Monday, May 19, 2008


A few more WILLARD MULLIN sketches from the book CLOWNING THROUGH BASEBALL. Click to enlarge, more to come.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

MAD Will Elder

WILL ELDER, one of the original contributors of MAD Magazine and a long time collaborator with Harvey Kutrzman, has passed away. His MAD stuff was a tad before my time but I have learned to love his goony style via many reprints and his lavish finished art for PLAYBOY'S iconic ANNIE FANNIE cartoons. At least one (possibly two) recent books have been published about him...

ASIFA HOLLYWOOD ANIMATION ARCHIVE has this wonderful post for those of you who remember him and will miss him (like I will) and anyone who doesn't know who he is should take a look too. ( The ASIFA post is heavy on PLAYBOY art so beware! NSFW and probably only for kids over 18 too)

See BOING BOING for a relatively clean version.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Although the original SPEED RACER cartoon was a favorite of my peers, I never heard of or saw it as kid, nor would I have probably cared for it: I'm not much into cars for one thing and it frankly left me cold when I finally saw it as an adult. Still my 8-year-old son (who has also never seen the show) was excited about the movie and we went to see it yesterday. Or rather we saw most of it, somewhere near the 2-hour mark, during the umpteenth heart-to-heart scene between Speed and his Pops, our own heart-to-heart went something like this:

SON: "Dad, this is boring, can we go?"
ME: "I thought you'd never ask."

On a general note, both my son and I were left slack-jawed with confusion at why an action movie for kids, with a wholly transparent good-guys v.s. bad-guys plot, would favor long, static and redundant dialog scenes to action seemingly 10-to-one? The action scenes could have been satisfying enough if it wasn't quickly apparent that the filmmakers were intent to make us "pay" for each with subsequent bombardments of incessant talk. The villain in particular machinates and threatens with trenchant and unimaginatively cliched menace over and over again, each exchange dragging on and on long after the point has been made. Alternately, we are confronted with repetitive turgid domestic scenes of Speed and his family and girlfriend espousing utterly hackneyed and hollow homilies about virtue and destiny.. (Interestingly enough, the actors pull this off with a complete simultaneous absence of both sincerity and irony.) Much like the over-bloated Peter Jackson KING KONG (which I liked in spots), SPEED could have been at least a third shorter (no exaggeration) and greatly improved if somehow someone had intervened in the editing room. Indulgent cases like this would seem to enforce the complete lack of trust that studio management has toward filmmakers.

Length aside however, here at this blog I'd like to be permitted a short, public rant against the tendency of live-action filmmakers to adapt the visual sense of animation with either contempt, confusion, or a complete lack of understanding. Similar to the 1990's debacle DICK TRACY, (as one close friend pointed out), the filmmakers of SPEED RACER have decided that cartoon artwork is all aggressively hideous kitsch, comprised of garishly saturated primary colors, shrill lighting and indiscriminately tacky details. The surreal race track scenes aside, the "natural" world of SPEED RACER is limned out with the deliberately pornographic bad taste of artists like David Lachappelle and Jeff Koons: electrified sodium blue skies, blinding white cotton candy clouds and blood-red rosebushes surround homes decorated with screeching decor that looks more like merchandising than anyone's actual rugs or wall paper. It makes literally everything impossible to digest, especially considering the unfathomably sober and sedate writing in the off-track narrative. Although I'm not an expert on the old show, none of these visuals resembles it to me, the show seemed somewhat bleached out and ordinary. For that matter, the production design and art direction don't look anything like any classic cartoon of any genre which would be considered a touchstone for this sort of assignment. None of this seems to matter. When the experts go to work, I guess they just figure they already know what cartoons look like: crap. The rest is up to them to exaggerate and extrapolate as they feel free to.

