October 31, 2011:
October 20, 2011:
Helen Aberson and the Writing of Dumbo
October 17, 2011:
October 31, 2011:
It is taking me longer than I expected to get back on track after five weeks away, but that's where my new store of color scans comes in especially handy. The drawing above, by Joe Grant, is a wonderful caricature of Dick Huemer, Disney animator, director, and writer, and Joe's co-author of the screen version of Dumbo, among other treasures.
From Kevin Hogan: It seems to bear a striking resemblance to Lucifer in Cinderella!
MB replies: A coincidence, I think, since Joe and Dick worked on Cinderella circa 1943-46, long before it was completed, and certainly long before Lucifer jelled as a character. Neither of them got a story credit on the film as released.
[Posted November 7, 2011]
I think I have plugged every volume of Didier Ghez's invaluable Disney interview anthologies as they've appeared, and I'm happy to do so again. Here's Didier himself:
The book is available on Amazon and on Xlibris. It is a staggering 629-page long and I admit that I am really proud of its contents.
Foreword: John Canemaker
Didier Ghez: Ruthie Tompson
Christopher Finch & Linda Rosenkrantz: Walt Pfeiffer
John Culhane: Shirley Temple
John Culhane: I. Klein
Peter Hansen: Basil Reynolds
Christopher Finch & Linda Rosenkrantz: Eric Larson
John Culhane: John Hubley
Robin Allan: Jules Engel
Darrell Van Citters: Ed Love
Darrell Van Citters: Mike Lah
JB Kaufman: Frank Thomas
Dave Smith: Carl Nater
John Culhane: John Hench
John Canemaker: Ward Kimball
Dave Smith: Ward Kimball
Didier Ghez: Frank Armitage
Robin Allan: Ray Aragon
Didier Ghez: Ray Aragon
Gord Wilson: Jacques Rupp
David Tietyen: George Bruns
John Canemaker: Dale Oliver
John Canemaker: Iwao Takamoto
John Canemaker: Richard Williams
Charles Solomon: Brad Bird
Alberto Becattini: Don R. Christensen
Jim Korkis: Tom Nabbe
Dave Smith: Roger Broggie
Didier Ghez: David Snyder
Didier Ghez: Carl Bongirno
John Culhane: Daniel MacManus
John Culhane: Ted Kierscey
John Canemaker: Glen Keane
Didier Ghez: Joe Hale
Jérémie Noyer: Mark Henn
Christian Ziebarth: Andreas Deja and Mark Henn
Didier Ghez: Ed Catmull
As always—and inevitably—the interviews are a mixed bag, but Didier's own interviews in this volume are especially good. The interviews are not all with people who actually knew Walt Disney, but for the most part the inclusion of the likes of Ed Catmull and Glen Keane is self-justifying, once you've read the interviews. Anyone who claims a serious interest in Walt Disney and the history of his studio should not hesitate to buy this and every other volume of Walt's People.
From the Washington Post for August 27, 1948:
In other words, a preference for Carl Barks over Batman has always been indicative of higher intelligence. No surprise there.
October 20, 2011:
Back in the 1980s, when I had a contract with Warner Books for my never-to-be-published art book on the Warner Bros. cartoons, I spent a lot of my own money having 4 x 5 and 8 x 10 color transparencies shot of hundreds of pieces of artwork for the cartoons, as well as related items like licensed merchandise. I still have most of those transparencies, and I've wanted to post some of them here, to add color to my mostly gray pages. I was unable to scan them with my all-in-one machine, though, so they have languished in my files. Recently I found (through Groupon) a company called ScanDigital, which offered to scan such transparencies for a reasonable price. I received the first batch of scans in September, just before I left on my long trip, and I'm very happy with the results. I'll be posting those scans in the weeks ahead.
The first such scan is above, a sampling of Dell's Warner-character comic books from the 1940s and early 1950s; I'd planned for it to be a two-page spread in the Warner art book. You can see a larger version, closer to the size it would have been in the book, by clicking on the scan or on this link.
Some of the scans to come will have more artistic/historical interest, but I'm particularly fond of this one. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Comics and its offspring never soared to the comic-book heights of Carl Barks's best stories, but this former child reader found them consistently entertaining. Once past the early years, the comic books usually looked good, thanks to talented cartoonists like Carl Buettner, Roger Armstrong, Ralph Heimdahl, and Tom McKimson, and the writing, especially in the 1940s, when Chase Craig was responsible for much of it, was always at least serviceable. You can read a representative Porky Pig story by clicking on this link.
All of the comic books shown in this photo were, and are, part of my own collection. Like many other people, I talked myself into dismantling my comic-book collection in my teens, only to plunge into reconstructing it (and adding to it) a few years later, in the mid- to late 1960s. By that time, happily, it was much easier to find old comic books, at prices that were, by today's standards, shockingly low. I paid fifteen dollars for my copy of Looney Tunes No. 1, from 1941 (the same price I paid for Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold, Carl Barks's first), and that price was, for many years, the most I'd ever paid for a comic book.
Much more recently, I bought (for more than fifteen dollars, I regret to say) the only Warner comic book from the 1940s that I was missing when the photo was taken, the first issue of Bugs Bunny, Large Feature No. 8, from 1942 . I'd actually owned a coverless copy of that issue, but I gave it, along with my extra copies of many other Dell comics, to Roger Armstrong, after we began corresponding in 1967. Roger reciprocated with his detailed—and highly accurate, as I've since been able to confirm—memories of how that comic book and other Dell comics came to be.
