Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Fan Mail From Some Flounder...

My friend and colleague, director Darrell Van Citters has published his second book: THE ART OF JAY WARD PRODUCTIONS, a copiously illustrated and thoroughly researched visual history of the studio behind BULLWINKLE, SUPER CHICKEN, CAP'N CRUNCH and many other memorable characters from the baby boom era. There have only been two prior books on Jay Ward that I can think of: THE MOOSE THAT ROARED, a highly recommended bio-history by Keith Scott, and a previous, forgettable "coffee-table" book that can only be politely described as a missed opportunity.

Darrell's superb book rectifies that opportunity with its knowledgeably enjoyable text and a generous truckload of behind-the-scenes artwork and photos, much of which are more visually satisfying than what wound up on screen due to production limitations of the day, (something pretty much typical of every made-for-TVstudio back then.) The chronology is beautifully organized, featuring individual bios of all the key personnel, interviews, concise commentary and of course lots of ingeniously silly drawings. Enough from me, just get it!

Find it here at its own site, matching Amazon's price and signed/personalized by the author:
ART OF JAY WARD

Stuart Ng Books (signed only):
ART OF JAY WARD

or on Amazon:

Sunday, October 9, 2011

THE WIZARD OF ID: Classic "Smart Stupidity"

I've been eagerly waiting for this book ever since it was announced almost two years ago. After several delays the publisher has finally come through, answering my cartoon nerd prayers--and hopefully enough prayers of other fans to merit a follow-up. Find it here and help the cause. Don't wait : order it online; I spent weeks driving around to book and comics stores in LA with no luck. Like most other sacred mainstays of The Small Room, it seems to be an acquired taste.

Brant Parker & Johnny Hart's WIZARD OF ID is probably my favorite long-running comic strip, after George Herriman's KRAZY KAT (sorry Snoopy!). Not nearly as poetic, of course, but existing in a fantasy world every bit as visually unique in it's own way. The land of Id resembles the caveman world of Johnny Hart's B.C. but the subtle differences lie in the distinctive cartooning of Brant Parker, who was Hart's mentor and later collaborator.  I can't quite pinpoint what it is that sets Brant Parker's artwork apart from Johnny Hart's (their styles are virtually identical) but Parker's ID has a slight edge over Hart's B.C. for my taste. Maybe the medieval setting gave him more to work with visually. Maybe it's because Parker was older, more experienced--he had worked in animation at Disney in the mid-1940's and his sense of posing / staging is flawless. He was more or less pioneering the style that Hart absorbed and ably limned nationally with B.C. around 1960. Of course, I like them both, but Parker's art is perhaps 2% more lumpy, goggle-eyed and more ferociously committed to cartoon big-nosedness, all qualities that I can't resist.

ID embodies a 1960's school of cartoon design I think of as "smart/stupid". To me, the "smart," modernized stylization that took the cartoon world by storm in the 1950's had a tendency to get too slick, too sterile and too just plain flat for it's own good.  By a decade later though, guys like Parker and Hart were seemingly satirizing that look with a looser, more spontaneous and "stupid" approach, almost as if they were trying to louse it up on purpose. And in doing so, they "warmed it up" in every sense of the word, even as they "dumbed it down", making it feel more organic, informal and light-hearted. I have to admit, that it's probably no coincidence that the smart/stupid style was in high gear in my kid-hood. Nostalgia no doubt plays a part in it...

All the same, it's a drawing style I kind of felt guilty for loving at the time. I was also nuts about classic animation of the 1930's and 40's, and that aesthetic seemed more respectable, if only because it seemed more obviously difficult. Maybe too the smart/stupid school was too contemporary and familiar to me, whereas the bygone work of the golden age animators seemed exotic by comparison. Happily, that's changed and I appreciate this kind of cartooning with unabashed admiration. Now when I sift through the pages of books like this one more than ever I marvel at the sheer rightness of the drawings. Settings, minor characters, even props give me as much pleasure as the main cast. For me, it's very close to the enjoyment of George Herriman's art, the Mount Everest of cartooning.

