Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Controversy BREWin'

There's whollopin' good reading (as always) on CARTOON BREW, particularly over a post covering a dust-up between John K and fans of UPA. I made a pretty long-winded post in the comments but just to add a finer point on top of that: I don't hate stylization per se. Go to CARTOON RETRO and check out Shane's amazing posts of Latin American cartoonists--one guy in particular "Cotta" was drawing much wilder, flatter stylized figures than you will ever see in a UPA short--and doing it long before GERALD McBOING BOING was born. They are absolutely brilliant and tons of cartoony fun. The point is such artists were doing it for laffs in cheap gag rags without salivating after critical praise like UPA did. When UPA and their imitators did adapt such art they tended to water it down (again, check Shane's site), but somehow got credit for inventing it in the process! WTF? I don't know John K and won't pretend to read his mind but I think that is what he is getting at.

Also as I mentioned on CB when he and I were kids UPA was an absolute sacred cow and you were ordered to love it or else by people who hated Bugs, Popeye and even Disney. Later in the 70's intelligent authors like Joe Adamson, Leonard Maltin and John Canemaker started covering the other side of the story and the playing field evened up, maybe to the point of overcompensation. Now it seems like Amid Amidi's excellent book CARTOON MODERN is almost overdue.

Like everyone else in this fracas, I like to think my taste is more ecclectic than this lets on. I never have or had any problem with people who sincerely like films I hated--dissent is something i respect. My beef was always with academic phonies who jump on the established cannon bandwagon in hopes of looking cool and smart. No posers in the small room!


D.T. Nethery said...


I appreciated the point you made on CartoonBrew .

I had the same experience growing up : very little serious writing devoted to classic Warner's cartoons or even Disney , but UPA and Zagreb , Halas & Batchelor (all in books that mostly seemed to be authored or co-authored/edited by John Halas) were put up on a pedestal , but the cartoons I loved were trashed as out-dated and "low-brow" ... so , yeah, there was an air of pretentiousness that surrounded a lot of the UPA and Zagreb type of stuff. I was sort of stand-offish about UPA for many years because of this, but since then I've come to appreciate their best work . UPA made some good films, and commercials. I can enjoy The Tell-Tale Heart or Rooty Toot Toot AND I still love my Chuck Jones and Bob Clampetts . However, if it was a "what would you take to a desert island" situation the UPA's would not be on the top of my list .

I do think the situation has turned around over the past 30 years thanks to folks like Maltin and Adamson, and Canemaker ,etc. The good stuff from the other Golden Age studios seems to be much more appreciated today and UPA is almost ... forgotten . Except to us cartoon geeks.

D.T. Nethery said...

by the way, I absolutely adore the work of Arthur De Pins , who you have on the top of your list of links, but I wanted to let you know that the link is broken.

Stephen Worth said...

I thought your post at Cartoon Brew was great. I added a quote from it and a link to the thread as an update to the KoolAid post. I agree with you 100%.

See ya

JohnK said...

Hi Will

I haven't seen this controversy, but I'm surprised that there is one.

I can't think of any modern animator who is more influenced by UPA than I am.

I'm just also influenced by entertainment cartoons.

And I in turn influenced younger animators and introduced a whole generation to that kind of design, so what's all the hubbub about I wonder?

Will Finn said...

Dave--thanks for the heads-up, i fixed the link.

Steve Worth--thanks for the kind words. (i will also bring the tiger drawing by soon)

John K--The BREW-Brawl starts at Michael Sporn's blog and carries on over to Amid's--its alternately hilarious and hair-raising throughout!

The one problem w/ the web is you can't always convey the nuance of a face-to-face conversation. It's like how storyboards can't do what animatics do and animatics aren't animation etc etc. You get the feeling nearly everyone is not quite making their actual point and the miscommunication spirals...oh well, it beats anything on TV lately.

BTW - We met once right after HARLEM SHUFFLE and right before MIGHTY MOUSE. You and Bakshi were amazingly kind to me and my crappy portfolio (Disney called back first tho!). i am a huge fan and am still waiting for something bigger and better than R&S to rock the industry. Loved REN SEEKS HELP too. Thanks posting your comment here!


Amy said...

I too, appreciate the points you made in your Brew comment. It was welcome to see Worth and John K's points conveyed in a slightly more even-tempered tone.

