Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas aftermath

All in all, the Christmas was a bit disappointing this year. For one thing, we had a VERY un-Christmas like weather. Hell, it wasn't even COLD outside! To me, it just felt like another day...except that there were alot of Christmas specials on TV.

The gifts were interesting, though. Because my birthday and X-mas are only one month apart, I got gifts that are meant for both days (with the falling economy, I can understand).

I got plenty of DVDs this year, including the first two seasons of the underappreciated Duckman (from the people that made Rugrats, no less), Chowder, Vol. 1 (in case you can't tell by now, I LOVE that cat/bear/rabbit thing), the Giant 600 Cartoon Collection, AND a complete collection of the original George of the Jungle
series produced by Jay Ward (thanks to the Amazon gift card I got).

The books did not disappoint, too. I got the new Pearls Before Swine book, the first Cul de Sac collection, and a Big Top collection "Sawdust and Greasepaint"

All in all, I think I'm set for a while...until they put out more Duckman and Chowder on DVD.

See you in 2009!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Looney Tunes...oh yeah!


On New Years Day (January 1st, for the .000001% of you who didn't know that) Cartoon Network is planning to air "Looney Tunes" for 14 hours straight, starting 6 AM e/p.

This is a one-time only stunt, however. If it gets good ratings then they will (probably) bring the cartoons back in their lineup.

Sooo...if you have a Nielson box or know someone who does, keep this in mind. Even if you don't have a Nielson box, just watch it anyway.

Picture shamelessly stolen from Dave Mackey.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Scrooge: The Untold Tale!


Wow, it seems that I've been focusing way too much on animation lately. I realize that alot of you probably don't care about Calvin and the Colonel, or were aware of the show's existance in the first place.

So I'd figure I'd take the opportunity to plug Lucas Turnbloom's hilarious take on what REALLY went on during Scrooge's life. The story starts here.

So Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and all that rubbish.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Calvin and the Colonel


While interviewing Eddie Fitzgerald I began looking through his blog archives. Even though he covers other stuff, including movies, music, and even theater play, I'm mostly interested in his thoughts on cartooning, both comics and animation.

Eddie have written about on writing in animation, both through his experience and also those of his colleagues. One of the debates going on in the animation industry is whether scripts should be used in animation or not. Many animation artists argue that since animation is a visual medium it should be "written" by storyboarding, which involves drawing rough sketch of where the characters are, how they're reacting, etc.

Fair enough. Animation with strong visual presence is more fun to watch and those that do not. Admittingly I do watch some animated sitcoms written by someone who would rather work in live-action, but I prefer cartoons written by someone who at least REALLY loves animation.

And with that here's a topic about one of the earliest animated sitcoms, written by live-action writers.



Calvin and the Colonel aired prime-time on ABC for one season (1961-1962). Initially the show aired on Tuesday nights at 8:30 e/p. Due to low ratings the show was put on hiatus after 6 episodes. Eventually the timeslot was moved to Saturday evenings (NOT Saturday mornings as many sources say), where it completed its run.

Calvin and the Colonel was created by Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, and most episodes were written by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher. All four men worked primarily in live-action sitcoms and had very little, if any, involvement in animation.

Calvin and the Colonel was essentially the first live-action sitcom disguised as an animation series.

In fact, that was the sole purpose of this show. Gosden and Correll made names for themselves in radio with their Amos & Andy series, which was about a pair of stereotypical black men. It was later adapted into a popular TV series, featuring black actors playing the role.



However, the show ran into trouble. By the late fifties Amos & Andy was deemed racist and was forced to be taken off the air. Gosden and Correll, however, was not willing to back down and tried to figure out a way to bring the concept back. The result? Replace all the black stereotypes with talking, cartoon animals.



So in short Calvin and the Colonel was basically an attempt to revive "Amos & Andy" by replacing the characters with animals in order to get the show run under the raders of civil rights activists.

Most episodes of "Calvin" reused old Amos scripts with little changes. There were some original materials made, with Disney artist T. Hee writing at least one episode.



The show was produced by Kayro Productions, which also produced "Leave it to Beaver" and "The Munsters." However, the animation was done by Creston Studios, a studio that mostly stuck exclusively to animated commercials. Creston also did some animation work for Jay Ward Productions. As a result many people erroneously believe that this is a Ward output.

Animation wise the show was okay. The character designs are appealing and while the animation is primitive (this is a 47-year old made-for-TV animation) it's not as jarring as an average Hanna-Barbera show at the time. Unfortunately I only have black and white copies to go through (the show was made in color) so I can't judge the visual aspect properly unless someone can loan me color prints.