Despite the allusion to Freud in the title, the writing is not exactly cerebral but it has a post-modern sarcasm and deadpan quality that can still make me laugh. Giving the center stage to the King, its least like-able character, was an idea kind of ahead of it's time. By the year this volume's strips had been published, it was hard not to see Richard Nixon in the King's noxious personality. Even when not being specifically Nixon-like, he's still a ruthless selfish and un-redeemed a-hole; in short (heh-heh) a fink. There seems to have been an agreement made in the beginning by which (unlike other strips), these panels will never offer much in the way of a wistful, dewy-eyed sentiment, or anything weepy or apologetic. ID is a bleak, hard-knocks kingdom where gallows humor prevails, along with established stereotypes like funny drunkards, battle-axe wives, and smirking torturers. Some of these elements seem awkward and unenlightened subjects for humor today, but I can't help forgiving that. Believe it or not, it was hip at the time.

And the drawings, particularly around this era are sublime. They fill me with joy and envy. What more could I ask?

Three jeers for the Fink! Three cheers for the publishers! Hurry the next installment and don't spare the lumpy, cross-eyed, ski-footed, big-nosed horses!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Campbell Grant Redux #1

Way back in this 2008 post, I mentioned Campbell Grant, who had illustrated a number of humor books by Richard Armor. These were favorites of mine in trolling the humor section of my High School library as a kid. As I mentioned before, the books were patterned after a late 1940's humor sensation THE DECLINE AND FALL OF PRACTICALLY EVERYBODY, which was written by a satirist named Will Cuppy, who died before his book was published. That book was copiously illustrated by William Steig, in a style somewhere between his rather pedestrian early work and his later vivid, expressionistic style. Though it was the precursor to the Armor/Grant series, I only just stumbled across it around ten years ago.

I guess in the aftermath of Cuppy's sudden decline and fall someone had to take over the historical parody biznizz and Armor took on the mantel with great success.  Armor's humor has a lighter touch, but it's clearly in the same vein, with punchlines turning up frequently in the copious footnotes. And the artwork of Steig and Grant is clearly influenced by Ronald Searle. Campbell Grant had been a Disney story artist in the 1940's and in his case that influence is also evident.  Maybe because Armor lived on the West Coast they decided to pair him up with a West Coast illustrator too. I think by this time Mr. Grant was out of Disney's employ and devoted to researching indigenous cave painting of the Southwest, a genuine passion apparently. That's about the extent of my biographical knowledge of him. Joe Grant (no relation) didn't have much to add when I asked about him...

These are selections from AMERICAN LIT RE-LIT, spoofing classic literature of North America. Although many of the subjects are caricatures of authors whose likeness could be researched, even better, I think, are the invented "generic" characters, which are beautifully designed.




 This caricature of E.A. Poe had a big impact on me, for some reason.




Monday, October 25, 2010

Getting small in a big way

I just read Steve Martin's 2007 memoir BORN STANDING UP and encourage anybody creative to read it also, if you have not already.

If you're under, say 30, I don't know if it is possible to fully grasp the phenomenal sensation that his standup routines created in the mid 1970's. Like a lot of ephemeral pop entertainment, in hindsight the act itself doesn't pack the wallop it did at the time, though it is all still very funny. But for about five or six years, he was the life of the global party: the man of the moment; someone considered so uproariously funny that just to quote a fragment of one of his routines would invoke a kind of dizzy cheer. His act was so vivid, broad and delirious that somehow, he seemed oddly like a member of the family hiding behind the persona of a nearly innocent goof who might in fact be insanely smart.

If George Carlin hadn't used the title first, Steve Martin's  act could have been called OCCUPATION: FOOL,  (to me Carlin always seemed more of a pissed-off contrarian and nobody's fool); from the late 1960's on, Steve Martin's genial clowning had been a kind of staple of TV shows from supporting roles on THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS and SONNY & CHER to regular appearances on THE TONIGHT SHOW, all of which he documents here. Somewhere around the advent of his first SNL hosting gigs, his humor caught the general imagination and funnybone of the country in a way most performers can only dream about. It was a kind of harmonic event in media culture: the medium had finally caught up with what he was doing just as he was perfecting it. His stand up was a kind of sly, meta-comedy: full of corny old props, dated banjo music and general foolishness, but with a cerebral edge that drew attention to the inherent absurdity of performing in general, while simultaneously genuinely loving the corniest things about it. He made fun of performing while being terribly funny at it, with ebullient and childlike energy that it was infectious.

