—sparingly—whenever I feel the need to vary my language and avoid repeating the words "animated cartoons" two or more times in the same paragraph, or even on the same page.

 

January 21, 2015:

Funnybooks Feedback

I've posted a Feedback page devoted to comments on Funnybooks: The Improbable Glories of the Best American Comic Books. The first comment is from Mark Mayerson, whose review of the book I've already recommended. Mark in his stimulating message examines some aspects of the book in greater detail than in his review, and I've responded in kind. I love this kind of exchange of ideas, and I hope you'll enjoy it, too.

 

January 16, 2015:

Funny, Books

When I wrote Funnybooks: The Improbable Glories of the Best American Comic Books, I included a note at the front of the book asking my readers to let me know when they spotted mistakes. "When," not "if," since any book that's dense with facts is inevitably going to get some of them wrong. So far, to my relief, only one howler has surfaced (flushed from hiding by David Gerstein, editor of Fantagraphics' indispensable reprints of Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse newspaper strips). You can go straight to that correction via this link.

As gratifying as corrections, and certainly less embarrassing, are the additional facts that are starting to turn up every few days, and that I've also noted on the page titled "Corrections, Clarifications, and Second Thoughts." For instance, Kim Weston has written in regard to the unsettled question of just when Carl Barks began both writing and drawing his stories for Walt Disney's Comics & Stories, a question of real interest because Barks so successfully blended the roles of writer and artist. Thanks to Kim, we now have a better idea of what the answer might be.

Funnybooks is starting to attract more attention—The Chronicle of Higher Education chose to reproduce its cover, over those of several dozen other books, when it published a list of new scholarly publications in its January 9 issue—and I hope that as more people read it I'll receive more feedback. I'll welcome more corrections, as they're needed, but I'm especially looking forward to thoughtful responses that encourage a fresh look at stories that may seem almost too familiar.

Speaking of such, Funnybooks has attracted only a few reviews so far—most review copies weren't mailed until earlier this month—but the reviews by Jerry Beck, Thad Komorowski, and Mark Mayerson have been immensely gratifying because those writers, all of them very well versed in comics and animation, understood fully what I was trying to accomplish in the book. How rare that is, many other writers could tell you. The reviews on amazon.com have all been exceptionally intelligent, too, and I don't have to tell you how rare that is.

The Sweatbox

I finally got to see it the other day. The Sweatbox (2002) is the famous, or infamous, suppressed documentary on the making of what started out as Kingdom of the Sun and became The Emperor's New Groove, the hand-drawn Disney feature cartoon released in 2000.

I haven't said much here about New Groove, but when I mentioned it a dozen years ago, I dismissed it as "wholly cartoonish ... made by people who thought they were slumming ... disfigured by a nonstop sneering jokiness." Mark Dindal wound up with the sole director's credit for New Groove, and the story told in The Sweatbox is essentially how Dindal displaced Roger Allers, co-director of The Lion King, at the head of a project that was close to Allers's heart and that Dindal obviously had no feeling for. Dindall was subsequently credited as the sole director of Disney's execrable CGI feature Chicken Little (2005). I wrote of that film: "To a remarkable extent ... Dindal stayed outside his story and his characters, manipulating them mechanically. For almost the entire length of the film, there's not a trace of the director's personal involvement in his work."

As to why such a director would recommend himself to the people who were then in charge of Disney animation, we get our answer when a preliminary version of Kingdom of the Sun has just passed under the scrutiny of the Disney executives Peter Schneider and Thomas Schumacher. I was startled by the first appearance of those two men, who, as we see them in The Sweatbox, somehow don't look or speak much like ordinary human beings. It's as if Allers' work were being reviewed by a couple of lesser Klingon overlords.

Disney suppressed The Sweatbox because the film makes only too obvious that the people who were then in charge had nothing in common with the members of their staff who cared about the art form.That's not to say that an Allers-directed Kingdom of the Sun would necessarily have been a vast improvement over The Emperor's New Groove. I've never been able to suppress my skepticism about The Lion King, which seems to me far more Jeffrey Katzenberg's film than anyone else's, and I can easily imagine a Kingdom of the Sun that took itself entirely too seriously. But considering how The Emperor's New Groove turned out, it would have been worth taking the chance.

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