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"What's New" Archives: September 2012

 

September 28, 2012:

The (Caricatured) Gang's (Almost) All Here

 

September 24, 2012:

Home Again

Jonestown

And Don't Overlook...

 

September 28, 2012:

The (Caricatured) Gang's (Almost) All Here

New Funnies July 1947

As I noted in an update to my April 11 post on Walt Kelly's mystery caricatures, a short, pipe-smoking character has now been identified definitively by Bob Barrett as Morris Gollub, one of Kelly's colleagues first at the Disney studio and then on the Dell comic books edited by Oskar Lebeck. As I also noted in that post, Moe Gollub was caricatured by John Stanley, too, in New Funnies. Now Frank Young, proprietor of the Stanley Stories blog, has reminded me that not just Gollub but also Dan Noonan and Stanley himself were caricatured in the "Woody Wooodpecker" story in New Funnies No. 125, July 1947. In the last page of the story, above, Stanley is the tall cop in charge, Gollub is the short cop, and Noonan is the chinless one taking orders from Stanley.

As almost always in the Dell comic books, there are no writing or art credits, but the writing bears Stanley's fingerprints. For one thing, Woody doesn't even appear in this story of which he is the title character until the last panel on the fourth of its eight pages. It's hard to imagine the writers for the later Dell and Gold Key comic books being allowed to get away with that, but such successful departures from convention were not at all unusual for Stanley, especially when Lebeck was in charge.

But who actually drew the story from Stanley's layouts? Not Stanley himself; the drawings look hasty and rough compared with his, and there are ambiguities (exactly where are the cops standing in the sixth panel? how is the Gollub cop's arm attached to his body in the seventh panel?) that were not typical of his work. Besides, the Gollub caricature looks much more like Kelly's version in Our Gang than Stanley's in New Funnies. I'd guess that Lloyd White was the cartoonist, but that's only a guess.

Whoever drew the caricatures, you have to wonder what Gollub and Noonan thought about how they were depicted. Such pitiless humor seems to have been accepted practice among Western's cartoonists; Stanley himself was a strikingly handsome man, but his good looks were the target of Walt Kelly's ridicule in a couple of stories, in Our Gang Comics and Animal Comics. The more interesting question is why Kelly wasn't included in the gallery of caricatures for this story; if he were, all of Lebeck's best cartoonists would be there.

Speaking of Frank Young's blog, he is selling (for download, at only $2.99) a lavishly illustrated 88-page bibliiography of Stanley's work in the 1940s, which extends well beyond his deservedly famous Little Lulu. A bargain, to be sure. You can also read the complete "Woody Woodpecker" story from New Funnies No. 125, on Frank's blog, at this link.

Comments

From Frank Young: Yes, the cartooning is sloppy, tho' not without vigor. Your guess of Lloyd White is as good as any. It's not Dick Hall—his figures are too rounded and soft-edged for this angular slapstick presentation.

As I pondered in my newest blog-post, perhaps this unforgiving-caricature tradition was one Kelly brought cross-country from the Disney studios... they (and all the other Hollywood animation studios) produced reams of oft-mean spirited caricatures of one another. Kelly's Disney-era caricatures of Ward Kimball, for example, spare no gruesome details but do reveal his fondness for the man.

Some of the Barks caricatures seen in the Another Rainbow hardcovers show that even the most reserved members of the Disney staff were subject to visual razzings.

This is just a wild guess, but the large number of caricatures produced by Lebeck's creative team, in the mid-1940s seems to speak of the same joshing camaraderie. If anything, those caricatures are far gentler than the more barbed examples from the animation mills...

Thanks for the link to my blog, and the plug for the Stanley bibliography. Sometime in the future, I'll do the 1950s bibliography (in two parts). That's the one I'm sure everyone is waiting for...

[Posted September 29, 2012]

From Bob Barrett: I'm curious as to why both Walt Kelly, John Stanley, and the unknown you just posted caricatured Moe Gollub as a short, fat guy. Moe was about 5'11" in height and was stocky but not fat (at least while he was at Disney and during the late 1940s at Western. And he was rather thin during his final years—at least in the photos I've seen.

MB replies: A very good question, which reminds me of why I was reluctant to identify that Kelly caricature as Moe Gollub (not to mention the caricature in the 1947 New Funnies story). I just couldn’t square the caricature with what I remembered of the man from our one encounter. I suppose the answer lies in Moe’s stockiness in the 1940s, which lent itself to exaggeration; and maybe the artist for the 1947 story wanted to play with differences in height.

From Thad Komorowski: I'll have to disagree with both you and Frank Young regarding the Woody story in New Funnies 125. It's definitely not Lloyd White, and it may very well be Dick Hall.

