MichaelBarrier.com  - Exploring the World of Animated Films and Comic Art - banner by Michael Sporn

"What's New" Archives: December 2017


December 13, 2017:



December 11, 2017

S-s-s-son of a B-b-b-b...


December 6, 2017:

Porky Pig 101 Revisited


December 13, 2017:



There's a novel by Kevin Brockmeier, published more than ten years ago, titled The Brief History of the Dead. In the book—which I've read only in part—our planet's dead populate "the city," which is located in an alternative reality, but their afterlives depend on the memories of the living. When you're forgotten, you're gone.

If you've seen Pixar's new feature, Coco, that premise may sound familiar.

That's not to say that Coco owes its existence to Kevin Brockmeier; something like the idea of "the city" is present in other sources, too, like Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld novels. And beyond that, Coco has been cunningly assembled from so many sources, familiar and otherwise, that it seems foolish to single out one of them. (In how many animated features does a seemingly benign character, like de la Cruz in Coco, turn out to be a truly bad guy? I would count them but I'd run out of fingers pretty quickly.)

Coco is, I hasten to say, a very good-looking and enjoyable movie, with only a few inconsequential slow spots (although I wonder what very young children make of it). But it's one of those enjoyable movies that may become less enjoyable in retrospect if you can't resist the urge to pick at some of its loose threads.

For one thing, the afterlife it depicts is very culturally specific; if what we see is Purgatory (a reasonable guess, since Mexico is a Catholic country), it's Purgatory with mariachi bands. The partying would seem to get in the way of being shriven of one's sins. And is there an anglophone Purgatory on the other side of the Rio Grande? Come to think of it, if, as the ghost Hector says, you can survive in the afterlife only so long as you're remembered by people who knew you when you were alive, doesn't that mean that almost everyone in the afterlife (the villain most definitely included, since he was killed in a 1942 accident) is going to evaporate within a few decades at most?

To ask such questions, even with tongue in cheek, is to take Coco much too seriously. See it, enjoy it, and forget it. And if you want to see a Disney movie that is truly memorable, that looks seriously at life and death, that was born of genuine feeling rather than sophisticated scavenging, let me recommend an 80-year-old relic called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.


December 11, 2017:

S-s-s-son of a B-b-b-b...

Don Benson, in a comment I've posted at this link, offers some information about the DVD reissues of items that are, if anything, even more obscure than the cartoons in the new Porky Pig set. Reading Don's comment, and thinking about the shortcomings of the Porky set, put me in mind of my own experience many years ago in assembling the Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics.

The comic books that were the sources of the reprints in that book belonged to me and a small number of trusting and helpful collectors. Most of the color separations were made directly from the comic books, for the sake of the best possible quality. I was deeply concerned that the company making the separations would handle the comics carefully, and I was assured repeatedly that it was a premier operation that did a lot of work forWashington's greatest art museum, the National Gallery of Art, and other gold-standard clients. The contractor's offices were within walking distance of my home in Alexandria, so there was none of the angst that might accompany shipping the comics around the country.

In retrospect, I should have accompanied the comic books through the separation process, never letting them out of my sight. But it seemed ridiculous to demand more rigorous supervision of the comic books than the National Gallery required for its masterpieces.

When I picked up the comics after the separations were completed, I found many of them damaged, obviously through careless handling, so that, for example, the covers of my copy of Pogo Possum No. 3 were pulled loose from the staples. I raised hell, and the contractor ultimately wrote a check that was as much as I could reasonably ask for but was, of course, not large enough. The prices of old comic books were on the way up, and any payment was going to fall short of what the comics would be worth in just a few years' time.

The color proofs that my co-editor Martin Williams and I saw were beautiful, but they were from a sheet-fed press, and the actual books were printed, inadequately, on a rotary press. When Martin and I complained bitterly to Felix Lowe, then the director of the Smithsonian Institution Press, that we had been misled, he shrugged off our complaint. The books were selling well and generating revenue for more arcane projects, so who cared?

What happened to me with the Smithsonian book has happened again and again, on a larger or smaller scale, on many of the projects I've been involved with. I don't know if Jerry Beck and George Feltenstein have suffered from the same lack of sympathy and respect that I've encountered—and I don't think we can expect them to tell us if they have—but certainly the shortcomings of the Porky set are suggestive. Using poor source material when better was available...patching in an obviously wrong soundtrack not just once but repeatedly...these are not accidents of the kind that could befall anyone trying to do the best possible job. They're more like expressions of indifference or even contempt.