Interestingly, he catalogs the nearly two decades of relentless effort he spent "rehearsing" for his seemingly "overnight success" with a kind of refreshing candor : there is discouragement, anxiety (in the extreme sometimes), flashes of insight followed by long dry spells,  his foibles and faults as a person and a performer are all touched upon. None of this seems indulgent, instead he is generous with his debt to various contemporaries on the way up.  Very interesting to me is the fact that although he admits being initially inspired as a child by famous comedians like Jack Benny, he spends far more ink paying tribute to the unsung, unknown, or largely obscure theme park entertainers he first worked with as a teen in Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm, which suggests that he was innately as influenced by these talented unknowns as much if not more than any superstar.  At another point he documents a couple of salient bits of advice he picked up from a musty instructional pamphlet for budding magicians that are like lighting bolts even to read them today.

If any of this is applicable to cartooning and art in general, I suggest these two nuggets:

1.) that his own innate talent may have made his peak form seem effortless, but that was teased out one grain at a time over a long, long haul of trial and error that might seem familiar to anyone learning any creative trade. Even as he became something of a "name", prior to becoming a "somebody" he was basically a "nobody."  Giving up seemed like a viable option at several points, even immeidately before his stupendous headliner status. At that point, he then seemed to onlookers like me to be a thriving working minor comedy star; he was in fact, laboring diligently to stay barely afloat by working literally anywhere he could and continuing to both technically and creatively grope towards higher standards he set for himself. When his break finally came and his style gelled you get the feeling he certainly had earned his success. And it seems clear that he was aiming for creative success first and foremost, and not merely for fame.

2.): The amount of praise he has for his early mentors as a theme park "cast member" is genuine but it also indicates that he was building his core concepts, attitudes and values from talented folks he actually knew and liked and admired, even though they were far from famous. In doing so, he was either consciously or unconsciously forging a more original path than someone who might have been more inclined to primarily copy famous comedians everybody already knew and loved. To the extent he is aware of this, he says at one point that early on he realized that he would have to stop relying on old well-worn bits cribbed from over-exposed jokebooks and find his own comic voice. He admits this was not an easy revelation either, but it was necessary. In the same breath, he notes the importance of originality, which is also a hallmark of what made him inimitable as a comedian. I think in cartooning, there is a tendency to hew too closely to the established cannon (I like to call them "The Usual Suspects"), which tends to make the gene pool seem thinner than it needs to be.

This is a reminder to me, at least, and hopefully anyone else thinking about it, that while copying our heroes is natural and often a useful exercise, overdoing it can lead to mannerism as opposed to a genuine process. Inventing your own process is difficult and often discouraging because you are forced to discover by trial and error, but if you have the tenacity to endure it, (as opposed to simple stubbornness), it can be very rewarding.
(thanks Robin!)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A plogg I'm hefta givvink...



Craig Yoe's MILT GROSS Complete Comic Books and Life Story is here at long last. I was relishing the book last night till all hours, it's a wonderful tribute and the sumptuous quality of the book design and printing exceeds expectation, even as an avid fan of ARF! and Craig Yoe's other stunning publications.

Hopefully more people will turn on to Gross, who of all the "golden age" comic strip artists, is somehow frequently overlooked. Perhaps because like Tex Avery, Gross capitalized on gags & style over character: he skipped from one title to the next and led a more varied career than many of his contemporaries. As a result, his work is more eclectic and less comprehensive than peers who mined a single series over a lifetime. And his life was tragically cut short by heart disease at the age of 58, when he was planning to launch into TV animation.

The trade off is that he wrote prose (often in lovingly humorous Yiddish dialect), contributed to stage shows, was drafted to help Chaplin gag at least one feature, wrote for the radio, did advertising, published several books and launched his own original comic books, which are reprinted in full in the book.

