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"What's New" Archives: April 2014


April 23, 2014:

A Funnybooks Update


April 11, 2014:

A Memorial Celebration

Why Walt's Supervisor Was Skeptical


April 23, 2014:

Funnybooks cover

A Funnybooks Update

My next book, Funnybooks: The Improbable Glories of the Best American Comic Books, is now available for pre-order through amazon.com, at this link. The book is on track for publication before the end of the year.

Originally Funnybooks was to be published at first in hardcover, with a paperback edition following. Now it will be published simultaneously in a very limited hardcover edition and a larger paperback edition, as seems to be the case with an increasing number of books these days, especially if their subject matter is similar to mine. I'm sure there will be an e-book, too, but I don't know when. The price of the paperback, as offered on amazon.com, is disappointing to me, but I expect the actual price to be lower by the time Funnybooks is published.

Such uncertainties as to format and price are byproducts of the turmoil the book industry is going through as it struggles to achieve equilibrium between print, on the one hand, and e-readers, on the other, and between online and brick-and-mortar retailing. Authors and readers can get caught in the squeeze, especially when a publisher is understandably apprehensive about just how large a market there may be for a book devoted to comic books whose popularity crested almost sixty years ago. The "nostalgia market" for Funnybooks can't be that large. In any case, my book makes no appeals to nostalgia. What matters to me is how rewarding it is to read Carl Barks or Walt Kelly now, not in 1949. I hope that enough readers will feel the same way to give Funnybooks healthy sales and a long in-print life.

And speaking of Walt Kelly, that is of course one of his drawings, as licensed by his estate, that will appear on the cover of the book. It's from the front cover of Pogo Possum No. 10, July-September 1952.

April 11, 2014:

Sporn Memorial programA Memorial Celebration

On the evening of March 31 in Manhattan, Michael Sporn's colleagues and friends—Phyllis and I were two of the latter—celebrated his life as an animation filmmaker, which was wonderfully creative and all too short. It was a lovely evening, full of reminders of just how much Michael accomplished and of what a remarkable man he was. There were tributes from fellow professionals—John Canemaker, Ray Kosarin, Candy Kugel, and Mark Mayerson, Mark's tribute read in his absence by Michael's widow, Heidi Stallings—and warm family reminiscences by Heidi and Michael's brother, Jerry Rosco. There were extended excerpts from some of the Sporn films, and appearances by Michael himself, in clips from the supplemental materials on his DVDs. It was mostly very upbeat and enjoyable, until, at the end, "Sunday" from Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George played over a photo montage. Then it was time for a lump in the throat.

Sondheim was, as Heidi remarked, a particular favorite of Michael's—understandably, since Sondheim is as completely a New York artist in his field as Michael was in his. I liked the familial New York feeling of the evening, with its audience made up largely of people who, like Michael, have learned how to squeeze some artistic satisfaction out of the turnip that is today's animation industry. It's hard for me to imagine a comparable gathering in Los Angeles, where so many people in animation seem to know in their bones that they're hacks, unless they've talked themselves into believing they're much greater talents than they really are. It's even harder for me to imagine a Michael Sporn thriving there, and I'm glad he never made the move.

As everyone who visits this website knows by now, Michael was a master at transforming sponsored films on low budgets into strongly felt personal statements. Seeing the clips at his memorial renewed my awareness of how that ability manifested itself not just visually but also, perhaps even more so, in the soundtracks of his films, the voices and the music. There's The Marzipan Pig, for instance, a tender fable based on a book by Russell Hoban, a book read in its entirety on the soundtrack by Tim Curry, with music by Caleb Sampson. Both narrator and composer are completely in sympathy with the story, and with Michael's aims. The animation by the late Tissa David is excellent on its own terms, but unavoidably more constricted than what we hear. Other Sporn films have equally distinctive narrators—James Earl Jones, F.Murray Abraham, Jake Gyllenhaall, Boris Karloff—chosen by Michael not because their names would look good on a poster but because their sensibilities harmonized with what he wanted in a particular film.

But see, and hear, for yourself. A dozen Sporn cartoons are available online, through a subscription site called Fandor, and others are available on DVD from First Run Features.

Why Walt's Supervisor Was Skeptical

Kansas City Film AdBack on April 21, 2008, I posted an item here titled "Walt's Skeptical Supervisor," about James Edward MacLachlan, whom Tim Susanin had just identified as the man Walt Disney was talking about when he told Pete Martin that his immediate supervisor at Kansas City Film Ad found the young Walt "a little too inquisitive and maybe a little too curious. ... He was kind of sore at me, because I think he felt the boss [A. V. Cauger] paid me too much." MacLachlan, misidentified by Fred Harman as "McLaughlin," can be seen in the accompanying photo of the Film Ad art staff from the Web site of the Fred Harman Museum in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

Writing in The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney, I suggested a source of that skepticism: "Lower-level supervisors at resolutely mundane places like the Film Ad Company, protective of their own positions, usually regard bright ideas of any kind with suspicion, particularly if they call into question established methods." But now there's reason to believe that McLachlan's skepticism about Walt had another source. I've heard from Denise MacLachlan, who writes as follows:

My great grandfather was James Edward MacLachlan, who died December 24, 1924, so soon after that photo was taken.... His oldest daughter, my great aunt Marjorie, supported the family after her father died.

The understanding in my family is that Marjorie and Walt were taken with each other, and that Marjorie's father warned her away from Walt. James thought Walt wasn't steady enough for Marjorie. My family jokes about James's apparent lack of business sense, to dissuade his daughter from a man who'd turn out to be such an icon—but actually, his warning does make sense. James was supporting a wife and five children as a commercial artist. His oldest daughter was only 18 at the time of the photo, working in the same office with her father and with Walt, who was slightly older than Marjorie. James was going home each evening to a large family, with children ranging in age from 9 to 18. According to what I've read in your blog, Walt was spending his free time playing with the medium, making funny shorts and figuring out what he could do with film. He didn't stay long with the ad agency and he didn't stay long at his employment before the ad agency. At the time James knew him, Walt might not have been the kind of young man a father would want his daughter dependent on. James may have had sufficient reason to be "kind of sore" with someone who was flirting with his daughter.

There's no sense in my family of James's having tenuous employment with the ad agency. It's taken for granted that he was respected and held a solid position. We also know that he liked to draw. He taught all of his children to draw.

That sounds entirely plausible to me. As many a male cartoon fancier can testify, an interest in animation will not necessarily ingratiate a suitor with a young lady's parents.

And speaking of Tim Susanin, I hear that his excellent book Walt Before Mickey: Disney's Early Years, 1919-1928 (University Press of Mississippi), published in hardcover in 2011, may soon appear in paperback. In either format, it's a mandatory purchase for anyone who finds Walt's personal history as endlessly interesting as I do.


From Kevin Hogan: Thanks for this post. Such tidbits are the reason I keep coming back to read your site. It is always interesting to see Walt as a flesh and blood human, since he has been presented as an icon most of the time… He flirted with girls too!

[Posted April 16, 2014]