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"What's New" Archives: May 2014


May 30, 2014:

Book Backlog I: Disney's Grand Tour


May 28, 1914:



May 27, 2014:

Mystery Men of 1934


May 22, 2014:

Lulu's Cinematic Debut

May 5, 2014:

Sick Little Monkeys


May 30, 2014:

Book Backlog I: Disney's Grand Tour

Disney's Grand TourI've wanted to write here about a number of very good books, published in the past year or so, that I had to neglect when I was deepest in work on Funnybooks. Now I finally have the time. I'll start with a book that's particularly easy to review because I wrote the preface for it. That book is Disney's Grand Tour: Walt and Roy's European Vacation, Summer 1935 by Didier Ghez (Theme Park Press). I can't do any better than quote myself:

A few years ago, when I was writing my book The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney and my wife was reading the manuscript, she surprised me one evening by laughing in astonishment. It was Walt who made her laugh—because, she said, he was always doing things, he was never still, his curiosity kept leading him in new directions. Just reading about him, it was hard to keep up. I understood what she was saying. For me, that is why learning about Walt and writing about him has always been a great pleasure. He was an exceptionally active and interesting man at every point in his life.

In recent years, thanks to Disney scholars like Tim Susanin, J.B. Kaufman, Paul Anderson, Todd James Pierce, and others too numerous to mention, more and more phases of this extraordinary man’s life have been illuminated in books and websites. In my own case, I have concentrated on his work as a filmmaker, particularly the animated films. The documentation of that part of his life is abundant, and I’ve never tired of exploring it.

One crucial passage in his life has been neglected—understandably, because the task of filling that gap was so intimidating. Walt Disney, his brother Roy, and their wives spent two months in Europe in the summer of 1935, visiting great cities and historic sites.  We have known about the general contours of that trip, or thought we did, thanks mainly to scrappy reports in old American newspapers. An award from the League of Nations in Paris…a meeting with Mussolini in Rome…adoring crowds everywhere…Walt scooping up illustrated books that might be of use in making his animated cartoons. But the details have eluded us, hidden behind barriers of time and especially language.

Some of what we thought we knew was true—the crowds were large and enthusiastic, and Walt did buy a lot of books. But the award did not come from the League of Nations, and the Disneys did not meet Mussolini (or the Pope, as some people have thought). A great deal of fresh information about that trip has now come to light, thanks to Didier Ghez and the remarkably large number of Disney scholars—including some within the Walt Disney Company itself, at the Walt Disney Archives—whose help he has enlisted in tracking down elusive facts, from a multiplicity of sources and in several different languages.

Thanks to Didier, we now know much more about the Disneys’ trip on a day-to-day basis—where they went, where they stayed, what they did—from the time they left Los Angeles until the time they returned. We also know much more about the trip’s business dimensions. There is a rich mine of information in this book for future chroniclers of the Disney Company’s overseas activities and Roy Disney’s role in them. And then there are the book’s small and delightful surprises. Did we know that Gunther Lessing, the Disneys’ intimidating lawyer, had a sly sense of humor? Now we do, thanks to his tongue-in-cheek correspondence with Roy Disney. There is even a list of the highly eclectic selection of more than three hundred books that Walt brought back from Europe.

Disney’s Grand Tour is a remarkable effort, one for which everyone who cares about Walt Disney and his creations should be grateful.

Actually, I'd feel a little more grateful if I weren't obliged now to go back into my pages here of corrections for Hollywood Cartoons and The Animated Man and make note of where Didier's excellent work has exposed shortcomings in my own. But that's the way the Disney-research game must be played, alas! I'll let you know when the corrections are up.

Re-reading my preface, I detect hesitation born of concern that some readers may feel overwhelmed by the abundance of detail, the very aspect of Disney's Grand Tour that is most attractive to me. Striking the right balance in such matters is very hard to do, as I know from work on my own books. In this case, especially considering how much new information Didier has uncovered, I'm more than happy to give him the benefit of the doubt. I wouldn't want to lose anything that's in the book.