I first stumbled across his newspaper comics in a nostalgia magazine when I was around 11. Already a fan of George Herriman's KRAZY KAT, I was thunderstruck when I saw Gross' COUNT SCREWLOOSE, BANANA OIL and NIZE BABY tucked in with more familiar characters. My first thought was : "WOW! THIS is what cartoons are SUPPOSED to look like! Who was this guy?" When I found the artist's name I was jolted again, this time by the copyright dates: mid 1920's and early 30's---His style was so sharp and lively and polished, it seemed decades ahead of his contemporaries... Even the best comics of the 20's-30's sometimes feel labored, hap-hazard, scratched out with sweat and effort, but Milt Gross's world was different: vibrant, fluid poses, explosive expressions, clear as a whistle staging, and crisp confident linework--the closest thing to it in my opinion didn't come along until Kurtzman's HEY LOOK! (I think his closest contemporary rival was probably the equally inimitable Cliff Sterrett, another idol, but even his work seems sedate by comparison). Something about it hinted at animation too... As it turns out, he brought his unique signature style to a few MGM cartoons in the pre-WWII years and even worked at Disney in the late forties for a few months.

I began collecting and have been a rabid fan ever since. Everybody who loves cartoons should get to know Milt Gross. Whether you already do, or haven't heard of him before, this book is a great way to get more acquainted with the man's genius.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

My Top 5 Books for 2009


Over at CARTOON BREW Jerry Beck has picked his top ten animation books for 2009, I will throw in with a few offbeat favorites of mine:

1. CREATED & PRODUCED BY TOTAL TELE VISION by Mark Arnold
This tells the untold story of the little known quartet of talent that created UNDERDOG, TENNESEE TUXEDO, KING LEONARDO, and many other cartoon hits of the 1960's. Since
precious little has ever been written about this team, this book sheds welcome light on the group, who are all still present, accounted for and lucid, despite the fact their ad-hoc company dissolved 40 years ago. The key artist of TTV was Joe Harris, who appears to have very nearly single handedly designed and storyboarded their entire output of shows. A few of Mr. Harris' original sketches appear in the book and their energy and wit managed to sustain their charm despite the fact that the shows themselves were usually shipped off to be produced under bargain basement conditions. The more I learn about this group the more I want to know. And hey--the nifty cover art is by Mike Kazaleh!

2. THE ART OF CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS
I enjoyed this movie immensely and was glad to get the book, another handsome and slickly produced SONY "art of" book. Some of the group behind the movie also created the very funny and short lived MTV series CLONE HIGH and their rough sketches, storyboards and designs are fun to see. Looking forward to seeing the film again when it is released on DVD next month.

3. THE BEST OF THE WIZARD OF ID by Brant Parker & Johnny Hart

(Brant Parker originally worked for Disney on MICKEY & THE BEANSTALK, so it kind of qualifies as an animation book)
I really liked Johnny Hart's B.C. comic strip as a kid--it was a real departure of comic style from what was currently running at the time. My personal favorite however was WIZARD OF ID, which followed, being even more broadly goony and grotesque. It is hard to tell where Hart leaves off and where Parker begins; they appear to have been such copacetic partners. But while Hart established his success with B.C. first, Parker was a decade older and had been an early influence on Hart. In any case, their WIZARD strips are great to see again in this volume, which also compelled me to track down some of the early paperbacks, which I owned and loved as a kid.

4 & 5. EEK & MEEK (vol. 2 & 3) by Howie Schneider
(OK, not animation, but nice cartooning all the same)
Eek and Meek were two comic strip mice born in the 1960's in the aftermath of Hart & Parker's considerable influence. Howie Schneider sketched them as spidery, post-atomic cousins of Herriman's immortal "Ignatz Mouse", and though I never saw them in the newspaper as a kid, I was happy to purchase these two volumes from Charles Brubaker, who was kind enough to post a book list for sale a few weeks ago. I am still slowly going over the books to enjoy Mr. Schneider's deceptively simple artwork. Curiously, he later evolved the characters into humans without much fanfare, and continued the characters' antics until his death a few years ago without missing a beat,

Monday, July 13, 2009

MAGOO & RETRO

Darrell Van Citters' definitive book on MAGOO'S CHRISTMAS CAROL is now available and can be ordered thru the book's website and also at ComiCon in San Diego coming up soon.

By all accounts this book is a dream come true for fans of the show, which was the first original prime time animated Christmas special, and features original songs by Jule Styne and was directed by Abe Levitow, one of Chuck Jones' lead animators. Magoo portrays himself, playing Scrooge in a Broadway stage version of Dicken's classic, populated by original characters from the story and featuring voices by Morey Amsterdam and the always wonderful Paul Frees. The illustrations I have seen from the book are first rate, depicting behind the scenes photos and production artwork. Notably, the color of the film stills and artwork does justice to the piece that no currently available home-video release does. Copies autographed by various surviving participants are available in limited quantities, so if you love this film you will want to snap this up.