So, we're left with a Hobson's choice: buy the deficient Porky set and endorse implicitly the shoddy work of the people who shortchanged not just Jerry and George but everyone who has paid good money for the set. Or don't buy the set and add to the likelihood that more (and better) such sets will never appear. I've bought the set, but I do hate having been boxed into that corner. Oh, and I don't expect to ever see that phantom complete Tex Avery set.


From Thad Komorowski: While I had never heard about your woes with the Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics, I still have to say that with its shortcomings it has all the markings of people who put as much care as possible into it. People still use it as a text book in their cartooning and comic history classes, as that careful curation of comicdom's absolute best set a bar few others have met.

[Posted December 12, 2017]


December 6, 2017:

Porky Pig 101 Revisited

Jerry Beck, who with George Feltenstein herded the Warner Archive set of 101 mostly black-and-white Porky Pig cartoons into existence, wrote in response to my November 29 post about that set. I'm posting his message here, instead of as a comment, because of the importance I attach to preserving classic Hollywood animation and presenting it with the fullest possible respect for its creators' intentions. Here's Jerry:

You're right that I haven't weighed in much since the set was released; but beforehand, George Feltenstein and I tried hard to be clear about the quality of the cartoons' presentation. In venues like Stu's Show (a podcast), I openly explained the set was being done on a minimal budget, using "down and dirty" vault fine-grains, with almost no clean-up.

Porky Pig 101 was designed and advertised solely as a comprehensive collection of the black & white Porky Pig Looney Tunes cartoons–and that’s what it is, pure and simple.

Here’s the thing about the Porky set (and the point I made elsewhere) – it was partially created to gauge if there is still an audience for such “physical” product.

In comic book terms: Porky Pig 101 was an “ashcan issue”. A test. A canary in a coal mine. Warner’s hadn’t done a set using down and dirty copies before. There are no plans to ever do it again (that’s one lesson we’ve learned).

People clamoring (as I am) for a Tex Avery set–this is the reason Warner’s hasn’t released one. They will only do it when they can loosen corporate funds to do full restoration (a project made particularly difficult when 90 percent of the original negatives no longer exist).

The heyday of the “Golden Collections” or “Disney Treasures” on DVD is over. There is no “financial incentive” for the major studios to restore and release classic cartoons from their library. Especially large numbers of black-and-white cartoons.

Through the Warner Archive Collection we had an opportunity to release the 101 as we have. Should we have waited until some far future day that might allow us to restore them properly (a situation which we cannot foresee happening anytime soon)? We took a chance to release them now–and to test the waters.

I mentioned on Stu's Show that if the set sells well, I've been told it will lead to proper restoration for all future Warner Archive classic cartoon releases.

I stand proudly behind Porky Pig 101. Do I wish the cartoons were perfectly restored? Of course I do! Despite some of these issues, the overall effect of watching and owning all these otherwise uncensored cartoons, in one package, is still exciting to me, and seem to be exciting to many who have written to me in support. Warner Archive is assessing the sales data and critical feedback now.

I can only suggest that everyone check it out and judge the set for themselves. I predict that most (like you) will find it a worthwhile purchase.


From Donald Benson: Part of the problem is that Warner Archive usually spoils us. I'm very bullish on their live-action short collections, which are even less mass-marketable than B&W cartoons. There are usually a few with flawed sound or souring color, but the rest—generally a dozen or more— will be darn near pristine. I got Hanna-Barbera's oddball series The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The show itself isn't much but the picture and sound were almost shockingly good. So anything that doesn't come with a very explicit disclaimer is expected to be on that level. That's what you get for consistently exceeding expectations.

VCI, generally a very good source for serials, put out Brenda Starr. That serial exists in incomplete form with substantial chunks missing, and VCI explains that up front. True, the damage is much more extreme than anything on Porky 101. The rationale for releasing it is that they had people who wanted ANYTHING of that particular title.

Disney launched a label called "Generations" some time back; one item was The Waltz King with soured color but otherwise solid picture and sound. I had hoped this was going to be an outlet for similar imperfects and obscurities, but thus far it's mainly recent  television projects.

[Posted December 11, 2017]