Didier Ghez, as everyone who cares about Disney history knows, is the proprietor of a website of that title and the compiler of, so far, fourteen volumes of Walt's People, devoted to interviews and related material about (mostly) people who knew Walt Disney and worked for him. A qualifier is needed because in later volumes some of the interviews have been with people who entered the Disney picture much too late to have known Walt. Fortunately, most of those latter-day interviews have been substantial enough to warrant their inclusion in the series.

The interviews with Walt's contemporaries vary in quality, of course, but the best ones are very good, and the series as a whole is immensely valuable, an imposing monument to Didier's dedication and energy. The major shortcoming is the lack of an index covering the entire series, a shortcoming that Didier himself is well aware of and that looms larger and larger as the series grows. Fortunately, Theme Park Press is now the publisher—it has reissued the first volume, with corrections, in addition to publishing the thirteenth and, soon, fourteenth volumes. Now that Didier has such solid support, there's reason to hope that the lack of an index may be remedied soon. An online index, updated with each new volume and available through subscription, would make a great deal of sense

It's remarkable, really, how many good animation/comics-related books have been published in recent years, at a time when the book industry is in turmoil and print itself is under siege. I'll post more reviews soon, although I'll restrict myself, with rare exceptions, to books that have been sent to me for review. That will excuse me from reviewing the big book on the McKimson brothers, for instance, as well as The Noble Approach, Homer Brightman's autobiography, and any number of "Art of" books.


May 28, 2014:


I was fascinated by the online quarrel that boiled throughout Memorial Day weekend at Cartoon Brew, about the new book devoted to "concept art" for the Disney CGI feature Planes and its sequel, Planes: Fire & Rescue. Amid Amidi, Cartoon Brew's proprietor, suggested in a very brief item that some sort of limit had been reached: "It’s no longer possible for anyone to collect every ‘art of’ book published, and frankly, with titles like this, why would any discerning artist want to?" Any number of Brew readers responded indignantly, with this comment by "Sam" typical: "I wish the biggest animation site on the internet didn't frequently attack hard-working talented artists within its own industry like this. To say no 'discerning artist' would care about their work is shameful. You don't even supply any constructive feedback, your comments are just outright rude and unnecessarily antagonistic."

The Art of PlanesAs I was reading such responses, my thoughts turned to one of my own long-ago jobs, as a writer/editor for the monthly magazine published by a very large trade association based in Washington, D.C. I was, if I may borrow "Sam's" phrasing, a hard-working, talented writer. A lot of my work was drudgery, but for one extended period the job was actually quite enjoyable, because it entailed traveling around the country to interview and write profiles of small-business people, some of them very interesting and almost all of them highly likable. On the rare occasion when I revisit some such profile I wrote twenty or thirty years ago and haven't read since, I'm pleased by my professionalism: I got the facts right, and I assembled them in the right way.

There was professionalism in my magazine work, but nothing more. What I don't find in my pieces—and what my superiors certainly would have taken out if they'd found it there—is any evidence of a personal commitment to the subject matter. I occasionally wrote about people I'd met whose work interested me deeply, like Charles Schulz, Bill Melendez, and John Kricfalusi, but my articles about them don't betray the depth of my interest. I was writing my book Hollywood Cartoons at that time, and that's where my passion went.

Reading the comments on Cartoon Brew, I can't help but wonder if the people who were so distressed by Amid's dismissal of The Art of Planes have any similar outside work that they really care about. There is, after all, no "concept" associated with Planes and its sequel other than making money for the Walt Disney Company, specifically by generating lots of sales of toys and children's books based on the film's characters. If in fact any intensely personal work did slip into The Art of Planes, I would have to assume that the artists involved didn't understand what kind of movie the two Planes were supposed to be.

