Friday, June 27, 2008

A Tale of Two Cats

"Heavens to Murgatroyd! Copycat--stage right!"

With Depatie-Freleng cartoons in heavy rotation here I thought I would bring up a mystery that has haunted me since the advent of that studio's famous PINK PANTHER character...

The strange thing is that another cartoon pink mountain lion (which could also be called a "panther" by a zoological stretch) preceded that character by at least two years on the public forefront. Namely Hanna-Barbera's SNAGGLEPUSS. It's probably just a co-incidence, but this is a rare case where such a 'co-incidence' occurs out of sync, meaning that Hanna-Barbera's creation actually came out before the other one. H-B cartoons were always conspicuously liberal about "borrowing" --as in THE FLINTSTONES resembling THE HONEYMOONERS, THE JETSONS resembling the BLONDIE movies, heck--even the moniker "TOM & JERRY" belonged to a completely unrelated series of Van Beuren cartoons before Bill & Joe's cat and mouse came along.

Ultimately the differences between the characters far outweigh the remarkable physical similarities, "Pink Panther" is a purely pantomime character and "Snagglepuss" never shuts up for one thing. "Pink Panther" generally inhabits a kind of psychedelic universe that is vaguely urban, whereas "Snagglepuss" lives in the wilderness (or somewhere else, I can't sit through a single one of these any more).

Still the coincidence, (which is what I honestly think it is in this case) amuses me.

P.S. Purists, bear with me on the drawing, it was done entirely from memory. Also: "SNAGGLEPUS" is copyright protected by Hanna-Barbera/Time-Warner. "PINK PANTHER" is copyright protected by DFE enterprises, MGM-UA, and FOX HOME VIDEO.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Funkadellic FRIZ

These scans of BG's from Friz Freleng's THE INSPECTOR series are blowing me away lately. I was studying the DVD with the aforementioned Mr. Logan recently, who is also a fan and has one of the sharpest senses of design around.

UPDATE: As one commentor has already pointed out, TOM YAKUTIS was the key designer on the show and should be singled out for credit on these outstanding designs.

I am embarrassed to admit that as a kid, I didn't completely get how cool the style of this show was. I liked the cartoons tho. Seeing them today, I am really impressed with the blend of contemporary techniques in them. Adding to the fun, character actor Pat Harrington flawlessly channels Peter Sellers in the voice work. The irresistible Paul Frees voices most of the villians.

Storyboard artist JOHN DUNN was something of a one-man show at DePatie-Freleng studio. His super-sixties inventiveness in writing, boarding, designing and visual gags influenced every cartoon. If you haven't already, check out the ANIMATION BLAST cover story on him. Amid Amidi gives a comprehensive overview of his work, including many previously unpublished sketches, ideas and anecdotes.

Because it's Friday the 13th, (and also because I haven't posted my own drawings in a while), here's a tribute drawing I did freehand after numerous viewings of the DVD:
(Images and characters = copyright MGM/UA and FOX HOME VIDEO)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Logan's Fun


BOB LOGAN (superstar) has posted on his blog direct scans of old View-Master stereo slides featuring various Hanna-Barbara characters like my personal favorite YOGI BEAR.  Now there is yet another reason to visit him and be amazed.



Just for this, I am going to get him back in my next post.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Even more MULLIN

Believe it or not, I am actually contemplating going over that previously published DIVITO cartoon some more, if time permits.

In the meanwhile, however, due to popular demand, here are more WILLARD MULLIN spot illustrations from CLOWNING THROUGH BASEBALL by Al Schaact.

Check out the 180 turn on that guy's neck!



Still more of these to scan through and clean up. (I dropped the lovely and antique-feeling paper color and texture so they'd upload faster.) Again, these are large scans, so click on them to inspect them in more detail.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Divito

This South American cartoonist was versatile and prolific. I had seen a few comic strips by him in old comics history books, but have been blown away by the variety of his work that CARTOON RETRO has displayed. There are fantastic color humor covers (for a magazine called RICO TIPO), b & w comic strips, and generously illustrated two-tone magazine gags. You have to see the RICO TIPO covers to believe them...

His figures are so rhythmic and expressive, even in a static situation. What could be more boring than drawing a bunch of people standing in line? Not boring for Divito! His sense of design is amazing, the grouping of figures allows him to emphasize their attitudes while going for the most pleasing arrangements possible. The detail of people in this line for a card game at a party is stunning and delightful.

These figures have just enough detail in their clothing to make them believable, but they don't get overly-complex. They all have the same posture and attitude, but each is a specific and different type. No repetition, really. And the use of negative space between figures is simply perfect. I recommend copying some of these characters as an exercise. Here's the entire gag, the speaker and listener are also phenomenal figures:


Though the gag on top has a slightly more dated look,
I kept it in to show how he used overlapping space to design
the bottom gag, framing it with the plant and extending
the ceiling up beyond the natural border.