* * * * *

I recently renewed my subscription to Shane Glines' CARTOON RETRO, something I have happily done for 5 years running now. Updated every weekday, CR is a mandatory blast of inspiration and well worth the annual $50 expense, even in these challenging times. The site is a treasure trove of brilliant imagery past and present, original and printed, featuring art well known and lesser well known (to me anyway) by cartoon and illustration virtuosos around the world and over the century. The exclusive extras include Shane's own original sketches and paintings, as well as a blog of additional goodies. If you can put the 50 fish together and haven't signed up yet, what are you waiting for? You won't be sorry!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Don Hahn book-signing

Seven o'clock P.M. on Thursday May 28, the award-winning and multi-talented producer Don Hahn (LION KING, BEAUTY & THE BEAST) will be at the Barnes & Noble at the new Glendale Americana Mall, signing DRAWN TO LIFE, the two-volume set of Walt Stanchfield drawing class notes. Don has carefully compiled and supervised the publication of these notes, which encapsulate the wisdom of Walt's long and distinguished career as a Disney animation artist. I attended many classes of Walt's and they were just like the man himself, inspiring, insightful and fun. If you live nearby, are visiting the area, or if you just can't resist vast open malls with "dancing water" fountains set to Frank Sinatra music at ear-piercing volume, mark your calendar, set your alarm and stroll over to the Americana to pick up the books and meet the "Don of Disney Feature Animation Producers". Call (818) 545-9146 for more information.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

New Sheilah Beckett book

Sheilah Beckett's son Sean Smith has contacted me to report that his mother has recently published a new book on the SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII. I have posted some of Ms. Beckett's wonderful illustrations before and many visitors will recognize her work from Golden Books. Among her prolific titles are: THE 12 Dancing Princesses, The 12 Days of Christmas, Cinderella (from which the above illustration was taken), and my personal favorites, a paperback version of Voltaire's CANDIDE and a trio of Gilbert and Sullivan classics.

I have posted several excerpts from the G&S book before, but my failure to index everything here will take some time to look them up.

I haven't seen the new book yet but I look forward to checking it out.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

"IT'S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE...


...Christmas"...?!?

Well, maybe if you're nearsighted. Another new book worth checking into is THE MAKING OF MR. MAGOO'S CHRISTMAS CAROL, a project spearheaded by Darrell Van Citters, head honcho at Renegade Animation. This was a one hour Christmas special that is near and dear to many a baby boomer, but was also somewhat historic: it was one of the first of many network animated holiday specials, paving the way for Rudolf, Charlie Brown and Frosty; and it was also one of the early adaptations of Dickens' classic story to feature a well known character as the lead. There have been many more as time has passed, everybody from Fred Flintstone to Disney's Mickey gang and Warner Bros' LOONEYs have done it by now (I think the Looney Tunes have done it twice). This UPA entry, however is considered one of the best, and although I admit I haven't seen it since I was a kid, I can still clearly remember several of the songs, which are sung by Jim Backus and Jack Cassiday, among others.

Look for the book to debut at the San Diego ComicCon July 23-26 and general publication in the fall.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Walt Stanchfield Books coming March 27!


I am pleased to announce that Don Hahn (producer of LION KING, BEAUTY & THE BEAST and other good stuff) has put together a two volume set of books called DRAWN TO LIFE compiling notes and observations of Disney Animation Legend WALT STANCHFIELD. Walt was a key assistant and later an animator during the reign of the the "9 Old Men" at Disney Features, and he postponed his retirement (somewhat indefinitely) to stick around and pass on his wisdom to a bunch of us whippersnappers back in the 1970's, 80's and 90's. Tall, high-spirited and as energetic as any kid, Walt organized a series of lectures, handouts and drawing classes on a weekly basis that we were grateful and lucky to take advantage of.


When management bivouacked the animation crew over in Glendale across from Imagineering, Walt would reserve one of Imagineering's huge sculpting studios to hold gesture drawing jam sessions featuring a costumed model. Many times Walt himself would be our subject, posing in improvised cowboy gear or with his trusty tennis racket. These are exactly the kind of drawing classes I always loved: quick studies only seconds long, and geared to capturing the spirit and flow of the pose in the fewest of strokes. Walt would always impart carefully selected wisdom between poses and his lesson plans were distributed internally thru the studio over time as he continued to teach. Now for the first time, these will be available to the general public and animation enthusiast. I highly recommend checking them out!

