Saturday, September 30, 2006
I'm the only person I know who actually was objectively aware at the exact moment when rambling, try-to-fall-asleep fantasies turned into full-blown sleep. It came about because the phone rang at just that moment and I woke up with the memory still intact. Of course I wrote it down immediately. Here's how it played out.....
I was tired and in order to get to sleep I fantasized about being at a party. Of course the girls at the party all thought I was incredibly sexy and the guys all thought my ideas were brilliant. As the party progressed and my real body came closer and closer to sleep I began to wonder if the dream couple near me were saying things that I hadn't scripted. I thought I was imagining it at first, after all it was my fantasy and people had to say what I wanted them to say. After a moment I realized that I wasn't imagining it. They were speaking independently and it was really bothering me. Then I noticed what was happening to the furniture!
The table leg was slowly sprouting a dull-orange fuzz. This was just as disconcerting as the unscripted dialogue and I was mad that was loosing control over things. I cast a dirty look at the errand couple then shot another glance back at the table leg. The leg was still growing long, orange fuzz and now so was the sofa beside it. In a panic I looked all over the room and saw that everything, even the people were beginning to spout orange fuzz.
Whenever the fuzz from two sources touched each other the fuzz formed a haze of dirty orange color. "No, No , " I thought, "Stop with the haze! I order it!" but the haze areas kept growing. Then I thought, "What the heck! The haze is kind of interesting. So what if the picture and sound is going off? Let it happen!" The universe was disintegrating hand over fist when the phone rang.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Of course John discussed his own influences as a way of opening up a wider subject, namely the need for more diversity in animated comedy styles. It seems like all the good draughtsmen are doing Disney, Cartoon Network, Chuck Jones or Spumco. Some artists are doing independent styles but even those tend to fall into two or three catagories. This is very odd because the history of comics and cartoons is so much more diverse than that. Think about Don Martin, Milt Gross, the Fleischers, Jim Tyre, Rod Scribner, Chester Gould, Al Capp, Bakshi, Barney Google, Seuss, Natwick, Iwerks, Plastic Man, Ding Darling, classic kids books...well it would be a long list. The point is that cartooning is beginning to feel narrow and claustrophobic.
I don't know about you but I can't express myself with (for example) Don Bluth-type characters. I'm not knocking Bluth, I have a lot of respect for the guy, but characters drawn that way reflect his life experience, not mine. I grew up feeling a lot of economic insecurity, a lot of lust for women and a real desire to understand the world. Don Martin 's style speaks to me about economic insecurity, Tex & John speak to me about lust, and Clampett, Scribner, Wood, John, the Fleischers and some of the most innovative aspects of Disney speak to me about about exploring the possibility of things. That's the mix that feels right for someone with my background. Someone who grew up differently would have a different set of influences. Why are we both doing Don Bluth's style?
And how about Cartoon Network's style? It's a fine style for humor about nerds and their hip suburban friends. I wish the studio well and have only good feelings about it but I never considered myself a nerd and I'm not really hip...I'm more of a hip wannabe. A big part of my life and comedy experience could never be made to fit into the nerd/hip nexus. I can't express myself in nerdhip. I don't think in those terms.
A lot of classic comedy doesn't reduce to nerd/hip. Jackie Gleason, Sid Caesar, Kovaks, Jack Benny, Chaplin, Clampett Tex and John all did comedy about other things. Me, I think it's funny when you're sitting next to a beautiful girl and her big, mean bruiser of a boyfriend and she's coming on to you to make him jealous. It's funny when you're the only guy without a sandwich at a business meeting and someone's inadvertantly waving their pickle under your nose. It's funny when Moe thinks Larry and Curly are stupid when he's really just as stupid as they are. It's funny when Daffy imitates Danny Kaye or compulsively talks to Elmer when Elmer's trying to sleep. What does any of this have to do with nerd/hip? Where did this one-size-fits-all compulsion come from?
BTW, the caricature above is actually of Alex Baldwin but it looks like John, doesn't it?
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
I'd like to introduce all my readers to my friend Scott. No, that's not him above. That's simply the subject of his expertise. Scott is one of the world's formost experts on women. He's also a chick magnet. He isn't quite at Vincent Waller's level but he's only a couple of notches below and that's saying a lot. Scott and I worked together on Tiny Toons and I can tell you that the hall outside of his room was the site of an endless traffic jam caused by all the girls in the office passing and repassing his room on any excuse they could think of. He could have papered the wall with all the phone numbers he got.