In saying that, I don't mean to criticize anyone who approached work on Planes, or The Art of Planes, in the spirit in which I approached my work for that long-ago magazine. I had a job to do, I did it well, and I was paid for it, not handsomely but adequately. In the meantime, I found life's richest satisfactions outside of that job. The feeling I get, though, is that there are a lot of people in Hollywood animation today who want their day-to-day work to be judged, and especially praised, as if it were the fruit of a personal passion, as if it were in some sense art, and not as what it really is, a mundane way to put food on the table.

That disconnection is clearly implied in the outraged tone of a lot of the comments on Cartoon Brew. Amid's correspondents undoubtedly speak for dozens of irate colleagues who don't want to lower themselves to challenge what they regard as a terrible insult. Plenty of writers are happy to encourage such self-deception (especially if they've been paid to provide the text for a Disney picture book), but Amid, bless him, isn't one of them. I suspect that my own plainly stated skepticism about recent Hollywood product accounts for the hostility I encounter occasionally, hostility that usually comes cloaked in righteous anger about some injustice I've supposedly inflicted, in a book or on this website—bruising the feelings of some sly old sociopath, perhaps, or destroying a decades-long friendship (names never specified), or using exactly the wrong adjective on one page of a 500-page book. Any excuse will do.


From Robert Fiore: I think Amidi's answer is contained within his question, when he presumes a readership has been collecting these "Art of" books. If such a collecting community exists then publishers like Chronicle, which is not exactly Knopf, have probably learned that there's a dependable profit to be made from these things. How much of an investment could it be? The art is already bought, paid for, and not generating income unless they do this. The editor is probably, to coin a phrase, adequately but not handsomely paid (a quick look on Amazon reveals that this Tracey Miller-Zarneke has put together about a half dozen of these things, on subjects from various studios). The art director knocks the whole thing off on a computer, and it's emailed to Singapore to be printed cheap.

You'd think the hard part would be getting someone involved to say with a straight face that it's anything other than sausage, but as Sam demonstrates that's not a problem at all. It's a tie-in that's coming out the same time as the sequel, and will thus have the advantage of that movie's no doubt ubiquitous publicity. Craptacular as it may seem to you or me or anyone with taste or intelligence, the first Planes movie actually grossed more than $200 million worldwide, so it is to an extent pre-sold. By Christmas time it'll be remaindered and become a cheap gift for recipients who will have feign enthusiasm. Anyway, concept art is bound to be more interesting to look at than anything you see on the screen. It usually is, isn't it?

MB replies: I'm sure Bob Fiore's analysis of the economics of "Art of" books is right on target. I have to wonder, though, if anyone whose "concept art" is included in the book gets a little honorarium, a little something extra, even though the drawings were produced on company time. I'd be suprised if that were the case.

From Charles Kenny: I just wanted to commend you on your discussion about the "Art of" books. I too read Amid's post, but had long foreseen the demise of such books from genuine repositories of art into mere merchandising opportunities. The fact that Planes is seemingly deserving of one is no surprise to me in the slightest. The actual content is already made and with relatively minimal cost it can be condensed and bound as something that yields a healthy profit.

What struck me was when you talk of how "people in Hollywood animation today...want their day-to-day work to be judged, and especially praised, as if it were the fruit of a personal passion." I'm not sure, but I have a hunch that the blame for that can be laid at Pixar's door. In a not-so-coincidental way, they managed to shroud animation production with an air of mystique and superiority of the kind that Apple Computer is (in)famous for.

They succeeded in taking an otherwise mundane act (for want of a better word) and actively making a point that they were so good at it precisely because they mandated so much critical analysis and feedback throughout the entire process. No wonder any artist who dreams of being as good as Pixar is going to put their heart and soul into what amounts to "grunt work" and demand recognition on said work in return; regardless of the actual benefits obtained from doing so.