There are occasional visual humor in this show, even though its minor. One cartoony example is seen in one episode where Calvin uses one of the potted plants as an ashtray and as the ashes fell into the pot the plant weakened and died. I have no idea if these visual gags were in the original script, or whether it was added by the storyboard artist and it somehow got through to the final animation. Prime-time animation at the time worked differently than by the time Simpsons got greenlit, so who knows.

I think Calvin and the Colonel should be out on DVD. Unfortunately the closest it ever got to DVD release are the "Giant 600 Cartoon Collection" set. 8 episodes are featured there with varying quality. They're pretty cheap, though, so it might be worth looking into.

One episode of the series is on YouTube. Here's part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Interview with Eddie Fitzgerald

Eddie Fitzgerald have worked in animation for over 30 years on series such as The Ren & Stimpy Show, Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, Tiny Toons, and countless others. Currently he writes on a popular blog Uncle Eddie's Theory Corner.



I've conducted an email interview with him. My questions are in bold.

You worked on many different shows during your career, which spans over 30 years. Of all the cartoons you've worked on, which did you enjoy working on the most? The least?
Gee, I have a bunch of favorites! Ren & Stimpy was fun because working on it gave us all an insight into the mind of John K, a true genius if there ever was one. It was also fun to work with a talented crew. I'd get up to stretch and when I looked around there were museum quality drawings on every lightboard around me! it was exhilarating! I also have great memories of working at Filmation. The shows were absolutely terrible, and the hours were grueling, but it was my first industry job and there wasn't a moment when I didn't feel surrounded by magic. Actually, I still feel that way. Warners and Bakshi were fun, and I actually had a job as gag man at Disney's. Maybe I had the most fun doing my own cartoon for Cartoon Network: "Tales of Worm Paranoia." Believe me, there's no greater experience than directing a cartoon that you've written yourself. Every day was an education! I felt truly alive and awake, and when the film was done and I had to return to the workaday world, I felt like I had been forcibly put to sleep.



How did the staff react when the news of Nickelodeon firing Spumco from Ren and Stimpy came?

Interesting question! I didn't see it coming at all; it was a complete surprise! Out of the blue the production people told us to put our pencils down and pack everything carefully so it could be shipped to a new studio. I was stunned! John was out of town, so there was no talking to him about it. All the artists gathered in the middle of the main room. A couple were crying. Mike Fontanelli looked like he'd seen a ghost.



What happened next was the ugliest experience of my adult life. I said, "Wait a minute! This show uses a unique drawing style that takes a while to learn. Draw it any other way and it just won't look like Ren & Stimpy. We're irreplaceable! If we hang together and refuse to work on the show without John, then Nick will be forced to give it back to him! Let's all sign a letter to that effect and deliver it to Nickelodeon!" Half the room thought that was a great idea but the other half just looked at the floor, avoiding my gaze. Finally someone said, "Well, I wouldn't sign that. It sounds like a loyalty oath to me. That's McCarthyism."

McCarthyism!? Being loyal to a friend and a generous employer is McCarthyism? I didn't think that made any sense at all, but it seemed to satisfy half the room, and we broke up. Later, as new information came in, it became apparent that half the studio had already secretly negotiated contracts with the new place, for big raises in pay. They knew the split was coming.

Still later, I talked to the artist who was leading the split, and implored him not take John's characters away. I offered to do free work on a presentation that would help him to sell a show of his own, with his own characters, but it was no go. It was an ugly, ugly experience!

Are there any animation introduced in recent years that you like? Or hate the least?
There's been several funny animated shows since Ren & Stimpy, but none that relied on solid cartooning and the unique thing that funny acting and animation bring to the table. Cartooning caricatures the way people look; animation caricatures the way people move. I don't understand why current cartoonists show so little interest in moving things funny.

Have you ever pitched any series ideas to networks? Thinking about pitching more in the future?
I do pitch to networks, and I have absolutely fantastic ideas that would break new ground and work great on the screen! Unfortunately I'm one of those people who are shattered by rejection. You need a thick skin to prevail in this business.



What are your thoughts on the now-common practice of outsourcing animation to an overseas studio?
I would never outsource anything if I could help it. There was a job waiting for me when I needed it, and now it's my responsibility to be sure that one is waiting for the next guy. But it's more than that. American animation benefits from a hundred year-old tradition that includes comic strips, magazine illustration, pulp fiction, movies, funny cereal boxes and toys. It was influenced by immigrant humor, vaudville, jazz, swing, rock and roll, hip-hop and the unique flavor of the american streets. I don't see the sense in turning our backs on all that and sending everything to Shanghai.