The reason I mention Scott is that one day he told me his secret for finding the right women to date. When I heard it my jaw dropped. It was the best advice about women I'd ever heard! In fact, everybody I told it to thought it was the best advice THEY'D ever heard! Honestly, when I told this secret at parties you could have heard a pin drop afterward. This is the atomic bomb of dating secrets. It has to do with two questions that the potential date, or her friends, must answer affirmatively.
Question #1: Does the girl like her dad? Scott will only date women who like their fathers. He reasons that if a girl feels mistreated by her dad she'll spend the rest of her life making other men suffer for it.
Question #2: Does she have brothers or sisters? Scott reasons that only- children are selfish and self-centered. The girl must have siblings. He's also a big believer in birth order. Avoid the last girl born into a big family because she's probably wild.
There it is. Scott told it to me and now I've told it to you.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
This (above) is a famous Carravagio. I don't like the man. He's a good technician but he has no soul. David Hockney thinks this picture was painted using projection optics and I'll bet he's right. And has there ever been a more bored, kitchy and uninspiring model in the history of fine art? Alright, there's "Olympia" but I'm not counting her.
Monday, September 25, 2006
It's disconcerting to think that the earliest known peoples to appreciate formal comedy might have been the Central and South Americans. Among the 4 or 5 major nations only the Aztecs seemed to be serious and straight-laced about art. The others got jokes in every chance they could.
Maybe ancient South American comedy isn't better known because serious South Americans of the present are embarrassed by it. Or maybe the scuptures just don't seem like high art because they're funny. Anyway, my advice to time travelers going back to the golden age of that continent is to carry plenty of whoopee cushions and joy buzzers.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Saturday, September 23, 2006
I began to think about this a long, long time ago when I got a farm laborer's job hoing cabbages. I remember the sinking feeling in my stomach when the farmer showed the three of us the field. It was sundrenched and acres wide with long, straight rows of cabbages diminishing in railroad perspective to the horizon. Our job was to rake out unwanted cabbages so the that every wanted cabbage had a foot of space to grow. He showed us how to do it then left us there, faced with the stark reality of sun, flies and endless vegetable rows. One of the experienced guys offered me a drink from his flask and I, with a look of superiority, declined. Boy, did I regret that! That was the roughest work I ever did!
I did learn something from it, though. Some jobs are so mind-numbingly tedious that they can't be done without liquor. Prohibition must have made some forms of work nearly impossible. I imagine that the only thing that made hoing possible was the knowledge that there was a jug in the bush at the end of each cabbage row.
Maybe this applies to animation. It's a creative job but there's a certain amount of tedium too. Maybe the old, golden-age animators were right to to get soused at lunch. Maybe liquor is the lubricant that made it possible to do all the great work they did. I say maybe because I don't know. Having an mp3 player and headphones is my substitute for booze and it seems to work... but everybody's different.
thanks to Jenny for the Freddy Moore picture that I stole from her site.
Friday, September 22, 2006
That something is that landscaping is an art which is worthy of the respect we give to architects. Why aren't landscapers consulted before a major building is built? Why can't a new building be built to conform to a landscaping idea instead of the other way around? Maybe landscaping is the beacon that can lead us out of the dark age that Bauhaus plunged us into.
This is the only life we have. Everybody reading this will be dead in a few decades. we need beauty in our lives now, while we can still enjoy it. Architects don't seem to care about this. They're invoved in some insane competition to see who can build the most alienating concrete wind-trap. I wish someone would write a book explaining how architecture became corrupted and irrelevant, which is certainly where things stand today. Anyway Japanese gardens like the one in Balboa Park suggest another way of doing things. Somebody should ask landscapers how they'd solve the problem of urban blight.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
What is the proper role of an animator in an animated cartoon? That's easy. I can answer in one word..."king!" In animation the animator is king. Everybody else's job exists to make the animator look good. The rest of us, even the director, are like the hairdressers and make-up people on a live-action set. We exist to make the actor, i.e., the animator, look good. We exist to maximize his chance of achieving glory on the screen.
In a saner world the animator would be a star. His name would be known to the public and the public would argue over who the best animators are. Animators would have groupies, artistic pique, scandalous divorces, punch-outs with paparazzi, would get fat for parts and write tell-all biographies. The best of them would also break their backs to make the performances that will be remembered forever.
It seems to me that the best way to achieve this is to bring the animation back under the roof of the parent studio. Why we ever let it leave is beyond me. Animators are our performers. In their absence we've had decades of souless cartoons. We've been trying to tell stories without actors.
We need to start training animators now. The studios should help art schools to organize their animation programs more efficiently. Good animators should be rewarded with good salaries and stories should be written with the kind of scenes that animators like to work on. Most of all we need cheap and easy to use pencil test programs and internet tutorials on their use.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Of course we're cartoonists and if we were painting the bar picture we might put up something a little different. I could see this Milt Gross guy reclining in a bunch of grapes and cupids, couldn't you? Don Martin would have made a good saloon painter. Of course his pictures would have needed those long Baroque frames with all the gold curly-cues.