I guess this is a case where published credits would be helpful. Fortunately, New Funnies did get two isolated instances of published credits, for issues 183 and 184 in 1952. The Woody and Andy Panda stories in both issues have pencils credited to Dick Hall; the Oswald the Rabbit stories are credited to Lloyd White. I'm attaching examples from 184.

New Funnies 184

From Walter Lantz New Funnies No. 184, June 1952; per the credits on the inside front cover, pencils by Richard Hall, inks by Irene Little. Hall also penciled the "Andy Panda" story in this issue, with inks by a second woman, Anahid Dinkjian. Both stories were were written by Frank Thomas—not the Disney animator, but a cartoonist who began working for Western in 1940, writing and drawing "The Owl" for Crackjack Funnies and later "Billy and Bonnie Bee" for New Funnies.

New Funnies 184

From "Oswald the Rabbit" in Walter Lantz New Funnies No. 184, June 1952. Pencils by Lloyd White, inks by Suzanne Seaborne. Story by Charles Hedinger.

While neither's draftsmanship is what I'd call particularly stellar, White seems to be a little more competent, as he's able to draw different expressions on the characters' faces. Meanwhile, Hall seems almost incapable of that feat, seemingly tracing the same handful of faces and poses in fear of going off-model (thus disconnected body parts). The characteristics of Hall's 1952 stories bear more similarities to the one from 1947 than the work identifiable as White's.

It's curious that Oskar Lebeck filled his talent pool with great writers, but a lot of the actual art in his titles left much to be desired, particularly New Funnies. Some of the Homer Pigeon stories come immediately to mind as unquestionably unprofessional. Lax conditions, I guess? Walt Kelly certainly pumped out art for him that was far beneath his skill level.

This doesn't clear up who drew the NF 125 story, but I'd say that at the very least it rules out Lloyd White; if it's not Dick Hall, it's an unknown third artist.

MB replies: Lebeck was gone from Western Printing & Lithographing by the time those 1952 issues of New Funnies were published, but it's certainly true that the artwork for the issues he edited, in the 1940s, was variable to say the least. Part of that was probably owing to how many cartoonists were sucked up by the draft; when Lebeck finally had good artists available, as when Moe Gollub and Dan Noonan left the service and were referred to him by Walt Kelly, he wasted no time putting them to work.

Lloyd White later illustrated the Tubby comic books from John Stanley's scripts, and Stanley much preferred his artwork to Irving Tripp's for Little Lulu. I can't say that I agree with Stanley; Tripp's realizations of Stanley's scripts have, for me, a cool, impersonal quality that fits the scripts very well.

From Frank Young, responding to Thad Komorowski's comment above: Thad, thanks for this information! I guess Dell briefly decided to give creator credits in 1952—Little Lulu #49 has similar (but much less specific) credits.

The artwork on that New Funnies 125 story is not Dick Hall's. It has too much personality and is too angular. Hall's 1947 artwork—look at the first Woody Woodpecker one-shot, or the "Woody" story in New Funnies 130, or some of the Lantz-themed March of Comics in 1947—is still very soft and still. It has very little energy. Hall's characters have an unmistakably lifeless, wall-eyed look—see the attached page from NF 123.

New Funnies 123

From "Woody Woodpecker" in Walter Lantz New Funnies No. 123, May 1947. Pencils by Dick Hall.

I must agree that it's probably not Lloyd White. Even at his sloppiest, White could put together better figures than are seen in the NF 125 "Woody" story. However, some of the panel compositions are quite strong. Although the artist(s) could not successfully sell the idea that the cops are standing in a hole in the sixth panel of that page, the group dynamics of the first, third and fifth panels are quite strong.

You're right that the draftsmanship in these comics is extremely hit-and-miss. That "Homer Pigeon" and "Li'l Eight Ball" artist seen in many of the 1946/7 issues has one of the ugliest pen lines one could imagine. When he did the art for the lead feature, in issue 108, he sucked all the life out of a decent story.

A typical issue of New Funnies from 1945-47 runs the gamut from the sublime (Stanley and Gormley's artwork) to the dismal (Dick Hall, the mystery "Homer"/"Eight Ball" hack). It's clear that Lebeck placed a stronger emphasis on story content than the finished art. If the artist cared to do a good job, no one would complain. But if, like Kelly on a gruesome deadline, the artist just dashed it out, same difference. It'd get published. Those pages had to be filled.

A favorite example of this is the "Tom and Jerry" story in Our Gang Comics 18. With each succeeding page, the art becomes sloppier and more chaotic. The story's last page looks like the artist was having cardiac arrest at the drawing table!