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.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Get this book


I've read a lot of anatomy books, Bridgeman, Loomis, Hogarth, etc. but I think the Holy Grail just might be SECRETS OF DRAWING, a new book by fantasy and comics artist Mike Hoffman.

This is a slender and simply-written book full of easy-to-understand practical tips that are as eye-opening as they are essential. In addition, the drawings are undeniably solid, loaded with life and appeal. The illustrations highlight as clearly as possible each tip and the plain-spoken text reinforces the art as clearly and concisely as anything I have read. Many books contain either one or the other (as in good tips/mediocre art or great art/vague text)--this book is hits a bull's eye for both targets. I've taken many good figure drawing classes and learned much from instructors, but this book broke through decades of problem areas in figure drawing for me that no amount of practice or study has to date.

Quick gesture drawings have always come easily to me, but in fine-tuning an image I have often got lost or fouled up by innate misunderstanding of an inherent form or concept. Not even knowing exactly why makes it even harder to correct. This is the book that nailed some simple but universal "rules of thumb" for solving those errors. Though I am not an aficianado of comics, I looked up checked out the artist's website and highly recommend it. I'd call the book a must-buy and the price is highly affordable.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Cleopatra by two cartoonists




WILLIAM STEIG circa 1948

I have posted drawings before by Campbell Grant, these are from IT ALL STARTED WITH EVE, by Richard Armour. I had no idea when I discovered Armour's satirical histories (with Campbell Grant's illustrations) that the entire series was actually sort of an ersatz extension of a book compiled in the 1930's by a humorist named Will Cuppy. That book, THE DECLINE AND FALL OF PRACTICALLY EVERYBODY, was illustrated by William Steig, best known for his New Yorker magazine cartoons and his children's books, including the original SHREK.
Joe Grant (no relation to Campbell) lent me his copy of Cuppy's book about six years ago and immediately I recognized it as the precedent for the Armour/Grant volumes published in the 50's and 60's that turned up in my high school library in the mid-1970's. Not only was Armour using Cuppy's irreverent style (and habit of cluttering pages with deliberately silly footnotes), but Campbell Grant appears to be mimicking Steig's line art of the time (DECLINE was published in 1948). People familiar with Steig's later art will be surprised by these and his very conventional magazine cartoons from the era, which bear resemblance to Syd Hoff's, as Eddie Fitzgerald has noted. Steig's art was very polished and pre-dates Hoff, but these line art samples here are kind almost transitional, though his later art got much farther out.
I always assumed Campbell Grant was channeling Rondald Searle, (who no doubt still influenced things), but it is clear that whoever published the Armour books was looking for something in the identical vein as Cuppy's. The only problem is that Will Cuppy died several years before his book was compiled and edited by an associate. Enter Richard Armour, who was already publishing comic poems and the rest I guess is satirical history. I presume because Armour was a West Coast writer, that they got Campbell Grant because of his West Coast base as well.
These connections and influences fascinate me. This one took me a long time to connect, but it is clear that Grant is trying to evoke something similar to Steig.

I think most of the Armour books are out of print but DECLINE AND FALL recently was reprinted by Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Prince of Scales


Michael Sporn reminds us today to visit THE THIEF, a recently begun blog chronicling the making of Richard Williams' magnum opus THE THIEF AND THE COBBLER. The blog is edited and created by artists who worked on the film.

I'd love to know if they have any information about this 'scaly-skinned' Prince character that appears in a film still from the 1975 book CREATORS OF LIFE. I have seen various versions of the film (bootlegs, YouTubes, and the "official" studio releases) but this character doesn't appear in any of them. The design is intriguing though and the use of fish scales to represent his skin is to me typical of Williams' wonderful sense of visual invention.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy 2008

cartoon by Henry Syverson


I don't go in much for New Year's resolutions but if I could will one into being it would be to get out of the drawing slump I have been in lately. I know all too well that the only thing to do with a slump though is to ride it out. John Sanford and I used to talk about how strange it is that the more you learn about drawing, the harder it gets for some reason. It seems to get truer every year.