Bar nudes can't be too sexy. If they are the patrons won't try to toast the lady, they'll try to jump over the bar and rub her bottom.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
A lot of animation fans don't know that Milt Kahl, one of Disney's greatest animators, was actually laid-off by the studio for a number of years. This is how it happened.....
Kahl was a well-known discontent and once every six months or so he would throw his pencil down, storm into Walt's office and threaten to quit. "None of those idiots can animate! They're nothing but a bunch of bums! I'm in there holding up the whole damn animation department by myself! I don't need this aggravation! I'm outta here! I quit!" Walt, who'd been through this many times before, would just look at him sympathetically. "Ooooh , I get it! You don't think I'd do it do you!? Ha! You just watch me! I'm serious Walt! I've had it!" Walt would just stare.
Finally, when Kahl was at the height of his rant, Walt would discretely hit the intercom button and whisper, "Bring me the envelope." His secretary would come in and slip it to him. Meanwhile Milt would still be fulminating: "Those #$&@ lard asses couldn't do a thing without me! This whole stupid studio would crumble without me!" Walt would listen attentively while slowly nudging the envelope across the desk. "Huh? What's that!? A bribe!??? Oooh no you don't! You can't buy me off! I mean it, I'm outta here!" More ranting then something was added to the envelope and it was nudged across the desk again. This ranting and nudging would go on and on until finally Kahl stopped in mid-rant, stared at the envelope, grabbed it and went back to work for another six months. It was a marvelously effective system.
Eventually Walt died and his son-in-law Ron Miller took over the studio. One day Kahl pushed past the secretary and stormed into Miller's office threatening to quit. "I've had it! I'm the only one around here who knows what he's doing! I'm tired of this %@#& hell hole! I quit!!!" Miller was shocked. All he could think to say was something like, "Gee, Milt! I'm sorry you feel that way. We'll all miss you very much!" No one had told him about the envelope! Kahl was dumbfounded. "You think I'm kidding, don't you? I mean it! I really will walk out that door and never come back!" "Yes," said Miller almost tearfully, "I know. It's very sad!" Amazed, Kahl turned his back and walked out of the office. He was gone for years!
Monday, September 18, 2006
What follows is a completely trivial story. It's so mind-numbingly banal that I can't believe I'm trying to foist it off on other people. I'm just too sleepy to come up with something better! Oh, well! Here it is.....
I've always been influenced by things I've read. A case in point is an article I read about something called childhood amnesia. According to the author in later life your kid will forget nearly everything that happened before the age of four. Isn't that interesting?
Now maybe I was eating chicken when I read this because for me the compelling application of this idea was that I could give my two-year old the legs of the chicken rather than the breast and he'd never remember it. The cute little twerp never ate most of the food on his plate and was indifferent to chicken. I, on the other hand loved chicken, especially the breast when it was slow cooked upside-down in an oven so it retained all its natural juices. I figured I'd introduce him to chicken breasts when he was four, that way he'd believe he had them all his life. It was a silly thought, I now realize, but at the time I thought it was a revelation from heaven.
As it happened I forgot to tell him about breast meat for an extra two years. That's two extra years of juicy, to-die-for meals for his grateful dad. One night when he was six my wife cooked a particularly succulent chicken and put it hot and steaming in the middle of the table. My kid eyed the legs and licked his lips as usual. I decided to celebrate the world-class chicken by opening a special bottle of wine I'd been saving so I went out to the kitchen to get it. Little did I know that my wife was carving in my absence and gave me a leg and my son a big, heaping slab of breast meat.
When I came in I poured some wine into my wife's glass and as I did so I heard my kid say, "Hey, there's something strange about this chicken." Strange? What strange? I looked at my kid and he was thoughtfully touching his tongue to a morsel of breast meat on his fork. Inside I had a fit! "Uh, Kid,...if you don't like that I guess I can trade my leg for it." I began but he stopped me. "That's alright, Dad. It's not horrible." I could see the moist flavor bubbles on the surface of his chicken. "Really, I don't mind trading, Kid." He waved me off. "Dad it's actually (Munch!)...mmmm...actually...(Munch! Munch!) well, kind of interesting." I frantically sniffed my chicken leg as if to savor it. "Yes but legs, AH, now that's flavor!" My son: "Yes but this is not just (Munch! Dribble!)...I mean... (Drool! Munch! Dribble! Munch!)this is REALLY GOOD!" No more thoughtfull eating after that. He shoveled it in like there was no tomorrow. "It's so odd that I never realized how good chicken was before!"
