Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tyer-less Tyer

Fan art only. Character is copywritten property of Disney. No wagering please.

Lately I have wondered what it would have been like if Jim Tyer had ever drawn Disney characters.

I have been on a Tyer kick lately and it only got more intense when Kevin Langley posted THIS quintessential Tyer epic, one of the last (if not THE last) theatrical MIGHTY MOUSE shorts.

I loved Terrytoons as a kid, they were in heavy rotation on Saturday morning TV in the early 1960's but then they kind of disappeared until Turner revived them in the mid-1980's. By then I was already a working animator and when I saw them as an adult I was mesmerized by Tyer. I still am. There was nobody like him, before or since in a century of animation (Emery Hawkins is probably the closest cousin). I don't think Tyer could have achieved his ultimate signature style in any other studio, probably because no other studio was so cheap, so driven by deadlines and cost cutting measures, and so beleaguered by hackneyed gags and characters. And all of that inverted discipline of making the bottom line work at all costs allowed Tyer's nutty character to evolve to unparalleled heights.

Which remains a funny comment on the nature of creativity.  The subjects of the shorts were so weak that he had considerable liberty to be so funny in his execution. We can't really know for sure, but if the characterizations or situations had required something more crisp and specific from a conceptual standpoint, he might not have been able to be as loose and spontaneous. Fortunately, the gags are almost always routine, tame, lame, derivative and stupid, but Tyer takes this as an excuse to let his animation chops run wild. When his scenes come on, it's almost as if the cartoon suddenly gets drunk; everything from the lip sync to the locomotion goes completely haywire, and yet somehow makes its own strange sense. It is almost as if he spent his formative years learning the basics of the craft and then just said "Ah the hell with it" and just allowed the muse to guide his errant pencil wherever it wanted to go. It is savant-like animation, almost completely devoid of technique (he has some trademarks but he rarely does anything the same way twice) and more vividly expressionistic than any other mainstream artist has ever achieved. Add to this that his work has an effortless, off-handedness and you have one of the most unique careers in animation. I doubt he ever expected to have his name whispered in reverence by so many ardent fans so long after his passing, but happily his cult continues to grow.

Like I said, he probably would have been fired at any studio where discipline and "artistry" were held in any esteem, which says something wonderful about a schlock-house like Terry and the oddball atmosphere that permitted his diamond-rare style to flower. It also says something about the youth of the medium even back then (the late 1940's thru to the 60's) : today the mainstream studios have gotten so systematized that it is hard to picture someone as individual as him being allowed to so wantonly violate norms of the trade...