Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Chuck in Flux redux

Larry Levine suggests in the comments of the previous post that I jot down some recollections of my personal experiences with the great Chuck Jones, something I have been meaning to do for some time. To be clear, although I was lucky enough to meet and speak and work with him on something like a dozen occasions, each occasion was usually brief and I cannot pretend to have known him well, which some of my other friends actually did.

In the meantime though, I guess I should add to my previous a few other comments about the issues I have raised here:

First of all, I never intended to slight or disrespect Chuck Jones and I regret giving that impression. I think the caption I posted for the B & W sketch was ill-advised and I apologize for it, although I feel that deleting it this late would be cheesey. I am sorry for it though. I think the sketch speaks for itself well enough about the point I was trying to make. Ironically, the longer I look at it the more it seems like a perfectly acceptable drawing. It is, however not nearly as good a drawing as any from one of the vintage shorts it references.

I am beginning to wonder if it is best not to offer critical comments at all in such a public forum and there is plenty of room to be misunderstood. I don't mean to set myself up as the standard bearer for the industry and would be on pretty thin ice if I did. Chuck Jones, on the other hand, was a master of this medium and I hope it's obvious that I admire and relish his work (including some of his most obscure films) as much as anybody.

Second, despite my dislike for much of the later gallery art, I do not mean to suggest that Mr. Jones was "hacking" when he did this stuff. I think rather he did these to what he believed was the best of his ability and it should go without saying it was in his discretion to do them in any style he chose. He was a classy guy and I don't think "hacking" was in his nature. The baseball cards and later shorts suggest to me however that these pieces engaged a different part of his creative brain than the gallery art and the psychology behind that is interesting to me. It is in fact the general point of the post, and not specific to Chuck Jones either. The large paintings are particularly poor in my opinion, but the fact that Chuck Jones did them makes them valuable and well worth whatever the galleries charge to purchase them. And if people enjoy them, that is their right. I myself can't paint in any medium worth a damn and wouldn't pretend that I could produce anything better; to the contrary in fact.

Third, I was in fact trying to point out that the production process of making the later big-budget shorts, as well as the pseudo-production process of making the baseball cards brought out what I and I think many other fans and artists feel is the best in Chuck Jones' later work and proved he was capable of firing up the old spark of his great heyday.

Finally, I go back to the remark about Floyd Gottfredson, which I made below: the fact that he was vocal about his preference for his late work has haunted and chilled me for decades, because although I can't site a case offhand, I do think it was something many older artists of his generation felt in the twilight years. Chuck Jones was proud of his work in general but he never got specific about the late vs early issue and no one to my knowledge ever asked him, so in this case the mystery of his genuine personal appraisal is what nags me enough to raise the issue. That Gottfredson, on the other hand, could call his pedestrian later strips better than his outstanding work over the decades of the 1930's, 40's & 50's is depressing. I seem to recall that the interviewer even balked at this and the artist brushed him off as too young to understand. Does this mean that taste and criteria and even visual perception change over time, or is this just the sound of an ego protecting it's host? Given that I myself am well into (ahem) mid-life, it's a question I have to ask myself. I try to stay as critical of my own work, both personal and professional, as possible as anyone who knows me well can tell. I'd certainly like to think there is better work ahead for me yet and that age and experience will make me better fit to rise to the occasion... I guess only time will tell.

BTW - If anyone knows where this late interview with Gottfredson is, let me know, it would set my mind at ease if I am remembering the whole thing wrong...

Post Script: Thad K has posted some fine examples of Gottfredson in both his heyday and his decline, here on his own blog. He also echos hearing the artist make the claim that he was better later, confirming that at least I am not the only person who got this impression.


Thad said...

Hi Will.
I added to what you said over at my blog along with some visual aid.

There's nothing wrong with what you said, and I agree with you for the most part. A lot of blog commentators tend to be a little too eager to jump in on a bashing artists, without really understanding what the blog owner is trying to say.

Weirdo said...

Excellent post. I too have nothing but respect for Chuck Jones, but I think that people have heard so much critical praise for him, that anything that would criticize him allows them to express a backlash aganst that. Anyway, fantastic post and good explanation of the post's meaning. Great work.

Daniel Ted said...

Very interesting. Loved the post.

Larry Levine said...

Hi Will, Your respect for Chuck was very clear in the original posting, his work means a great deal to many people & that invites passionate conversation.

There are factors that people don't realize when they critique the limited edition art, when Chuck would create a cel, he would begin with a very loose concept sketch, these drawings were always my personal favorites & much closer to the classic layouts. He would then do a series of tighter sketches with various changes, followed by a VERY tight final drawing which he would ink, or as his health declined, the graphite lines would be silk screened onto the cel. When you look at some of these cels & final line drawings (like the Bugs, Daffy & Elmer above), he had already drawn the same image numerous times and in some cases the spontaneity of the initial sketches may have been lost.

The most important thing is that Chuck was still drawing away with his beloved Blackwing 602 well into his 80's! We all should be that lucky :)

Floyd Norman said...

Hey Will, I loved what you had to say about Floyd. I too love his earlier work, and thought his later stuff was pretty pedestrian.

Oddly enough, the job of writing Mickey Mouse was one day dumped into my lap. By that time, Mickey Mouse was so bland there wasn't a damn thing I could do with him.

However, I did manage to keep the attorneys in corporate legal busy.