I missed the whole UPA/Zegreb=ART movement probably because I'm too young. I have no problem seeing the comparitive merits in any style of animation. I agree that Jones and Kimball probably encompass better the principle of combining stylised design with the more full-bodied animation, but I certainly would never begrudge UPA's role in breaking moulds and experimenting with animation as an abstract design tool.

Michael said...

First and foremost congratulations on the blog, Will. It's going to be a regular stop on my list.

The "controversy" began at my blog when I suggested that John K DID appreciate the UPA films and attacked them, as he did on his blog, to make a point. I merely said that I felt he should speak truthfully rather than incite a lot of younger people, who haven't seen the films, to dislike them before they saw them.

Will Finn said...

Wow! Thank you for joining in here, I'm a longtime admirer and view your site often.

Usually I stay out of a debate that rampant, but the whole thing was so wild i couldn't resist. Eventually like you, I was amused more than anything else. Several of the jeers from the sidelines had me helpless with laughter...

I think it's clear my own bias here comes largely from a reactionary stance adopted a long time ago, which I realize isn't particualarly relevant to anyone but me. Even back then tho, I felt if anything the UPA stuff was not bold enough, if that makes any sense, and that opinion lingers. I did like a lot of Zagreb and Canadian Film Board films and still do. UPA fans can take solace in the fact that my 7-year-old thinks the old NEW YORKER cartoons I love look "kinda sloppy."

I do welcome the way that John K and Steve W champion the genius in "junk" and critique the "junk" in genius. Everyone should get the chance to judge films for themselves, of course, and hopefully in their contexts instead of on YouTube!

Stephen Worth said...

I think it's clear my own bias here comes largely from a reactionary stance adopted a long time ago, which I realize isn't particualarly relevant to anyone but me.

It isn't reactionary to call for a return to quality! The ASIFA Archive is cranking out "reactionaries" like you every day. I can't tell you how many animation students walk in the door saying they like The Simpsons and walk out saying Max and Dave Fleischer, Bob Clampett, Tex Avery and Chuck Jones are their new favorites. When they come back, I have time to take them a bit deeper, and then there's no stopping them.

See ya

Will Finn said...

I don't think it is as bad today as it was as when we were kids tho. Back then that stuff was so exclusively lauded that it was blatantly unfair. The surplus of scorn for the stuff I loved only made me more resentful. I don't think anybody young has to suffer that any more and the proof is in seeing kids like Thad K going ape for the same sort of work that means so much to me still. Needless to say, your archival work is also keeping it in the spotlight it deserves.

My own battle for quality being an imperfect one, it doesn't bother me when people find leigitimate inspiration in those films any more, even if I still think better things have been done before and since, (i will elaborate in upcoming entries). Even better things still should be done yet.

residualecho said...

(I'm privileged to have been able to do a little bit of work in the eighties for Will, Michael, and John K.)

After stumbling onto this tempest via Boing Boing, I was reminded of the Norman McLaren (not The Sphinx from Mystery Men) quote, "Animation is not the art of drawings that move but the art of movements that are drawn." To me, UPA style minimized drawn movement to such a degree that eschewing movement seemed to be almost the point of it. Worse, the drawings that didn't move were too often not worth looking at for so long. I think that's why work in that style by Ward Kimball, Tex Avery and others still satisfy the champions of drawn movement. Setting aside the tool most difficult to master in the animator's toolbox, they were able to spotlight the sort of good, funny drawing and timing that so many of us will only ever aspire to accomplishing in our own work.

And now, here's a cartoon I think you kids'll really dig: Wild Man of Wildsville.

David Nethery said...

Well, if anything maybe the recent Controversy has piqued the interest of some people to actually watch the few UPA cartoons that are available and form their own opinions . If I can make it to the Ottawa Animation Festival this year I'm going to make sure to see the major UPA retrospective they are screening ... although I don't think doses of any studio's cartoons ingested in large quantities during 2 hour screenings is the best way to view them. Doesn't matter if the films are Bob Clampett's best or John Hubley's best ... viewing them one after another can get tiresome. I'd rather have a complete set of UPA on DVD. I'll appreciate the opportunity to see the films in a theater on a big screen, but I almost wish the Ottawa festival organizers would sprinkle them throughout the various festival screenings , so we could view one or two at a time spread out over the festival . Probably not practical to do it that way.

Anyway, I certainly enjoy the UPA's a lot more than I did when I was younger and could only read about them in books about animation (usually in the context of holding them up as oh-so-superior to those supposedly "low-brow cartoons" from Warner's , MGM, and Disney that I preferred... so , yeah, I was a reactionary , too. )