When I was visiting LA last November, it was while taking a tour of one of the Disney studios that I was able to see plenty of artwork from the Planes sequel, and while there is no way I will ever willingly watch the final product, it was in conversation with my friend who was giving me the tour that the subject turned to whether such corporate art even constituted "art" in a true sense. We concluded that it did, and just because it was being done for a corporation and not independently or for the sake of it, that didn't detract from it in any way.

I suppose what I'm getting at is that I agree with you; the day job is not what should be defining your creative abilities or be the one that contains your harshest critics; what you do on the evenings and weekends should.

[Posted May 29, 2014]

From Kevin Hogan: Perhaps I am growing wiser, or maybe I’m a “stick-in-the-mud”, but I have given up on trying to have intelligent dialog with people on sites such as Cartoon Brew. While I cannot say for certain, I believe the current young adult generation has been overly indulged with entertainment options, allowing an individual to select increasingly narrow film categories to isolate oneself in. Once upon a time, a film enthusiast would have a limited number of TV/ theatrical options, and would be exposed to a greater range of films due a lack of options. Internet, DVD, streaming, etc. has changed the availability of film. Today, a 30-year-old living in his mother’s basement can devote all of his attention to the most narrow of film categories, never having to challenge his mind with other types (or qualities) of film.

I believe that many people in my generation believe that objectivity and criticism of any film is impossible (or at the very least, objectionable). Young adults believe that any category of film, regardless of care or artistic attention, is equal and separate from all others. And, I believe, that is why certain people on Cartoon Brew cannot separate Planes from Citizen Kane, let alone Bambi/ The Incredibles/ etc.

[Posted June 4, 2014]

From Mark Sonntag: I enjoyed your post about the proliferation of art books. There certainly too many now and for films I haven't seen nor want to. That said, the work inside the books is always great and inspiring even though the films aren't.

I was at a bookshop recently and there were a couple of animation students with limited funds looking through those books trying to decide what to get. Needless to say I pointed them to the classics like The Illusion of Life and John Canemaker's books on concept and a few others, my logic being being learn where it began and be inspired by that and then admire the current. They followed my advice, hopefully it helped.

[Posted June 5, 2014]


May 27, 2014:

Disney story men, 1934

In the top row, from the left: Bill Cottrell, XX, XX, XX, Joe Grant. In the middle row, XX, Webb Smith, Ted Sears, Pinto Colvig (just above Clarence "Ducky" Nash), Bob Kuwahara. In the bottom row, Albert Hurter, Harry Reeves, XX, Larry Morey.

Mystery Men of 1934

The ever-alert Gunnar Andreassen spotted this sheet of caricatures of Disney story men from 1934, up for sale at the Heritage Auctions site along with a Clarence Sinclair Bull photo of some of the same people. In the caption, I've attached names to as many of the caricatures as Gunnar could identify—with no help from me, I'm embarrassed to say, although some of these people look maddeningly familiar. (Isn't Floyd Gottfredson one of the "hall room boys"?) Let me know if you recognize any of them. As names can be attached to drawings, I'll add them to the caption.

And then there's the question of who drew the caricatures. I don't have an answer for that, either.


From Didier Ghez: I have a feeling that "Death Valley Scotty" in the caricature you posted might be Scott Whitaker, who was working in Story at the time, and was the brother of Judge. Have you ever seen a photo of him?

MB replies: No, I haven't, unfortunately, at least not that I can recall.

[Posted May 31, 2014]

From Peter Hale: There is a photo of the Whitaker brothers at this site.

I don't think the caricature looks particularly like Scott—but then I don't think they are particularly good caricatures!

The bushy eyebrows suggests to me Scottish ancestry (I am reminded of the British opera singer and broadcaster Ian Wallace!) but I don't know of anyone who fits that bill.

MB replies: I had forgotten about Judge Whitaker's Mormon origins, but this article makes clear how important they were. I couldn't resist ordering the DVD that was the occasion for the article, and I'll report back if there's enough Disney-related content (as opposed to drum-beating for the Latter-Day Saints) to warrant a recommendation.

