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!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


This is one of the first original animation art pieces I ever bought. It appears to be from Disney's GOLIATH II and it's either by John Lounsberry or John Sibley, two animators I admire. There's an excellent profile of Sibley in Amid Amidi's ANIMATION BLAST, written by Pete Docter.

If anyone out there knows for sure who drew this, let me know! I'd appreciate it.

Monday, May 28, 2007

MICKEY ROONEY IS A DIRTY ROTTEN S.O.B.... least he plays one on TV in this unforgettable drama THE COMEDIAN, broadcast "live" in 1957. I first got to see this show when PBS ran a treasure trove of vintage video dramas around 1982. Now twice as old as it was back then, THE COMEDIAN remains one of my absolute favorites for bravura acting and writing. Adapted by Rod TWILIGHT ZONE Serling from a story by Ernest Lehman (THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS) and directed by John Frankenheimer in top form.

Mickey Rooney plays "Sammy Hogarth" a beloved TV comedian who is a fire-breathing a-hole in private life. When the cameras stop rolling he drops his benign mask and is a repulsive, bullying jerk; Rooney spares nothing and no one in the cast, least of all crooner Mel Torme, in an excellent turn as his spineless brother "Lester." World-weary gagwriter "Al Preston" (Edmund O'Brien) is the most humane character in the piece, but facing burnout he's secretly driven to steal material to keep his flagging career afloat. Lester catches on and the stakes rise when he threatens to ruin Sammy with the scandal. Imagine THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW re-written by Arthur Miller and you get the picture. It's a bit over-wrought at times, (all the career-ending fuss about plagiarism is hard to swallow given how rampant joke-stealing is among comics) but the dialog is often brilliant and the acting is amazing. If you haven't ever seen it, DO IT NOW. If you haven't seen it lately, see it again. It is currently available on a cheap multi-disc set called THE GOLDEN AGE OF TV DRAMA vol1 (Now on HULU as of 2010).

It's worth noting that Billy Crystal's disappointing film MR. SATURDAY NIGHT (1992) covers similar ground, so similar that it plays like a hybrid of THE COMEDIAN and Neil Simon's THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1975). Billy Crystal is a great comic actor but Mickey Rooney in THE COMEDIAN is the one to see.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

More Syverson

Here's a few more gags from SATURDAY EVENING POST by Henry Syverson. What little bio information I have ever been able to gather indicates he was a Disney artist (it shows) before being called up for service in WW II. After that he turned to print and also illustrating, drawing illustrations for humor and childrens' books into the mid 1970's. I once asked the late great Rowland B. Wilson about him (Rowland knew all the East Coast print guys of that era) and he didn't recall much other than that he seemed quiet and mild mannered. A man of few words in life as also on the page, it seems. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Meet Henry Syverson

Syverson is one of my all-time favorite print cartoonists and a huge influence. Back before I could read I looked forward to his ebullient wordless gags in SATURDAY EVENING POST magazine. There his bulb-nosed figures adorned the masthead and margins of the "Post Script" humor section, sort of like a G-rated Sergio Arragones. Anyone who has seen the "You want it WHEN??!" gag posted in a print shop will recognize Syverson's work, (the picture shows three figures convulsed in derisive laughter and if it isn't Syverson, it's a perfect imitation).

His style is all his own, but it seems to combine the emotional directness of Robert Osborn, the doughy charm of Walt Kelly, and the spontaneous vitality of Lee Lorenz all at once. I will post more as I go along. The more I look at them the more I love 'em.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A site for soreheads

When a topic, style or bit consistently only works for a small segment of the audience, stage comedians and other live performers will say it "plays to a small room." This isn't exactly a compliment, but it isn't the same as saying it thoroughly stinks either. Some people like it, maybe even love it, but when the majority has spoken such material usually gets consigned to the reject pile in favor of something more generally acceptable. For we who work in the high stakes game of big-budget animated features, playing to a small room is not an option (I've got the scars to prove it) but I'll always have a soft spot for the off-beat, the quirky and the hard to categorize. Thank goodness for the web, where such stuff can find a home and like-minded friends to share it with.

My hope here is to post thoughts, anecdotes, original sketches and share art and other influences that inspired me to seek a career as a cartoonist in the first place.

Welcome to my small room.