Divito apparently lived fast, played hard and died young, in a sports car crash around the age of 50 (? Fact-checkers welcome, as always)


One Divitto's better "Chicas" drawings

A lot of his gags focus on curvaceous, impossibly wasp-waisted "Chicas". For my money, ironically these often seem to be the most awkward and unbalanced figures in his drawings (they're usually at least 15 heads tall, which can get awfully unwieldy on figures that curvy). Still they proved so popular that a "Chica" doll was mass-produced. Some of the simpler female characters in his comic strips are a lot more appealing to me. The curves are still beyond belief, but the height proportions have a positive effect, in my opinion.

The confines of a newspaper strip has an upside.
Wonderfully crisp artwork.

My friend artist Luis Grane showed me an original strip he has very similar to the one above. Though the sight of a few touches of white-out always give me a sense of relief, the drawing was really impeccable.

There's another Divito image (also courtesy of SHANE GLINES and his CARTOON RETRO) that I will examine another time soon...

UPDATE: blogger JULIAN was kind enough to send along this LINK to a Divito blog. If you like what you see here, you have to check it out! I hasten to add that there don't appear to be any "repeats" of the choice images from CARTOON RETRO, so check them both out if you can...
VIVA DIVITO!

KUNG FU PANDA

Just saw it. Just frickin' LOVED it. Just can't wait to see it again.
Congratulations to all the multi-talented Dreamers and Workers involved. This one raises the bar and sails above it.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Everybody loves (Alex) Raymond...and Claude Smith and George Lichty etc.

Alex Raymond

Claude Smith

George Lichty

John Pierotti

More spot gags from EVER SINCE ADAM & EVE, the mid-fifties cartoon anthology I've been plundering for inspiration. See two nice previous gags HERE. Click to enlarge, the scans are big.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

What makes Chuck Jones?


Thanks to the unprovoked courtesy of Thad K, I recently had the experience of watching the entire WB output of Chuck Jones-directed shorts, a daunting task I almost shied away from. I didn't watch them all as closely as I'd have like to, but I did see them all, sometimes stopping to review several.

I don't have anything substantial to add to what others (including Jones himself) have already articulated. Eric Goldberg and John Kricfalusi have enhanced my appreciation of Jones' art with insights offered publicly and in a good number of conversations. I've seen every cartoon at least once before, and many of them countless times, although seeing them in chronological order put things in a perspective I didn't have before. Some of my favorite early ones (like TO DUCK OR NOT TO DUCK and DOVER BOYS) are all the more inventive because they are among his first forays into actual comedy after a long steep curve of early and insufferably insipid Disney imitations. I had previously thought they were "breathers" in between funnier ones. As it turns out, funnier ones don't really exist (not in abundance anyway) prior to these.
A bad case of "the Sniffles"

The less said about those first years the better. Jones himself dismissed them but it is hard not to lose patience with him during those films. A novice director in a studio or network today would practically kill for the freedom Chuck had back then and he squanders years of it on plodding, deliberate cutesy-pooh muck, much of it revolving around "Sniffles Mouse" a character so bland he makes Mickey Mouse seem like Jim Carey. When the ice finally breaks and Jones is willing to be funny, he rapidly accelerates into a world of hostility, psychological cruelty and of course senseless violence. What a relief!

"Capt. Schmideo" (a.k.a. Michael Maltese) from "ROCKET-BYE BABY"

Michael Maltese remains his best muse as a story man. Maltese as a person comes across in his work (and his interviews with Joe Adamson) as a "regular guy" with one of the richest and most infectious senses of humor on the planet. There's scarcely a dud on his record, and I mean his work with any director at any studio. "Sophisticate" Tedd Pierce on the other hand, tends to bring out the worst in Jones, I hated many of their collaborations even as a kid. Despite some good drawings cartoons like KNIGHT-MARE HARE and BUGS' BONNETS lure Jones into his penchant for verbosity and indulgent self-awareness. Pierce's humor is very word-dependent and even his puns have a strained cerebral quality that miss the mark. "Merlin of Monroe" is an example of such a pun so obtuse that it fails to even register a groan. Interestingly, these are the cartoons that often go off the charts for surface visual saturation too. Maybe there's a conscious effort to divert our attention from the flaccid and anti-climactic quality of the Pierce stories. Incidentally, BUGS' BONNETS, (about which John K wrote a great deal of interesting observations a few months back), is also the first cartoon where director formerly known as "Charles M. Jones" credits himself finally as "Chuck Jones." It's an impressively designed cartoon, but unfortunately it stinks as entertainment.

(UPDATE: Thad K points out to me that KNIGHTMARE is the first "Chuck" credit, not BUGS' BONNETS. They were back to back releases, which may account for my screw-up. All the more interesting tho, since KNIGHTMARE is Jones' first and most obvious homage to Mark Twain, the classic literary figure Jones grew increasingly fond of. The conscious need to be seen as literary and sophisticated often spoiled Jones' work, IMO. It is interesting that this began to happen more and more precisely at the point he 'informalized' his signature. It's probably stretching a point, but maybe he thought "Chuck" sounded more like "Mark". )

BULLY FOR CHUCK

My ranking of favorites hasn't changed much for this experience but as with everything else, time enhances my appreciation of the sheer skill involved in these films. For the record, BULLY FOR BUGS is my favorite Bugs Bunny by Jones, although too many to count would tie for second place. ONE FROGGY EVENING is still one of the best shorts of all time IMO and offbeat entries like TO DUCK OR NOT TO DUCK and A PEST IN THE HOUSE never wear out their welcome. I am terrible at remembering names and titles, but an amazingly high number of ROAD RUNNER cartoons still strike me as brilliant. Among the 'one-off' shorts, (which I liken to Paul Galico's whimsical short stories), ROCKET-BYE BABY is my favorite after FROGGY, and the rest of these (with the exception of the tediously precious NELLY'S FOLLY) are remarkably good. The two about boy daydreamer Ralph Phillips are classics.