For its flaws in draftsmanship, the art on the "Woody" story in NF 125 does have some energy and a sense of movement to it. The artist(s) were clearly capable of better work, under different circumstances. I wish the artists' identities had been made known more often. Of course, none of these people, struggling to finish a story at the eleventh hour, cared to think that anyone would scrutinize this work, sixty years later.

From Thad Komorowski: Okay, after seeing what Frank has identified as Dick Hall's from the forties, I certainly see more similarities between that and the positively Hall fifties stories. The '47 story in question must be a third unknown artist. The question is, of course, who?

[Posted October 1, 2012]

September 24, 2012:

Harman Museum

At the Fred Harman Art Museum in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, a self-portrait, on the left, and one of Harman's western-themed paintings.

Home Again

My insurance company says not to advertise absences from home—good advice, I'm sure, although I doubt that many burglars visit this website. If they do, they've undoubtedly figured out by now that I was gone for quite a while. Four weeks, as a matter of fact, although it has taken me half that long to get reasonably caught up on everything except updating the site.

Phyllis and I made a long-planned driving trip in August and September that took us, essentially, down the Rocky Mountains from Montana to New Mexico (after preliminary visits to the Dakotas to see Mount Rushmore and Theodore Roosevelt National Park). We visited ten national parks and monuments and drove more than 5,500 miles. Not at all a hurried trip, because so many of the roads we traveled were all but empty; and while some parks, like Glacier and Yellowstone, require days to appreciate properly, others, like the Little Big Horn Battlefield and the spectacular Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado, demand only a few hours. Such a trip does require advance planning (we started working on it a year ago), especially if you want to stay in lodging in some of the parks themselves, as I recommend, but it felt leisurely rather than rushed.

Most of my extended trips of recent years have had a sizable animation/comics component, especially when they've included a week or two in the Washington, D.C., area for visits to the Library of Congress, but this trip had almost none, until the last couple of days.

On our way from Mesa Verde National Park, in southwestern Colorado, to Santa Fe, we stopped for an hour at the Fred Harman Art Museum in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Harman was most famous as the creator of the Red Ryder comic strip, but he was also the brother of Hugh Harman, the MGM cartoon producer-director, and he and Walt Disney worked together at the Kansas City Film Ad Company in the early 1920s and were briefly in business together. Fred Harman was an authentic cowboy who grew up on a Colorado ranch and later lived on one while he was drawing Red Ryder. That ranch, the "Red Ryder Ranch" familiar to kids (like me) who read Red Ryder Comics in the 1940s and 1950s, passed out of Harman's hands decades ago; he lived for the last twenty years of his life (he died in 1982) in the house that is now the museum. Harman in his later years was a painter of western life, and dozens of his paintings fill the museum's walls, along with a sampling of his daily and Sunday Red Ryder originals.

Fred Harman's son, Fred Harman III, runs the museum now; he is in his mid-eighties and was not receiving visitors the day I was there. The museum is not a money-maker, understandably so—Red Ryder disappeared from the comics pages in 1963, and Fred Harman's paintings, although they invite comparisons with the work of western artists like Frederick Remington and Charles Russell, have never attracted a following nearly as large as the work of those artists. So, the Harman Museum's future is cloudy. Its remote location can't help: even Santa Fe is hours away. If you're interested, visit the museum while you can.

Comments

From Harry McCracken: I was pleased to read of your visit to the Fred Harman museum -- and to learn that Fred Harman III is still in charge. When I drove from Boston to San Francisco in 2002, I randomly drove though Pagosa Springs and happened across the museum, which I didn't know existed. Fred III, who worked for CBS for many years and looks like he could be his father's identical twin, was on the premises, and lit up when I asked not only about his father but also his uncle Hugh. For the next couple of hours, we hung out -- he showed me some memorabilia from his father's Kansas City animation days and told me Hugh Harman stories. A fun museum, and a delightful man.

[Posted September 25, 2012]

Jones Gallery logo

The Chuck Jones signature logo on the front of the Chuck Jones Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Jonestown

The day after our visit to the Harman Museum, we were in Santa Fe, in the midst of that city's rambunctious annual festival. We were last in Santa Fe in 1999, when we visited what was then called the Chuck Jones Showroom, on Palace Avenue a few steps off the Plaza. I had forgotten about that store, but we stumbled onto it while in search of a highly recommended Mexican restaurant (which we found eventually; try the Casa Chimayo when you have the chance).