Would I take a job overseas? Sure, if there was nothing going on here, and I'd do my best with it, but I do want to see a healthy industry here.

Interview © Charles Brubaker
Tales of Worm Paranoia © Cartoon Network, A Time-Warner Company
Other Artwork © Eddie Fitzgerald

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cinderella...updated

Anyone remember watching reruns of "Garfield and Friends"? If so you'd probably remember that the middle segment was dedicated to another creation of Jim Davis, the U.S. Acres.

And let's face it, most of the early US Acres shorts were cheesy, what with the music and all. Well, later in the run the musical shtick was dropped and became more story oriented. In another words, it became good.

As proof here's an episode from the middle of Garfield's run: Bedtime Story Blues, where they update the story of Cinderella.

Eat your heart out, Disney.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The last one

Many of you are familiar with Looney Tunes. Who couldn't forget the antics of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester, that coyote and the road runner. Combine that with the wacky animation thanks to the direction of the likes of Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, and others.

However, how many of you have seen their later works? If you watched these on Nickelodeon, the chances are you've seen those Daffy and Speedy cartoons a jillion times. But let's go further, to the late '60s. Warner Bros. shut down their animation department around 1962, but decided to have new cartoons made for their theatrical schedule by contracting DePatie-Freleng (run by David DePatie and Friz Freleng) to make more cartoons. Warners vetern Robert McKimson directed a bulk of them (with Rudy Larriva directing Road Runner cartoons over at Format Films, where DFE subcontracted to).

Eventually Warners decided to reopen their animation department. William L. Hendricks was put in charge and Alex Lovy, fresh out of Hanna-Barbera, was initially hired to direct these new cartoons. They continued to make more Daffy/Speedy cartoons but NEW Looney Tunes characters were being created. They ended up creating two recurring characters: Merlin the Magic Mouse and Cool Cat.

Here's one of the Merlin shorts:



Even though this was released through theaters first it's pretty clear that WB just wanted to expand their archives for television distribution and so they had these made. The limited animation also helps this case.

Alex Lovy left Warners and was replaced by Robert McKimson, who left DFE and returned to his old "home". He only got to direct seven cartoons; after only 2 years Warners decided to close their animation studio for good.

McKimson continued to direct Merlin and Cool Cat (two for each), as well as making cartoons starring Bunny and Clyde.

Here's one of McKimson's Cool Cat cartoons, Bugged by a Bee (1969). This is actually the last cartoon to be released under the Looney Tunes banner (the last WB cartoon ever, Injun Trouble, was a Merrie Melodies)



McKimson returned to DePatie-Freleng, where he remained until his death.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Friday, December 5, 2008

Adventure!


I've praised Chowder on my blog before (see my review here), so let me give a shout out to another Cartoon Network show, The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. Like Chowder, Flapjack began after CN made a big overhaul to their comedy lineup.

It's hard to describe the show, since it's one of those cartoons where you have to actually see to believe, but I'll give it a shot. It's about a little boy (Flapjack) adopted by a motherly, talking whale (Bubbie) who aspires to be a great adventurer. He befriends Capt'n K'Nuckles (The "K" in the name is pronounced), who frequently tells tall tales. K'Nuckles, despite being lazy, does have a goal: To get to candy island.

Anything goes beyond that, including taking a whale out in a flying machine, giving everyone the plague that seriously deforms their face, and having a joke-off. One note of interest is that candy is valued in the world the show takes place. Characters often drink candies like beer (K'Nuckles in particular keeps a jar of maple syrup, drinking it like it's whiskey).



I'll admit that Flapjack takes time to get used to. The show's animation can be really gruesome and creepy. In fact, I think they managed to out-gross "Ren and Stimpy," which began 17 years ago (wow, that long?). But I eventually started appreciating the style. The design of Bubbie the Whale in particular is interesting, since the show's artists seem to just change the way she looks depending on her mood. It's hard to decide which of her many faces is the "correct" one.



The show's creator is Thurop Van Orman. He was previously a writer for "Billy and Mandy" and "Camp Lazlo" and before that was an intern on "The Powerpuff Girls." He has a Deviant Art profile, where he has development arts for the show as well as behind the scene peek at all the crazy stuff that happens during production.

The show airs on Cartoon Network at 8:30PM e/p Thursday. There's a new episode debuting next week, as matter of fact.

The Dumplings

The Dumplings was a strip by former Disney animator Fred Lucky. Ran in the '70s (can't be bothered to look up the actual dates at this time), distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

There was a live-action TV series based on this strip, developed by Norman Lear. It was short-lived, lasting only one season.