2007 will always be fondly remembered here as the year I started blogging. It has turned out to be one of the most creatively satisfying things I have done in a long, long time and I am only sorry I hemmed and hawed for so long (at least 2 years) before finally jumping in. A lot of inspiration came from CARTOON BREW, the first site I click to every day and Amid and Jerry continue to do a fantastic job there. Adding comments this year found me wanting to chime in so often that a blog of my own seemed to be the only alternative to over-staying my welcome there. CARTOON BREW remains as valuable as ever and I am always amazed at how on top of things they stay, given their various commitments elsewhere, including ancillary sites they each run separately. The fact that they do it all for free is even more amazing. Thanks guys!

Shane Glines' CARTOON RETRO has been another inspiration for me to get blogging. For a mere 50 bucks a year Shane has been sharing a vast library of eye-popping cartoon joy from all over the world and throughout cartoon history. Where else can you see Reamer Keller, Ronald Searle, George Petty, "Lichty" and a host of international favorites at the click of a mouse. On top of that Shane throws in a few masterpieces of his own now and then that will blow your mind. I decided that I could return the favor here by publishing scans of some of my lesser-known favorites like Henry Syverson and Sheilah Beckett.

ASIFA Hollywood Animation Acrhive is a treasure trove as well and I have tried this year to make a point of coughing up a paypal contribution on a regular basis. Steve Worth and his volunteers are stocking the archive shelves and files with goodness and the site updates about once a week. The Milt Gross pages we got this year alone were a good enough reason to support the cause.

A number of personal sites have inspired me and the list only keeps growing, (although my LINKS list itself is incomplete and a mite out-dated). John K, Thad K, Jenny Lerew, Mark Kennedy, Michael Sporn, Ward Jenkins and Mike Mayerson are some of the indespensibles and their commitment to keeping various and diverse aspects of the artform alive and lively is something that we should all be grateful for. The web has also kept me in touch with many current friends and colleagues (like Bill Riling, Patrick Mate, Clio Chiang, Uncle Phil, Scott Santoro and Claudio Acciari) and brought me back in touch with some folks I have lost track of over the years: including Dave Nethery Mike Gillett, Pete Emslie, and Mike Wykcoff.

BTW, since I mentioned above my erratic linking policy I should add here that I know that I don't always link to everyone who stops by or even to everyone who is kind enough to link to me. I don't know if that's bad blogging etiquette, but if so, I apologize. I am certainly appreciative when someone links to the small room, but nobody is required to, even if I visit often. I do update the list from time to time, but I admit I am not very diligent about it. Also my comments policy is driven by gut-instinct to a large degree: I try to keep negative comments out because I don't as a rule like to be put on the defensive about matters of taste, and I don't like to subject others to that either (though there were a few exceptions). I also try to keep the number of back-and-forth comments limited to avoid a "chat room" effect (I hate chat rooms and don't join them). Lastly, Ward Jenkins recommended that "staying on topic" is a fine general rule of thumb, though of course it doesn't have to be rigidly adhered to. When I find things continually getting "off topic" though, I do edit the comments more heavily.

The internet also likely had something to do with the plethora of good books and DVD's this past year: THE DON MARTIN COLLECTION, THE HANNA BARBERA TREASURY are two of my favorites, as well as the ongoing PEANUTS and KRAZY KAT series from Fantagraphics. The POPEYE VOL. 1 dvd was a welcome and well-produced set, though I think I got even more joy out of the WOODY WOODPECKER selection, mainly because since they are so rarely shown anymore I forgot how good some of them were. VENTURE BROS. VOL 2 and even the Joe Orilio FELIX were worth getting for me (Jim Tyer did some FELIX stuff that rocks even though it is limited). The upcoming Ralph Bakshi book looks like a must-have and hopefully it will lead to a complete set of his DVD's as a retrospective. Maybe there will even be some exciting new stuff--here's hoping anyway!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

ROBIN HOOD CONFIDENTIAL pt. 2 : Keith Ward's "Reynard the Fox"

I stumbled across this book in the Burbank Public Library one day in the early 1980's. It's an "Americanized" version of the German folk classic "REYNARD THE FOX" published in 1945. The illustrator Keith Ward decorates the book with highly appealing drawings of animals in medieval clothing that appear to have influenced Ken Anderson's take on the 1973 Disney version of ROBIN HOOD. "Reynard" was also the villain in Marc Davis' proposed CHANTICLEER feature (which appears to have been set in a somewhat later time period) and I suspect that somewhere during the research for both properties this book may well have been kicking around the studio.