"Death Valley Scotty" looks like too old a man to have been photographed with Judge Whitaker twenty years or so later, but maybe not. The caricatures are not outstanding, granted, but that so many of the people caricatured are easily recognizable, eighty years later, and others almost so, does say something positive about their quality.

[Posted June 2, 2014]

From Peter Hale: Is it possible "the Hallroom Boys" are Floyd Gottfredson, as you suggested, and Earl Duvall? Among the caricatures being auctioned on Heritage Auctions (HA.com; lot 95209) is one that depicts the same two characters. Drawn by different hands, they are probably to be seen as two separate cartoons, but their being paired on one page suggests a connection. The urbane figure is here using a cigarette holder. OK, Roosevelt popularised this item, but the caricature of Duvall on the Babbitt Blog also sports one. Coincidence? Maybe - the two caricatures are very different - but it could just be the same man. Perhaps.

[Posted June 18, 2014]


May 22, 2014:

Film Daily December 22 1943

Lulu's Cinematic Debut

I returned the edited files for Funnybooks: The Improbable Glories of the Best American Comic Books to University of California Press earlier this week, with extensive revisions and additions. I'm scheduled to see page proofs in a couple of months. Now I'm trying to catch up on a great many neglected tasks, including updating this website more frequently. My audience has undoubtedly shrunk over the last few years of relative inactivity, but I enjoy posting here—as the saying goes, I often don't know what I think until I've written it down—and if I'm essentially talking to myself for a while, that'll be OK. There are certainly lots of other blogs and websites whose proprietors are doing the same, whether they realize it or not.

Showmens Trade Review August 21 1943Little Lulu and John Stanley are of course important figures in Funnybooks, and when I ran across this colorful ad in Film Daily for December 22, 1943, I couldn't resist sharing it. No doubt someone out there can identify the cartoonist. Thanks to Marjorie Henderson Buell's frequently very funny panel cartoons for the Saturday Evening Post, Lulu was a surprisingly big deal back in the forties, as evidenced by the publicity for the Famous Studios cartoons. The cartoons were, alas, uniformly poor, and burdened as well with a black maid character, Mandy, who was grotesquely stereotypical even by the low prevailing standards. It's no wonder that the series died after four years and that the cartoons have for so long been all but invisible on TV and video.

It was of course in comic books that Lulu had her longest and most profitable run—profitable especially for her creator, "Marge"—thanks to John Stanley's brilliant handling of Lulu and Tubby, characters he inherited, and the supporting characters he created. I suspect that was not the outcome that anyone expected back in August 1943, when Marge, who lived in Philadelphia, visited Famous Studios in Manhattan and saw a storyboard for one of the first Lulu cartoons, an event memorialized in Showmen's Trade Review for August 21, 1943.

When I was a kid, buying Little Lulu at my local Woolworth's, I remember being aware of how distinct that comic book was from the other Dell monthlies, like Walt Disney's Comics & Stories and The Lone Ranger. The characters in those comic books had their principal commercial life in other media, movies and TV and radio, but by the early 1950s, with the animated cartoons gone, Little Lulu was essentially a comic-book character. She was a pitchman (pitchgirl?) for Kleenex, and Western Printing & Lithographing, under its Whitman name, published a lot of Lulu coloring books and Little Golden Books and the like, in addition to the comic books. There were, besides, Lulu items of other kinds from other manufacturers, but for all practical purposes the stories that gave life to licensed characters as different as Roy Rogers and Woody Woodpecker existed in Lulu's case only in the comic books.

It's possible to trace Marjorie Henderson Buell's career as a licensor through the "Marge" collection at Harvard University's Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the most complete available collection of papers related to any licensor's dealings with Western Printing. In Marge's case those papers cover a quarter-century span ending with Western's purchase of all the rights to Lulu in 1972. The collection is at the Schlesinger Library thanks to Marge's son, Lawrence Buell, an emeritus professor of American literature at Harvard, and his brother, Fred, a professor at Queens College in New York.