Amy said...

I don't think you need sound so apologetic, Will ;)
Your admiration of Jones' work generally was clear and the comments were all civilised and intelligent.

None of us will ever know what Chuck himself thought of his later work, but just because he was one of our industry's Titans doesn't make him exempt from criticism. I don't think it's a backlash against his fame, it's just admitting that sometimes even geniuses have their off periods.

You posed your points perfectly respectfully, great posts Will.

John S. said...

I agree with Tad. Some times bad is bad and it's okay to say so. It is every bit as important to recognize and understand when and where a genius like Jones goes wrong as it is to recognize and study the greatness in his work.
Hey, I think the interview with Gottriedson what in an old issue of "Nemo".

Will Finn said...

Thanks for the comments--I probably am overdoing it but I just don't want to set myself up as a critic, which is too easy to do. A lot of things effect drawing ability over time, and I suspect some of them are psychological, which is intriguing.

Floyd--on Gottfredson's count, i honestly was talking strictly about the drawing and not the gags. I never had a preference one way or another over the gag-a-day strips versus the epic continuities as far as the writing went. That he specifically felt his art got better, (which is sad specifically because i admire his earlier art so much),could have either been pride, a defense or maybe I'm just missing something and I'll feel the same way someday...

Also Floyd, I think I speak for everybody when I say that a blog by you would be welcome by fans and artists everywhere... and I'm not too proud to beg!

Michael Sporn said...

One of Chuck Jones' last efforst was the book "William the Skunk". He had sent the publisher rough drawings, which he meant as finals and wouldn't do more on the book. The editor, completely confused, wanted the earlier Chuck Jones. He asked me to ink and color the images and add backgrounds. I tried to imitate the work of Maurice Noble and tried to give Chuck's drawings the look of his late 50's work. The editor loved them; it was exactly what he'd hoped for. Unfortunately, Chuck liked his roughly drawn images and asked that they be colored. He had it done in LA, and the book went out like that. It was an interesting exercise for me, and I made a couple of dollars trying to do a WB look.

Stephen Worth said...

There are always going to be people on the internet who take your comments out of context and spin them into things you never said. Don't worry about them. Your articles all convey the proper context. And even better than that, they're packed with info and insights that artists can benefit from. Don't sweat the little things. You're doing it right.

see ya

David Nethery said...

"First of all, I never intended to slight or disrespect Chuck Jones and I regret giving that impression. "

I don't think you gave that impression, Will.

I totally understood where you were coming from.

There are few in animation I hold in higher esteem than Charles M. Jones . He's an inspiration and a hero to me . But those gallery prints and the later flabby films like A Connecticut Rabbit in King Arthur's Court ,etc. are indeed a sad thing to behold.

This has generated some good discussion and is a cautionary tale to us all. If one of the Greats like Chuck could stumble like this then let the little nobody's like me take heed ...

I think you made an excellent point about how when he was still working on "production" he was as sharp (or almost) as ever in terms of the drawing skills. (the alterations to the character designs and the weird stylistic mannerisms ,the "mascara" , etc. are another thing ... but let us not go there ) .

I think what we think of as "Chuck Jones", the great shorts done at Schlesinger's/Warner's were the result of collaboration , a magic combination of different complimentary talents, each member of the team bringing something unique and valuable to the process. Same with the other units. (Clampett's , Freleng's, Avery's, etc.)

David Nethery said...

Just wanted to add this :

I think those of us who love Chuck Jones's work will always be shaking our heads about some of his later work .... I've had this exact same conversation in private that you have posted here in public on your blog. I've expressed the same puzzlement and misgivings ... couldn't he see it ? Didn't he know the difference ? Did he actually prefer the later "off-model" versions of the characters that he drew and painted in oil for the galleries?

It's something that still bothers me today , when I see one of those pieces.

Then I watch Feed the Kitty, or Duck Amuck, or Bully For Bugs, or The Dover Boys, and all is right with the world.

Chuck's best work will survive and his reputation as one of the Greats is intact.

Michael J. Ruocco said...

I understand what you're trying to say, Will. Everybody has a right to say what they want. Isn't that what blogs are for anyway?

I really do like Chuck's work, but I agree that some of his later stuff isn't all super (Conneticut Rabbit..., some of his panting work, etc.), and I liked how he used to draw the characters back in the 40's and early 50's.

I saw a few cartoons done by Chuck I think done in the late 60's (I'm not sure), but I didn't really warm up to the designs of characters like Bugs (even if they were too cutesy looking). I remember one of them being about Bugs reminicing about his childhood with Elmer & one about him meeting Marvin the Martian again with the Abomidible Snowman. I know Chuck is later known for his eyelashes, but the designs looked like a cross between a baby Disney character and a teddy bear.

I'm just surprised how much his style changed throughout the years. Chuck's Bugs & Daffy designs changed an awful lot as the years went on. Soft, short & round in the 40's to angular & tall in the 50's, and soft & mushy afterwards. Still, it's his style.

Larry Levine said...

"I remember one of them being about Bugs reminicing about his childhood with Elmer & one about him meeting Marvin the Martian again with the Abomidible Snowman."

The "Portrait of the Arist as a Young Rabbit" & "Spaced Out Bunny" cartoons were from the Chuck's 1980 CBS special "Bugs Bunny Busting Out All Over", which included the Road Runner/Coyote in "Soup or Sonic".