I wish the movie had been better and I doubt this professional quibble accounts for it's failure. But at some point maybe this recurring pattern will dawn on live-action movie makers and point them in a different direction. Like actually referencing good cartoons for a change.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Willard Mullin

Print isn't the suitable medium for conveying the sarcasm usually associated with the combination of me and sports, so let's just say outside of occasionally playing tennis (piss-poorly) and throwing the football around with my kids, the subject holds no allure for me. That doesn't stop me from enjoying the art of newspaper cartoonist Willard Mullin, who pretty much exclusively drew sports cartoons and specifically did a lot of baseball art work, both in and out of newspapers.

These are from a book called CLOWNING THROUGH BASEBALL by Al Schaact, published in 1941. Willard Mullin was already a well established cartoonist by then and I have always imagined that he was a big influence on everyone from Will Eisner to Jack Davis and even animators like Rod Scribner. The Famous Artists' Cartooning Course has a segment on him and I believe it shows him drawing at a liberally large scale, although these illustrations are printed at a very tiny size. I scanned them at 500 dpi so click on them to see them bigger, I will post more soon.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Cool Beans!

I had lunch with former VENTURE BROTHERS artist Uncle Phil last week and promised I'd put up a couple of the doodles I did while on a VENTURE DVD binge recently. This Adult Swim show really got under my skin and I am looking forward to the upcoming season, which starts in June. The writing is often very funny and some of the voice characterizations are priceless. The Monarch's minions Number 21 and 24 invariably make me laugh out loud.

I know the color doodle is way off model, (i didn't have any reference when I sketched it) but I did a number of sketches of Doc Venture and Hank also. Doc is fun to draw because his physique is so "real" and Hank is a real favorite character for me, with his Scooby Doo outfit and his never-say-think attitude.

These sketches probably indicate just how outside of my realm the look of the show is, but the writing is something I really admire. One of the few shows I've seen in a while that has a specific and original "voice." Hats off to Jackson and Doc for getting something this unique on the air.

These tributes are for entertainment purposes only and are no way intended for profit or ill-gain. Copyright CARTOON NETWORK, ADULT SWIM, ASTROBASE GO! and NOODLE SOUP PRODCTIONS. Please, no wagering.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Welcome to my nightmare

If there's a psychotronic hall of fame for animation, I'd like to nominate this single blackout scene from the sixties TV show MILTON THE MONSTER for the Grand Prix. In a short called THE MOON GOONS, "Jeebie" has tuned into a blurry TV picture to hear a news report that "Milton" has landed on the moon, then this character abruptly pops on and shouts 'Hooray for our side!', scaring Jeebie away. I haven't seen this cartoon in about forty years but upon viewing it the other day I was instantly reminded of the mind-blowing effect it has. For my money, more than any other animated image, it peels back the veil of this mortal coil for a peek into a shrieking land of demented terror that rivals the prose of H.P. Lovecraft.

Not surprisingly, it turns out to have been animated by none other than Jim Tyer, the celebrated savant of Terrytoons fame, whose idiosyncratic and inimitable style has never been rivaled for pure strangeness. Tyer's work on the routine cat-and-mouse antics of Terrytoons is usually surreal and unpredictable enough but here in the macabre setting of Hal Seeger's "MILTON" he simply takes the cake. Not Tim Burton, Bernie Wrightson, Maurice Sendak or Hieronymous Bosch has ever rendered other-dimensional weirdness with the casual confidence that Tyer has here.

Even the backdrop of the 'newsroom' contributes to the oddness on display: the tangential back wall and the clock that seems to ignore perspective suggest an abstracted version of M.C. Escher. Sadly, this is the only "MILTON" short Tyer worked on (he did other titles for Seeger), and the rest of the cartoon, though rich with Tyer wackyness, never quite approaches this particular scene for pure perversity. For that matter nothing else in this or any other series has had quite the same effect on me. The incongruity of the voice, the suit and tie, the leopard paw clutching the pad and pencil, (not to mention the articulation of the lip sync) capture something that the rest of the series never quite manages to. But for all it's shortcomings, I have a soft spot for this old show and recommend the DVD's for aging boomers like me who grew up in the golden age of television monsters.