August 31, 2018:
August 17, 2018:
August 14, 2018
July 14, 2018:
Getting Back to Business, Slowly
August 31, 2018:
That name will be unfamiliar to most visitors to this site, but if you live in the Little Rock area, and you've attended a film showing or performance at the Central Arkansas Library System's jewel of a small theater (it seats 315), you know that the theater was named for Robinson, a Little Rock advertising and PR man who died recently. He was a friend of long standing, not just to the library but to me and many other people. Ron had been increasingly immobilized by the stroke he suffered more than twenty years ago, but I visited him occasionally at a his super-sized condo, usually bringing breakfast with me.
Ron was a fabulously omnivorous collector, principally of movie posters (he owned more than 18,000) and Arkansas memorabilia, and especially of items where those two interests overlapped, but he also accumulated oddities like a very old and very large Little Orphan Annie circus set. I think he kept eBay in business. He liked to share his bounty; until his health forbade it, he had someone drive him house to house at Christmas, dropping off presents that included, in my case, the sheet music for the Woody Woodpecker song and "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf," and an Alfred E. Neuman bobblehead. He had some connection with Spam, too, I suppose through his agency, and he gave me not just a can of Spam and a cookbook but a "Spammy" doll that still sits on my bookshelves. The one time he visited my home, before the front steps got too difficult for him, I made the Hawaiian dish "Spam musubi," out of the cookbook. Or rather, it was supposed to be the Hawaiian dish but was no more than an approximation. Ron was polite but not impressed.
Ron was for fifteen years a member of the U.S. Postal Service's advisory committee that helped choose subjects for new stamps, and he asked me to submit suggestions. I proposed two sets. One was "Comic Book Kings," devoted to Carl Barks, Jack Kirby, Siegel and Schuster, and other such luminaries. I especially wanted recognition for Walt Kelly, whose continuing absence from a stamp is nothing short of a scandal (why was there a "Brenda Starr" stamp as part of a sheet of "Comic Strip Classics" more than twenty years ago, but no stamp for "Pogo"?). I also suggested "Hollywood Animation Greats," to be made up of stamps depicting Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Walter Lantz. Hanna and Barbera, John Hubley, and other creators of that vintage.
Ron was sympathetic, but nothing came of my proposals, and Ron's term on the postal committee ended years before his death. He asked me to send a copy of my Walt Disney biography to another member of the committee, his friend the actor Karl Malden, and I did, getting a very nice note in return, even though the book doesn't mention Malden's roles in two Disney movies. I gave Ron a copy of my book Funnybooks, and he showed me the copy of Hollywood Cartoons he'd gotten as a gift from his late friend Richard Arnold, a distinguished federal appellate judge. I knew Judge Arnold, and I find it hard to imagine his buying a book about cartoons, even as a gift (and addiing an apparently sincere inscription), but Ron stimulated such responses in the people he knew.
Usually, when I went to see Ron, it was a struggle to get away (wait! I haven't shown you X!), but the last time I took breakfast he didn't encourage me to stay, more the opposite. He was on oxygen, and he had someone looking after him around the clock. It seemed obvious that he had only a little time left, and that was in fact the case.
I recall another cartoon-related incident involving Ron. Shortly before the theater opened in 2014, he hosted a exhibition of some of his movie posters, all of them related in some way to Arkansas, mostly through movies that were filmed in the state (A Face in the Crowd, The Legend of Boggy Creek), or that starred Arkansas performers and were set in what was supposed to be some remote corner of the state (Lum and Abner, Bob Burns). At the opening reception, I chastised Ron, who was by then confined to a wheelchair, for the lack of any cartoon posters. I singled out Bob McKimson's Bugs Bunny cartoon Hillbilly Hare, which actually opens with a map of the state. My tongue was of course firmly in my cheek, but when the theater opened soon after, with Ron hosting two evenings of film clips and shorts, Hillbilly Hare was part of the program—digitally, of course, but it looked good. Ron credited me from the stage for pulling that cartoon out of the shadows, but in such extravagant terms that I wanted to crawl under my seat even though I was, as so often with Ron, paralyzed with laughter.
From Harry McCracken: it sounds like you may not know that the 1995 USPS comics stamps were to include a Pogo stamp. Then someone at the post office realized that no strips created by women were included, so they decided to do a Brenda Starr one. That meant they had to eliminate one of the planned stamps, and someone chose Pogo.