If you're a reader of The New Yorker, you may have seen Adam Gopnik's review—not especially favorable, I'm afraid—of Lawrence Buell's most recent book, The Dream of the Great American Novel (Harvard), in the April 21 issue. That issue also includes a piece by Emily Nussbaum on the animated television series Adventure Time, which I've only recently discovered and which I recommend. Not a series that Marge would have found congenial, I suspect, but I can imagine John Stanley writing for it.


From Thad Komorowski: Whatever the reception may have been to the Lulu cartoons, it wasn't the only deciding factor in the cancellation of the series. A variety of sour things was happening at Famous during the period, and the studio's livelihood was in doubt. Axing the series was simply a practical way of shaving costs, regardless of the pittance Buell was getting as a royalty, and moving the studio in the direction it ultimately took.

Contrary to popular belief, Little Lulu and Little Audrey coexisted (Myron Waldman's unit was making both Santa's Surprise, the first Audrey cartoon, and Dog Show-Off, the last Lulu, at roughly the same time in mid-1947). From Paramount's point of view, it made perfect sense to drop Lulu and push the highly similar Audrey. If Famous wasn't capable of making product better than "good for the kiddies," the characters should at least be ones Paramount could own and license as such—which they ultimately did very well, whatever the cartoons may be.

From Donald Benson: Lulu was replaced by the not really better or different Little Audrey, who also had a long comic book life. My impression was that the studio either couldn't make a new deal with Marge or decided an imitation would do just as well.

In a similar vein, RKO dropped its series of The Saint programmers in favor of The Falcon, a very similar character played by the same actor (George Sanders). The reason for the switch seemed to be that rights to The Falcon were much cheaper.

MB replies: Bernard Goodwin of Paramount Pictures wrote to Marge on April 1, 1947, to tell her "that, because of serious difficulties arising from increased production costs, color prints and new sales policies, we will not be able to exercise another option under our agreement," the contract they had signed four years earlier. Paramount announced publicly later that month that Lulu was on the way out.

The sums involved were not huge—Marge got $500 for each cartoon, plus 5 percent of "gross receipts" above $42,000 for each color cartoon. A Paramount report titled "Gross Film Rental Billings" for all of the Lulu cartoons as of October 2, 1948—that is, more than six months after the release of the last Lulu cartoon, Dog Show-Off—showed most of the cartoons topping $42,000, but not by a lot, with Lulu at the Zoo (1944) coming in first with gross receipts of $57,481.65. Marge continued to get quarterly reports on rentals for several years after the Lulu series ended, accompanied by checks for small amounts—for example, $69.77 for the quarter ended March 29, 1952.

From Paramount's point of view, there could have been no compelling reason to stick with Lulu, however small the added cost. Trade-paper reviews were almost never more than lukewarm, and the Lulu cartoons never cracked the top ten in polls of exhibitors. Probably no one complained when Lulu was dropped.

My guess is that when the decision came down to end the Lulu series, work was well under way on Santa's Surprise, but not as a starring vehicle for Little Audrey. Audrey probably replaced a more generic child character, as a way of giving her a head start as Lulu's replacement. Santa's Surprise is not a Little Audrey cartoon in the sense that the next one, Butterscotch and Soda, is—that is, Audrey shares a lot more screen time with the other children than you would expect if she were really the star.

[Posted May 23, 2014]

From Vincent Alexander: In regards to Little Lulu, I agree that the character enjoyed much greater creative success on the page than on the screen, but I wouldn't say the animated films are a total loss. Lulu in Hollywood gets some comedic mileage out of contrasting Lulu's deadpan personality with the pretensions of the movie business, particularly in the scene where the European director gesticulates madly to get some emotion out of Lulu (whether or not it was intended to be a parody of the Kuleshov Effect, it works as one). Musica-Lulu is a very creative short with lots of great visual gags within its music-fueled nightmare, possibly owing to contributions by Otto Messmer. And there are laughs in some of the shorts where Lulu goes out of her way to an annoy an adult for seemingly no reason (Lulu at the Zoo, Loose in a Caboose, Cad and Caddy). That's not to say any of those cartoons are great, but they have a certain charm missing in the overly saccharine Little Audrey series.

