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

"What's New" Archives: Jan-Mar 2019

 

January 24, 2019:

A Cautionary Tale

Oh, Pooh!

 

January 24, 2019:

A Cautionary Tale

I don't much like delving into personal history here; other people, like Mark Evanier, are better at it than I am, and usually have more interesting tales to tell. But I'm making an exception here, mostly because telling what happened to me might be helpful to other people.

I'd been seeing the same barber for seven or eight years, with results that were satifactory to me but not to my wife. Phyllis wanted me to try the stylist who has been cutting my friend Roger's hair for years, with results that Phyllis preferred to my barber's handiwork. I finally agreed to see Roger's man, someone I already knew casually, for a trial trim. When I was in Dusty's chair and he was trimming the hair around my ears, he noticed a black spot behind one ear; I'd never seen it, Phyllis had never seen it, and my barber had never seen it, all because it was extremely difficult to see. It was only because Dusty was so thorough, in my first visit to his chair, that anyone saw it. Dusty urged me to see a dermatologist, but I doubted the need, especially since I haven't had so much as a suntan, much less a burn, for decades, and my skin has suffered less sun damage than most people's; but I made an appointment with a skin doctor whose family I already knew. When the results of a biopsy came back a few days later, they were jarring: that spot was melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. My doctor quickly scheduled surgery with a specialist. I'm now in my third week since the surgery, which I'm assured got all of the melanoma. If I had shrugged off Dusty's warning, the result could have been fatal; since my own diagnosis, I've learned of other people whose melanomas appeared in the same place, and with terrible results.

So, don't shrug off warnings about the dangers in exposure to the sun, or, for that matter, about what can happen, as in my case, if an apparently harmless mole or spot turns deadly. It pays to check yourself in the mirror occasionally, or to ask your favorite barber or stylist to keep an eye out for anything that looks suspicious. Me, I took several nice bottles to Dusty when I saw him again this week.

And now, back to work on the Maurice Noble interview. I hope to have it up by the end of the month, although that's probably too ambitious.

 

Oh, Pooh!

When I was writing Hollywood Cartoons and The Animated Man I tried to read (or, more often, re-read) as many as possible of the important literary sources of the Disney cartoons, but somehow I didn't pay much attention to A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh books. Now I'm remedying that oversight. I've read the first Pooh book, Winnie-the-Pooh, and I'm deep into the second, The House at Pooh Corner. I have a better sense of Milne's strengths than I did before, but I still can't warm to the books. For all their droll cleverness, they still cloy (Dorothy Parker was right). I think that's because almost all the characters, Christopher Robin excepted, are toys, stuffed animals. Other children's books, like Johnny Gruelle's Raggedy Ann titles, are populated by sentient toys, too, but almost no one makes any claims for their literary quality. The Milne books, though, are "classics," and so demand more respect than I can give them. Talking-animal stories are one thing, stuffed-animal stories very much another, as far as I'm concerned. Jeremy Bentham was right: real animals are united with us in their capacity for suffering, and so to accept in talking animals, like those in The Wind in the Willows, emotions and even language resembling our own doesn't require an insuperable leap of the imagination. But a stuffed toy bear? No.

I've been struck, as I've read the Pooh books and returned to books like Lewis Carroll's Alice pair, by how closely the Disney cartoons based on those books stick to the narratives laid out in the books (Wind in the Willows may be the cartoon that resembles its literary source the least). What's missing generally in the cartoons based on English literary sources is not specific incidents but rather an evenness of tone that's hard to imagine duplicated in an American cartoon; this is why cartoons like Alice seem so frantic.

Bill Peckmann recently encouraged me to watch a BBC comedy called The Detectorists, about a couple of doofuses who search with portable metal detectors for ancient coins and the like (but more often come up with relics like Hot Wheels cars). Bill writes about it: "I'm probably the only person that sees this connection, but I feel it has a lot of Barksian humor in it. The two semi-anti heroes, who both have a high level of man-child in them—they are responsible and not responsible at the same time—remind me so much of Donald Duck dealing with everyday life, luckily with the same results, meaning with lots of laughs."

I'm afraid I didn't laugh very much, although I appreciate the concept; and there's something delightful about having as one of the two leads Toby Jones, who played Culverton Smith, an exceptionally evil villain, in one of the BBC's Sherlock Holmes episodes. And what do you know! I see he provided the voice of Owl in Disney's misbegotten live-action/CGI film Christopher Robin.

On the subject of A.A.Milne, one more thing. On page 77 of Funnybooks, I noted that Walt Kelly had invoked Milne's stories as the literary model for Pogo, rather than Joel Chandler Harris's Brer Rabbit stories. This despite the Harris stories' superficial similarity to Pogo, especially in their Southern swamp setting. Reading the Pooh stories now, I've been struck by how strong are the echoes of those stories in Pogo. Christopher Robin, sensible and quiet, is the Pogo figure, supervising a menagerie of sweet-tempered but slow-witted animals. Pogo is, for my money, much the superior creation, but Milne deserves credit for providing Kelly with a sturdy armature for his stories.