Pulling the transparencies for scanning was a melancholy exercise in some respects. I was reminded, of course, of how much uncompensated time and money I put into the Warner book—my advance on royalties covered only a small part of my out-of-pocket expenses—but especially of how wonderful that book could have been. I was also reminded of another unrealized project that was in some ways even sadder.
While I was seeking out Warner artwork to be copied, I ran across a lot of artwork for other studios' cartoons, the Harman-Ising MGM cartoons in particular. Much of that MGM artwork was extraordinarily attractive, and I couldn't resist having a lot of it photographed. I put together an elaborate presentation for an art book on the MGM cartoons, which I hoped would be a followup to the Warner book, and I sent that presentation, which was filled with one-of-a-kind transparencies, to an art-book house (not Abrams) whose co-owner professed herself eager to see it. A few months later, when I'd heard nothing, I wrote to ask what was going on. The answer, ultimately, was that the publisher had moved to new offices in the interim, and during the move someone had thrown my presentation and its several thousand dollars' worth of transparencies into the trash.
I was reimbursed for the transparencies, eventually, and the money actually came in handy—the demise of the Warner book had left me as close to bankruptcy as I've ever come—but I could have found the money in some other way, and there was no way I could replace the transparencies. But at least I have a lot of transparencies left (including some of MGM artwork). I'm looking forward to sharing them with you in the months ahead.
From Thad Komorowski: Thanks for the smile by posting that Looney Tunes comic spread. The designer in me is a bit turned off by the preponderance of Bugs in it, though, and would have liked seeing things shaken up with covers from Tweety & Sylvester and Daffy. I can't decide whether I like or dislike the comics, in spite of owning dozens of them. They lack the energy and appeal of the film cartoons in every way possible, but I don't want to sell them either in spite of having no desire to reread them. And thanks also for sharing the horror story about your MGM proposal and further convincing me to never loan my originals of anything to anyone.
MB replies: If memory serves, I decided to limit the comic books in that photo to issues published in the 1940s and very early 1950s, past which point all of the Dell titles began to decline rapidly in interest under the weight of the Wertham-fed hysteria about the supposed harm comic books were doing to their readers. Until 1952, the only Warner titles were Looney Tunes, Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and the Christmas Funnies and Vacation Funnies annuals, and those are the comic books represented in the photo. But probably I should have added an issue of Tweety & Sylvester or Daffy, since I notice at least one 1953 issue of Looney Tunes in the pile.
From Michael Sporn: I can remember quite clearly on one of our visits to your Alexandria home, years ago, you offered to allow me to look at the large transparencies you'd pulled for the Warner Bros book, which had just been halted. I spent an afternoon going through those images and looked in disbelief at the incredible beauty of many of the images. For some reason a couple of MGM backgrounds stand out in my memory. I hadn't been a fan of many of those MGM backgrounds, but in your collection you'd found some stunningly attractive art that made me eat my opinions. Needless to say I was impressed. I've since thought many times of those images and wondered if and when you'd get to use them. I'm pleased to hear that some of them will turn up on your site, though I'd much prefer they end up in a book.
[Posted October 24, 2011]
From Elizabeth Shrock:
While surfing the net, trying to find any photos I could for my sister, I came across your amazing interview with my brother-in-law, Corny Cole, who recently passed on (as you know). I'm writing because you probably also know that he lost his life's work in a fire a few years back. Would you be willing to pass the word for us, that we are desperately looking for any photos or art people may have of his? We would pay to recover any originals and would cheerfully pay for any costs incurred in copying and shipping securely any copies people would be willing to make. I'm asking you, because I hoped you might get the word out better than I could, knowing more of the world he occupied than I do. I'm asking on behalf of the family, especially his wife, is is just kind of lost without him.
People talk about his art, but no one knows that he had a love, how very much in love they were, how utterly devoted to each other they were, that my sister dropped her life to spend every single minute she could with him when he was sick, refused to send him to hospice, fed him, cleaned him, sat and read to him, and that he died in her arms last August. They met when she was a model in one of his classes and she misses him so much—so any help you could give me in trying to rebuild his work for her (even just photos she may not have seen of him would be such a balm), I would appreciate it more than you know.
If you can be of help, please let me know, at the email address at the top of the right-hand column, and I'll forward your message to Elizabeth.
I've heard from Andrew Mayer, son of Helen Aberson Mayer, the co-author of the book on which Walt Disney's Dumbo was based; he wrote in response to my essay called "The Mysterious Dumbo Roll-A-Book." I've revised that essay a number of times, but rather than do that again, I've posted Andy's comments on a separate feedback page, with links to and from the original essay.
If you haven't read that essay yet, you should, especially now that Dumbo has been reissued on Blu-ray. I haven't seen the Blu-ray yet, but Disney's other Blu-ray editions of the features have been outstanding, and I expect nothing less from the new Dumbo. If you read my essay and Andy Mayer's letter in tandem with a viewing of the Dumbo Blu-ray, I think you'll have a new appreciation of that wonderful film's strange and fascinating history.
October 17, 2011:
Phyllis and I returned last weekend from a five-week trip divided about equally between Europe (Berlin, Prague, Budapest, and Vienna) and our old home town of Alexandria,Virginia. I photographed the mysterious figure above at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin (I have no idea what was going on), but otherwise didn't do anything with animation/comics connections in Europe. As usual when I'm in Alexandria, though, I spent a lot of time across the Potomac in Washington, at the Library of Congress. Some fruits of my research there will turn up here in the coming months, although my immediate concern is with all the email and paper mail that piled up while I was gone, including such books as the second volume in Fantagraphics' landmark reprinting of Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse comic strip and Craig Yoe's collection of Carl Barks's Barney Bear and Benny Burro stories for Our Gang Comics. I expect to resume real posts later this week.