"ROCKET-BYE BABY"
"Meep-meep!"

The character I find least appealing is Pepe LePew, the amorous skunk. (Not surprisingly Tedd Pierce figures as storyman in a number of these, and Jones himself writes several as well). Conceptually a fine character and brilliant in design and voice acting, Pepe never rises above the fact that it he is a one-note joke who invariably wears out his welcome about halfway through even his best entries. Unlike the Coyote, who can explicitly demonstrate his escalating desire to kill Road Runner, Pepe comes in completely smitten and cannot do anything more than tirelessly pursue. Consummation has to be abstract to avoid obscenity; lacking Avery's sense of sexual vulgarity, Jones keeps things in these films on a too-even keel. Anyone who wants to single out Robert McKimson for monotonous sameness in a series has never sat through the chronological torpor of Jones' memorable but limited Casanova.
P.U.

Though many later Jones cartoons (usually his worst ones) are overly filled with talk, no other cartoon director explored pure pantomime more frequently and with as much variety, not to mention success. FROGGY, the Marc Anthony and Kitty films, along with the entire ROAD RUNNER series are among the most notable of these. Several of the "one-shot" cartoons are either pantomime or virtually so. In these you can see most sharply Jones' gift for physical expression in his character poses and faces. He practically never runs out of ideas for these either.
"DOUBLE OR MUTTON"

Apart from being a funny man, Jones is also a smart and tasteful one and he makes these qualities loom larger and larger in his films once he hits his stride. When it works (as it often does until the last batch of shorts), it is a personal vision that is hard to resist. Unlike his arch rival Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones wants to prove to us that he is smart, tasteful and always in control of everything. Clampett of course is ultimately "in control" too, but his genius is for giving the genuine impression that all Hell is breaking loose onscreen. Much like that other Jones, namely bandleader Spike, Clampett makes us feel (frequently throughout an entire film) that every person in his troupe has gone out of their minds. This never happens in Jones' world because he won't allow it. Clampett's embrace is wider: he can grasp the highbrow world of surrealism in one hand and the lowbrow crudeness of burlesque with the other--he has no boundaries. Boundaries are Chuck Jones' stock in trade, his main theme is pitting the rational against the irrational. Even when he adopts the point of view of an irrational character, (as with the Coyote), he only does so to mock himself.

If Chuck Jones is the ultimate control freak though, he's a brilliant one. He brings his intelligence and taste, (particularly his graphic taste) into sharper and sharper focus throughout his output. I am always surprised that when people are tripping over each other to heap praise on UPA for their pioneering stylization, that Chuck is often ignored. His cartoons are among the the most boldly stylized ever and most of them do this without subordinating elements like humor and full animation. One of the earliest UPA type films (HELL BENT FOR ELECTION) was one of Chuck's.
Background from "ROCKET-BYE BABY'

Graphically, though, (as is often the case) the strength of style becomes something of a downfall. By the 1960's the look becomes more and more of a self-parody until it goes baroque and beyond. In the end, even in the character linework, fillagrees have fillagrees and facets have multi-facets until it gets a little hard to look at.

"Merlin of Monroe" demonstrates that graphic vigor can't save a dull script.
(from "KNIGHTMARE HARE")

Yet unmistakably overall, the ratio of hits to misses is uncanny and awe-inspiring. For longevity and timelessness, (not to mention universal appeal), Chuck Jones' work remains monumental.
The "CITIZEN KANE" of short cartoons, "ONE FROGGY EVENING"

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

George & George

Here's a couple of great print cartoons found in an old book of gags about the "Battle of the Sexes" (circa 1955). Many of the names are familiar ones to me, especially George "Lichty", who was still around and drawing the newspaper panel "GRIN & BEAR IT" when I was a kid. Lichty was said to be the inspiration for some of animator Rod Scribner's wilder scenes for director Bob Clampett at Warner Bros.


This next one is from a feature called "THE NEIGHBORS" by George Clark, which I don't think I ever heard of. I could stare at this drawing all day: the composition and the nuances in the poses and costuming are stunning.

UPDATE: Shane Glines reminds me that there is a heapin' helpin' of George Clark art on his CARTOON RETRO site, which indeed, I did see before.  The file includes some comics, scans of originals and a detailed breakdown on his process. As always, I encourage anyone who loves outstanding cartoon art to subscribe to CR.

CARTOON RETRO also has a fine collection of "Lichty" art, as does Steve Worth's ASIFA HOLLYWOOD ANIMATION ARCHIVE. AHAA! is another great cause to support with your interest and $$.