Rick Marschall, who consulted on the project told me this shortly after the set came out and showed me the unused Pogo design.
Using Brenda Starr violated a rule they’d applied to the other stamps that they could only use characters created by deceased cartoonists. Nothing against Dale Messick, but I’m sorry they bent that rather than honoring Grace Drayton or Rose O’Neill or Marge or Edwina.
Since then, they’ve done endless cartoon and animation related sets, but they’ve become so thoroughly commercialized that I fear Walt Kelly’s time will never come.
[Posted September 5, 2018]
August 17, 2018:
As promised a few days ago, I've posted my brief (and clearly overdue) review of David Hajdu's The Ten-Cent Plague, his book about the attacks on comic books that crested in the early 1950s. It's at this ltnk. Another and more recent Hajdu book, Heroes and Villains, also deals with comic books, and with Warner Bros. cartoons, among other things. I plan to read it next week, while Phyllis and I are in Michigan for a few days.
From "Nick": The controversy-causing horror comics of the early 50s WERE awful trash as you have stated. So were most of the other comics at the time, in fact most comics from every era, whether they’re from the “golden age” or modern times, and regardless of which country they’re from, are trash. Usually not “awful trash” which implies tasteless violence, but just poorly drawn, poorly written, meaningless trash. But at least now there are more people who have artistic visions in mind working in the field, although usually their work falls flat. “Golden Age” comics in all genres-whether they were mindless horror, generic superheroes, or plotless funny animals by animators on the side-were usually trash, though among the garbage heap there were artists with great works, such as for example Carl Barks and Will Eisner.
The meaningless of most comics is almost like a metaphor for a cynical view on the world and life. An accidental metaphor you hold in your hands caused not by brilliance, but hackery, boredom, and hacks having fun. In a medium that when utilized properly can transport readers to new worlds most of the works in said medium are just trash that makes you want to read something else. Instead of being transported to the Okefendokee Swamp usually you’re taken to an artistic garbage dump in the world of comics. You’re taken to a wasteland that really has no purpose for existing. I’ve just explained the world. But really, although I love the comics medium most works in said medium are terrible. And yet there’s a lot of snobbery in comics it seems. The mountain of hackery from the 40s and early 50s are praised for being “fun” and “from a simpler time.” If such an era was the “Golden Age” you know there are really no standards.
I don’t know which medium suffered more-comics where most anyone with basic drawing skills can churn out hackery with ease-or animation which became sabotaged by the Hanna-Barbera and Filmation barbarians and still suffers their butchering to this day.
Anyways, nice review!
[Posted August 29, 2018]
August 14, 2018
I've been reading and in a few cases re-reading some of the novels of Thomas Hardy in the last few years, and you'll even find a reference to one of them, Jude the Obscure, in my book Funnybooks. The punning title of this item, about my return to what I hope will be reasonably frequent posting, is taken from one of Hardy's most famous novels, a book that I haven't read yet. (I expect to remedy that omission in the near future.) Hardy's novels are far removed from any connection to comics and animation that I can think of, and maybe that's why I've been enjoying them so much. Actually, Hardy's temperament, as manifested in his books, is both cool and passionate, a description I might apply to a very few of the cartoonists I most admire. The well-read John Stanley surely read some of Hardy, and I can even picture Carl Barks seated across a table from the great author, a juxtaposition that is barely plausible chronologically (Hardy died in 1928, in his eighties, when Barks was twenty-seven years old), if not in any other way. I do enjoy the fantastic thought of Barks and Hardy sharing laments about their unfortunate marriages.
The site has been essentially dark for the last five months or so, first while I mastered a new computer and then as I wrestled with the newest version of my web-page software, Dreamweaver, with thelp of my guru Rick Freesland.. I still have work to do to upgrade the site, as I learned by reviewing all its pages and making a great many repairs (with some still to go), but it's in much better shape than it was a few months ago, good enough that I can start posting new material without cringing. In going through all my web pages, I discovered a few pieces that for some reason I never got around to finishing, and I expect to finish one, a review of David Hajdu's book on comic books, The Ten-Cent Crusade, in a few days. That book has been out for a while, but it's still in print, and I think Hajdu's book is wrongheaded in ways that invite a skeptical reviewer to explain his skepticism; that's why I'm proceeding with my unfinished review. I'll hope it doesn't taste of sour grapes. The Ten-Cent Plague ihas from all appearances sold much better than my own Funnybooks, but that's no surprise, if only because of the discrepancy in price; the Hajdu book is a bargain compared with mine.