The store is now called the Chuck Jones Gallery, but it's the same place, one of three such stores (the other two are in southern California). I noticed a few presentable original Jones pencil sketches on display—each priced in the thousands of dollars—that might have been from the 1950s, but mostly the gallery is devoted to the flabby drawings, imitation cel setups, and other embarrassments that became associated all too closely with Chuck's name in his later years. One room was labeled an outpost of the Chuck Jones Center for Uniformity—sorry, Creativity—in Costa Mesa, California, and was decorated with what appeared to be children's efforts to imitate Chuck's drawings (I could have hugged the kid who drew a crude but defiantly individual Mickey Mouse). While I was there, a chubby woman of a certain age, with dyed-black hair and pushing a very small and very hairy dog in a baby stroller, entered the store and exclaimed as she looked at the awful stuff on the walls, "How precious! How precious!" Yes, I thought to myself, that just about says it.

This was twelve days before the hundredth anniversary of Chuck's birth on September 21, and seeing the gallery made me lament again how sad and cynical his last few decades were, what a pall they cast over a career that was in earlier years so impressive and so admirable. The Santa Fe gallery opened in 1993, almost ten years before Chuck's death; although owned by his daughter, it was his store. He not only made those flabby drawings of the Warner characters (and cloying paintings that are even worse), he wrote a painfully self-serving autobiography and lent his imprimatur to dubious films, books, and products of various kinds, all of them comprehensible only in mercenary terms. He presented himself as a cracker-barrel philosopher who trotted out the same bromides—folksy cloaks for an ever more bloated ego—in one interview after another. It was painful to watch.

There was a sort of hostage-taking at work. Because Chuck pretended that his grotesquely inferior later work was on a par with his great cartoons of the 1940s and 1950s, he made it all but impossible for anyone to distinguish publicly between Good Jones and Bad Jones—or even Good Jones and Not Quite as Good Jones—without seeming to denigrate the Master. As I came to know very well, if you tried to draw such a distinction you were sure to get your head bitten off.

Perhaps that's one reason Chuck's centennial has attracted very little attention, apart from blog posts and a few carefully managed celebrations whose participants, people like Leonard Maltin and Eric Goldberg, could be counted upon not to whisper anything subversive. I don't know what kind of observance, if any, took place at what has become Chuck's principal monument, The Chuck Jones Experience, an "interactive" attraction at the Las Vegas casino Circus Circus that seems intended to keep the kids from getting restless while Mom and Dad dispose of their life savings.

Chuck himself undoubtedly knew the difference between Good Jones and Bad Jones; back when he was showing his cartoons at colleges and museums, he didn't stick one of his lousy late cartoons in between seven-minute masterpieces like Duck Amuck and One Froggy Evening. But because he and his acolytes could not abide talk about what made some Jones cartoons so much better than others, they have increased the danger that all of his cartoons will ultimately be dismissed as animated versions of that stuff on the gallery walls: kitsch, precious kitsch.

Comments

From Rachel Newstead: I'm afraid I must wholeheartedly agree with your comments about Chuck Jones toward the end of his life and career. In particular, the "cracker-barrel philosopher" comment, evident in his Mark Twain-ish style of dress and "Kentucky colonel" goatee. His tendency to have his characters go into endless monologues, his overly-stylized, aggressively cute designs of classic Warner's characters, and self-indulgent memoirs like Chuck Amuck are all symptoms of an ego spiraling out of control.

He turned out to be right—he really was Daffy Duck after all.

[Posted September 25, 2012]

From Thad Komorowski: While your comments about the Chuck Jones Gallery are appropriately as cynical as the place itself, your closing comment...

But because he and his acolytes could not abide talk about what made some Jones cartoons so much better than others, they have increased the danger that all of his cartoons will ultimately be dismissed as animated versions of that stuff on the gallery walls: kitsch, precious kitsch.

... is largely overblown and unfounded. It's a hard fact that animation's livelihood is dependent on kitsch, so it is not exclusive to any one cartoonmaker. In fact, it's hard to think of a single one who hasn't attached himself to shallowness to gain widespread notoriety. Walt Disney's attachment to increasingly pedestrian films and a whorish amusement park did not invalidate his earlier work. While it's nice that there's finally a respectable venue for him in the Walt Disney Family Museum, it's an exception that came more than forty years after his death.

Consider, too, that for the last four decades of CJ's existence, when his name and inferior work became increasingly visible, anyone who became a Chuck Jones fan did so precisely because of his best Warner cartoons. All the later work did was make them question how the guy who did all of those wonderful cartoons could go so wrong. (Some questioned more loudly than others.) The work is the work and anyone worth taking seriously will make those important distinctions with Chuck Jones, and Walt Disney as well. These establishments will never want to make the distinction between good and bad anything, because if they take themselves seriously, they risk losing the green.