From then on he got the breast and I got the leg. I just couldn't bare to withold it from somebody who likes it so much. He's in his twenties now and loves chicken breasts as much as I do. He does remember that there was a time when he didn't find chicken so appealing but he can't remember why.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Here I am (above) with Theory Corner fan Sophorn. The man's amazing! He not only draws but builds terrific custom cars as well! The censor stamp is to cover a minor photo distortion that made me appear fatter than I am. I only covered up a little bit of the picture, nothing you'd miss.
Here I am (above) drawing at ASIFA. Once again I used the censor stamp, this time to cover up a tiny distortion in the photo that made me look older than I am. I just covered it up a tad, nothing drastic.
Here I am presenting a cake that Marlo, Katie and Kali made for John's birthday. You don't mind that I used the stamp again do you? It's just a little touch-up. Once again a tiny error in the photo made me look older than I am. Boy, there's a lot of lying camera lenses out there!
Here's (above) a picture of two gladiators. It's a grizzly scenario and it appears to have been painted in urine but boys like this kind of spectacle. Click on it to see more detail.
The busy black and white photo is a replica of Sherlock Holmes' flat on Baker Street. The man on the horse is obviously Napoleon. Every kid identifies with Napoleon but few adults do. Kids also identify with pirates. Thanks to The Pirates of the Carribean there's no lack of interesting posters on this subject.
Here also is Attila and his barbarians. As a kid this would have inspired lots of imaginary swordfights as I fought to defend Rome and my bedroom from the screaming hordes.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
The same promises were made by film trailers and posters for circus and magic shows. "You have to SEE it to believe it! It's the WEIRDEST thing your eyes have ever beheld!" Gee, I love that kind of rhetoric! It addresses itself to the fear that we all have that we'll lead lives of quiet desperation, passing through life without ever tasting real adventure. Ad-makers and promoters know all about this fear. I see them as philosophers who prompt us to change the world to make it more exciting. We should aim to eliminate quiet desperation just like we eliminated smallpox.
How should animation be promoted? Just like the posters promote the projects above! We should use every trick of rhetorical and visual hypebole to promise mystery, excitement, humor and adventure. When that's done, we should break our backs to deliver on the promise! I like the formula that's implicit in the Clampett cartoons: begin the cartoon in such a way as to promise a lot...then deliver even more!
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
What amazes me about those old boardgames is how successful they were in creating a mood and an identification with the characters. Haunted house and crime games actually gave me a creepy thrill. I thought the games were assembled in real haunted houses which had to be vacated before dark. A Yogi Bear game actually made me feel that somehow Yogi existed and was pleased to know that I was playing his game.
I missed the golden age of board games, which I think was in the 30s and 40s, but I can get a sense of them from museums and antique stores. They were designed to create a whole world when the box was opened. The graphics on the inside of the heavy lid, the weird proportions and textures of the trays, even the weight of the playing pieces was somehow important. A lot of thought seemed to go into giving the user a sensual rush on opening the box.
I saw a 30s Mickey Mouse cel painting kit behind glass in an exhibit on Wilshire. You won't believe this but the inside of the box actually conveyed the real atmosphere you'd encounter in an animation studio. In fact it was BETTER than the real atmosphere! How did they do that!?
Anyway, I'm running out of space. Here's the poem that gave me shivers when I was a kid:
ALL IN THE GAME
by Suzanne Weaver
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
It's worth commenting on John's expression (detail, above) in this picture. This is my all-time favorite picture of John. He's ecstatic! I don't know if a human being can look happier than he does here. And why not!? He's in the home of his hero, he's surrounded by friends and he's got his whole career ahead of him! It was a magical night. I swear, you could feel the electricity in the air.
Monday, September 11, 2006
I really don't know what happened but I'll make a guess.
"Coal Black" was considered racist by some critics and was taken out of circulation. Later artists, many of whom had never seen Coal Black, were forced to reinvent the wheel and come up with a whole new way of drawing funny black people. That's a tough problem. When I try to draw a funny white guy I can reference Elmer Fudd and dozens of others. I don't have to start from scratch. I can reference a tradition. Artists who try to reference the tradition of funny black drawings have a door closed in their face.
Let me make it clear where I stand about racial issues. I can't stand racists or racism. I would never do anything to promote racism. But even I can see that that the ban on Coal Black is handicapping the development of funny black cartoons. History will never forgive us if we let the hip-hop era slip through our fingers without comedic comment. Warners doesn't have to put Coal Black on TV but it should at least make it available on DVD where artists, including black artists, can get hold of it.