I also have notes, from years ago, for a piece I wanted to write in response to some of Mark Mayerson's writings on his website about character animation. I still hope to get to that, since the questions Mark addressed are, if anything, more pertinent now than they were however long ago it was that I worked up my notes. One problem, which wouldn't be one if I had proceeded more expeditiously, is that I can't be sure in some cases if the notes are mine or if I've borrowed them from Mark or even someone else, like MIlt Gray. It'll take me a little while to dispose of that problem.
While cleaning up the website, I've reread some of my posts, some dating back to the first years of the site, and I've been pleasantly surprised by how well many of those posts hold up, particularly the essays and reviews. Re-reading something you've written years ago, if it was good to begin with, can be a pleasant experience, like discovering the work of a writer whom you find particularly sympathetic and interesting. For instance, I enjoyed revisiting my two pages on Walt Disney's True-Life Adventures and his other live-action films. I reworked some of this material to include in The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney, but the Commentary pages themselves still work very well as stand-alone pages, I think, particularly since those films tend to be brushed off by even the Walt-idolaters. Take a look and see what you think.
From Michael Hughes: I write with no other purpose than to praise your work and tell you how much your scholarship means to me. As an undergraduate at Trinity University, the school at which I now work as a tenured (!) librarian and associate professor, I first encountered Hollywood Cartoons in a class on the history of animation. I remember reading your book cover to cover, and perhaps passionately disagreeing with some of your opinions, scribbling out my rebuttals in the page margins.
Unfortunately, the professor who taught that class has since retired, taking any interest in animation with her. I hope to revive her class in the near future and have received some encouraging words from members of our Communication department in support.
I'm pleased to learn that you're still writing about comics and animation. I'm also pleased by the recent updates to your site, which have made it much easier to read on my phone! So count me among your loyal readers, even if I tend to shy from commenting on individual posts.
[Posted August 15, 20180
I enjoyed it, of course, but I came away a little disappointed that it reminded me so much of the standard-issue superhero movies that have dominated screens for the past decade. CGI has advanced so dramatically that many "live-action" films of various kinds, but superhero movies especially, are now animated films at their heart, and the distance between them and Incredibles 2 has narrowed accordingly. The fourteen-year wait between The Incredibles and Incredibles 2 was simply too long, not that you could tell that from the boxoffice results. I watched The Incredibles again on DVD after seeing the sequel, and everything that I found delightful about it in 2004 is still delightful, especially the comedy and the sense of a strange but essentially real family, an illusion cemented by the wonderful voice actors (Holly Hunter's clench-jawed Helen is irresistible to me). Most of that delight has transferred intact to Incredibles 2. But where does Brad Bird go from here with his charming conception? I hope the answer doesn't take another fourteen years.
I have a long list of things I want to post here, as much for my own pleasure as to attract visitors, and new possibilities keep turning up. Just the other day, for instance, I happened to look at the transcript of an interview I recorded in 1986 with Les Novros, Paul Julian, and Bill Hurtz, about the "golden ages" of Disney and UPA. Some enjoyable gossip there, and since the transcript is in digital form, and so wouldn't have to be scanned, preparing it for publication shouldn't be unduly arduous. There are other interviews, too, that I'm sure I would find it a pleasaure to revisit, and I have a long list of "Day in the Life" photo essays that I'd like to post. The challenge is how to get those things done while at the same time meeting other obligations, to family especially, but I'm hopeful I can keep the site perking for a few more years, at least, before I ship my research files to some worthy institution (preparing an inventory of my papers for several interested institutions is another one of those obligations).
July 14, 2018:
As you can see if you've visited this site in recent years, it is undergoing a transformation. The problems I mentioned in my May 22 post turned out to be much more extensive and severe than I realized, and I'm only now, under the invaluble guidance of Rick Freesland, getting a grip on this typographical bucking broncho. Within the next few days, I hope, I'll be posting on matters of substance, like what I think about Incredibles 2, rather than lamenting my digital woes. Please stay tuned.