What would make a more interesting critique, as well as attack, is examining how the Jones family seems to have embraced the concept of Chuck as a name brand, just as Walt himself did (and Bob Clampett tried), and as representative of the Warner alumni and legacy as a whole (exemplified with ads for the place highlighting clips from Friz Freleng and Bob McKimson cartoons, whoever the hell they are); I have no trouble believing the latter really was Chuck's goal throughout his lifetime.

I personally want to establish my own Termite Terrace Experience. I can see it now: a giant gold statue of Leon Schlesinger holding hands with the '43 era Bugs Bunny at the front, bearing the insignia: "If you break any crap, you bought it"; incessantly intoxicated tour guides and costumed characters; special high-profile modern animation guests on public panels where they are asked increasingly embarrassing questions ("Some of your work is kinda awesome, but most of it kinda stinks. What's up, doc?"); a Chuck Jones Mural spanning one side of the building where visitors are encouraged to draw Bugs and Daffy as crudely and mutated as possible in tribute; and in Bob Clampett's holiest honor, a wall with glory holes patrons can stick their privates through and fill in the faces of beloved Warner characters on the other side (optional custom photos suitable for framing). I think John Lasseter would approve, don't you?

MB replies: I'd certainly make the effort to visit that Termite Terrace Experience, whereas the Chuck Jones Experience is to my mind just one more good reason to stay away from Las Vegas.

I think it may be too easy to underestimate the damage done by the likes of the Chuck Jones Gallery and the Chuck Jones Experience. The Santa Fe store has, after all, been in business for almost twenty years. Someone is buying that junk on the walls, and those people's dollars are defining "Chuck Jones" at least as effectively as are the writings of those of us for whom "Chuck Jones" means great cartoons and not depressing kitsch. There is of course no question about which side has the enthusiastic approval of the Jones family.

From G. Ellis: Even as young kids, growing up in the 1970s and watching Warner cartoons every afternoon, we hit on a realization: If it was directed by Charles M. Jones, it was usually pretty great. If it was by Chuck Jones, not so much.

From Kevin Hogan: Rachel’s comment made me laugh—it’s so true!

I haven’t seen the gallery, but I’ve seen enough elsewhere to know that I should stay away.

From Thad Komorowski: In response to G. Ellis's comment: funnily enough, until at least age eight, I actually did think "Charles M. Jones" and "Chuck Jones" were two different people.

MB replies: And they actually were, weren't they? With Charles M. as good Dr. Jekyll and Chuck as that other guy...

[Posted September 26, 2012]

From Brent Swanson: While I agree with your sentiments regarding the marketing of Jones, I don't think that an outpost in Santa Fe is much to be concerned about. Its core of legitimate artists and galleries notwithstanding, Santa Fe long ago became a bloated and pretentious caricature of itself (take it from someone who spent a bit of his childhood in New Mexico and who used to be a frequent visitor to the state's capitol, till it became unbearable). The Jones Gallery carries no more weight for being in Santa Fe than it would if it were in Orlando. It's targeting the folks who have more money than knowledge (or sense). I think we're fortunate that timing and circumstances saved us from the mortification of seeing a "Carl Barks Fine Art Gallery" opening in the same neighborhood.

My faith in Jones took a big hit with the premiere of his Carnival of Animals travesty. That very long half-hour demonstrated that something awful was taking control of his powers.

MB replies: I remember visiting Taos, New Mexico, back in 1994, after a short visit to Santa Fe, and being told by a scornful local that Santa Fe was even then suffering from "terminal chic" (in contrast to Taos, which cherished its rough edges). True, no doubt, but not yet disqualifying for the visitor who wants to stay in Santa Fe only a day or so and enjoy a good meal.

[Posted October 5, 2012]

And Don't Overlook...

Even though the site has been quiet, some of my visitors have contributed meaty comments, and not just on my August 13 posts, the last before my hiatus. The great Danish animator Børge Ring, back in action after a fire devastated his home earlier this year, has written in response to my 1987 Phil Monroe interview, offering a comment about one of Monroe's directors, Friz Freleng, that is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face; you can go directly to it by clicking on this link. You'll also find fresh meat on the Feedback pages devoted to CGI studios and Bob Clampett. Particularly satisfying to me, Bob Barrett has solved one of the lingering mysteries about just which of Walt Kelly's colleagues at Disney and Western Printing were caricatured in Kelly's "Our Gang" stories. To see which Kelly caricature has been identified, go to this addition to my April 11 post. You'll also see how John Stanley depicted the same cartoonist.

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