Also, I'm glad to hear you're a fan of Adventure Time. The almost Fleischer-esque surrealism of the show is certainly the best thing to happen to TV animation in a long time.

From Paul Penna: As a kid—for reference, I was 10 in 1956—Lulu, along with the Carl Barks Ducks, were my favorite comics, and my appreciation for them only increased as I grew older. I was one of the lucky ones whose mother liked comic books, too, rather than throwing them away when I wasn't looking, so my comic collection was always around to revisit, and I did, over and over. I didn't catch up with the Lulu cartoons until the home video revolution got under way in the late '70s. By then I was old enough to realize there were different creative forces involved, but still, they came as a big disappointment. It was as if they took a rather generic character and dressed her in a Lulu outfit. I still got some enjoyment from them, strictly as things that were animated in the classic manner, and while it would be interesting to see them restored and in high-definition, if they were to disappear off the face of the earth, I wouldn't be torn up over it.

[Posted May 26, 2014]

From Kevin Martinez: These are some really fascinating historical tidbits. Famous must have been looking to ax Lulu for some time, as there exists a model sheet for Little Audrey dated 1946 floating around in Internet-land.

I might be called biased, but I like the Lulu series just fine. The best of the shorts (like Bargain Counter Attack) can stand tall with the contemporary Popeyes and Noveltoons as the best of what Famous had to offer. They're not BRILLIANT shorts, but you could do worse when perusing the lesser-known 40's cartoon series.

It's kind of hard to really judge the merits of these lesser series, since Warner and MGM cast such a gigantic shadow on the artform and era. Nothing else is going to seem adequate when compared to the few dozen or so Clampett and Avery masterpieces. But I appreciate the dialogue.

[Posted July 1, 2014]


May 5, 2014:

Sick Little Monkeys

This website has been a casualty the last couple of years of my intense involvement with my new book, Funnybooks, and I've found it particularly difficult to work up reviews of some good and important books. One book I've wanted to write about is Thad Komorowski's Sick Little Monkeys, his account of the making of the Ren & Stimpy television cartoons, first by John Kricfalusi at his Spumco studio and then, after Nickelodeon ran out of patience, by the studio called Games Animation. I've finally written a review, and you can read it at this link.


From Kevin Hogan: I share your overall sentiments about John K and Ren & Stimpy. However, your review seems to be more centered on your own personal feelings about the show, and less on the book itself.

MB replies: I don't think there's any one good way to review a book. In this case, I wanted to acknowledge the great value of Thad's book as "a highly detailed, highly persuasive portrait of a very strange cartoon director and his often very strange films." But Sick Little Monkeys is also an imperfect book, awkwardly written in too many places and reflecting its young author's struggle to apply his evolving critical standards to difficult material, and I didn't see any reason to dwell on those imperfections. The book is, in effect, raw material for a more thoughtful examination of Kricfalusi's career, by Thad himself a few years from now, or maybe by someone else. In the meantime, Sick Little Monkeys has encouraged me, and I hope other people, to look again at John K.'s films and think about why those cartoons turned out the way they did, for better or, mostly, for ill.

[Posted May 14, 2014]

From Vincent Alexander: The piece on Thad's book was particularly interesting, although I can't say I noticed a whole lot of the clumsy writing you mentioned when I read it. I was actually very impressed by what a fair account it was, given the strong emotions on both sides. As I wrote to Thad, the only issue I had with the book was the lack of perspective from the brilliant Lynne Naylor, who is talked about a lot in the book but never quoted. Still, given Thad's obvious respect for her work, I'm sure he did his best to get her account.

[Posted May 26, 2014]