Sunday, February 17, 2013
If this were an Amazon review I have no idea how I'd rate this book. On the positive side it reads well, and it's nice to be get an overview of the events. On the negative side the book gives far, far, far too much weight to John K's detractors and doesn't answer the question, what were the innovations that Spumco was famous for, and how did they come about? It's hard to resist the conclusion that these were inadequately covered because an honest assessment would have made John look good, something the book is determined not to do.
The book does do a good job at describing TV animation before John. The industry was so corrupt, so lacking in even the attempt at any real artistic expression, that it was teetering on the edge of collapse. People tried to change it, but the obstacles were daunting. The industry had an enormous financial stake in staying exactly how backward it was, and a lot of animation artists had been so corrupted that they couldn't even conceive of anything better. I would add that only someone as combative, as driven and as stubbornly idealistic as John could have broken through the barriers and made the changes that we all benefit from today.
It's easy for the author sitting in his living room in suburbia, with a well-stocked refrigerator and a nice DVD collection to criticize John, who was fighting for his life in an unprecedented environment and had to improvise every detail of what he did during the day. John had to run an unconventional studio full of rebellious artists and simultaneously be a world-changing wunderkind. How many people could have done that? Not me. I'd have had a nervous breakdown. Did John insult people unfairly? Did he contradict himself? Did he sometimes do things that were in bad taste? Probably. Does it matter?
But ingratitude is the modern disease, isn't it? Moderns are skeptical, always looking for the tabloid dark side. If Louis Pasteur made his discoveries today we'd be regaled with stories about how the bum treated his lab assistants. Look at the way Thomas Jefferson is treated in books now. Geez, moderns are so self-righteous, so easily offended, so quick to condemn.
I'm not finished the book yet but I peeked ahead to the end which, if I'm not mistaken, seems to say John created only one good cartoon in the post Nickelodeon years, "Ren Seeks Help." Maybe I didn't read it right, but if I did then that's ridiculous. Examples to the contrary are abundant. The cartoon that preceded it, "Naked Beach Frenzy," was hilarious. Watch it from end to end and see if you agree. I think the last 2/3 of that cartoon was the funniest short any animation studio turned out in 40 years. John is still wildly creative. Talk to him for just an hour and you'll walk away with your head in the clouds, full of thoughts of new possibilities and new directions.
Posted by Eddie Fitzgerald at 11:54 PM