Keith Ward was a prolific illustrator in the first half of the 20th century. These fanciful and accomplished renderings are typical of his later work. Some of his other notable assignments include the original "Dick and Jane" reading primer illustrations and he also designed "Elsie the Cow" for Borden condensed milk, and "Elmer the Bull" for the same company's glue. (I remember an oil portrait of the entire bovine clan at supper that hung in the cloakroom of kindergarten class that was likely Mr. Ward's work as well. I can't for the life of me remember what they were eating.) When the digital age of electronic used book searches dawned, this book is one of the first things I tracked down and got.


As you can see, Keith Ward's jaunty Reynard (on top) resembles Ken Anderson's preliminary "Robin" at least as much as the finished model.




The "Lion Queen" in the above drawing seems to have had every bit as much influence on Ken's version of "Prince John" as the Campbell Grant drawing I posted earlier (see HERE).



Could this anonymous snake in the grass, wandering along with a crow, have been involved in the inspiration for "Sir Hiss?"



And most strikingly, this noble bear's costume "bears" an "unbearably" close resemblance to the disguise "Little John" wears at the archery tourney.



There are many other illustrations in the book too, including rabbits and elephants that look like the ones in the film, a gallows scene, and the king dozing in his royal bed, not unlike the setting of the movie's climactic "heist" scene. Once again, I am not bringing these to light to besmirch Ken Anderson, but to show a likely influence from a heretofore unsung artist. I have to think that Keith Ward must have in some sense been influenced by Disney films back when he was illustrating this book (though to my knowledge he never worked for the studio), so it's all cyclical in a way. Reynard, even in this cleaned-up 1945 version, is too a vicious and cynical character for a Disney movie. He constantly rips innocent creatures off and even kills and eats quite a few. Somehow he gets away with it all. I guess he never heard of "karma."

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Two Princes


Campbell Grant's 1960 illustration of "King John" (see previous post below) seems to have served as the inspiration for at least one of Ken Anderson's rough designs for the same character in Disney's 1973 ROBIN HOOD feature. Perhaps this is where the oversized crown gag came from too. Kudos to Peter Emslie for commenting in and guessing faster than I expected...

This isn't the only artist who influenced Ken Anderson's take on that film, I can post more references soon. I'm not trying to fault him, but I also want to show credit where its due for some of the ideas in the movie. Certainly some of it seems to have grown out of Marc Davis' concepts for the shelved CHANTICLEER project, which featured a fox villain and lots of barnyard creatures in classic settings. There was also an early UPA cartoon with the Fox and the Crow where the Fox played Robin Hood, looking remarkably like the early sketches of that character. Wether that was conciously or subconciously floating around in Mr. Anderson's mind is anybody's guess, but I have to assume he had seen that short at least once.

ROBIN HOOD has its fans, but I remember being disappointed by it even as a kid (okay, teeenager) and still can't find much to like about it, apart from Ollie Johnston's animation (and some of Milt Kahl's, although his contempt for the project seems to have taken the spark out of much of his work here IMO). Its a potentially good idea but when so much is being borrowed and cribbed from other sources, and recycled from other movies, maybe it was doomed from the start.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Campbell Grant






Earlier I had posted some drawings by Henry Syverson from books by Richard Armour, who wrote a number of humor books from the fifties into the late seventies. Armour was initially known for funny poems, but in the 1950's he began writing satirical history and literature essays in the style of humorist Will Cuppy (author of the posthumously published THE DECLINE AND FALL OF PRACTICALLY EVERYBODY, 1948). Most of Armour's books from this era were illustrated by Campbell Grant, a former Disney story artist who was patterning his style after William Stieg, who had illustrated Cuppy's book. I will scan some of these at a later date for people who are only familiar with Stieg's SHREK-era drawings. They're very amusing.

Here are some of Campbell Grant's illustrations for Armour's dissertation on IVANHOE from THE CLASSICS RE-CLASSIFIED, (1960). Does his take on "King John" (directly above) look vaguely familiar to anyone?