Thursday, February 14, 2008

2nd anniversary

thanks to David Germain for this great link below!

Holy cow! Aggie (tomorrow's Franz Waxman) told me yesterday marked 2 years of my blog already. I always figured I'd have run out of stuff to talk about long ago.

Maybe I could collect my thoughts and try to explain why I'm doing it.

1) I have a big mouth:

I'm always thinking about what makes stuff work and how to try new ideas. I talk to my equally theoretical friends all the time about cartoons. Writing my latest obsessions and thoughts out makes me zero in on them in more detail. So I learn a lot myself by trying to articulate clearly what began as vague observances and notions in my muddled brain.

2) To help widen other cartoonists' tastes and horizons:

Not everyone has access to a lot of our cartoon history and legacy. I've been collecting cartoons, toys, comics and illustrations for decades. I had a big library at spumco and always encouraged the artists to take advantage of it.
Like these guys at Dic who didn't really appreciate it.

I think today, more than ever, it's hard to see the heights that cartoon art has reached if you are only getting your influences from modern animation and comic strips. They don't run many classic cartoons on TV anymore. Modern comic strips are very primitively drawn (and written) compared to comics of 50 to 90 years ago.I think that the more influences you have, the more you can avoid being trapped in a current "style". Having a style (the way some people today think of style) is an extremely creatively limiting handicap. I think being aware of a huge assortment of individual styles (as opposed to group styles) and being able to draw well without having to rely on simple stylistic tricks allows you to think up many more ideas and execute a much wider range of characters, stories and technical challenges.

I sure don't expect everyone to agree with me on this point, but for those who do have eclectic tastes and want to know more about what's done, I'm more than happy to share whatever I've discovered in search for great cartoon art and ideas.

The cartoonists today who have the most unique styles and the widest range of functional abilities also have a lot of influences. They don't just imitate a group style.
Jim Smith, Katie Rice, Nick Cross, Mike Kazaleh, Bob Camp, Dave Feiss, Chuck Gammage, Eddie Fitzgerald and others don't imitate, yet they all have their imitators.

There are quite a few younger cartoonists appearing that have a wide range of influences, which is highly encouraging to me. Combine this with functionality and you will be the next leaders of the business!

Kali, Rex, Mitch and lots more!

Also, there are so many great helpful blogs out there. Kevin Langley, The Animation Archive, Temple Of The Seven Camels, Bob Jaques' Popeye blog, Theory Corner, Michael Sporn, Hans Bacher and more.
The passing on of wisdom to the next generation

These generous folks all share their knowledge and lots of history. I will soon do a post about some of my favorites. Too many to list today!

This is a renaissance in archival cartoon archaeology!

3) To inspire a return to cartoon roots:

Since hardly any modern cartoons really embrace what distinguishes cartoons from other media, I want to try to find others like me who like cartoons to be cartoony.
like Spaz Williams' grandparents

Eddie and I talked about this while shoving greasy pizza into our faces yesterday. Eddie told me about some recent critiques of classic cartoons we loved. The critiques consisted partly of complaining about gags that just couldn't be done in any other medium.

We came up with a new theory about how to critique the great cartoons. To me (and others) the heights of cartoon art are more like music than they are like literal stories. Music has its own special language to describe its structure and melodies and we need a language like that. Otherwise, we are stuck trying to describe cartoons in terms of other media like live-action film, or novels. While there is some overlap between what cartoons do and what other artistic media does, there are also blatant difference. Those differences are what define us, what set us apart from other forms of entertainment.

I'm going to contact Daniel Goldmark -who studies classic cartoon music, and see if I can get him to sit down with me and Eddie to watch cartoons and try to find useful terms and structural concepts from the movements and patterns in music. It may give us a jumping off point to help us describe our favorite cartoons.

These cartoons below could not be critiqued in terms of plot structure or logic, yet they are among the most moving and creatively inspired of all cartoons.

Swing You Sinners
Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarfs
Baby Bottleneck
You Belong To My Heart
Bad Luck Blackie

4) To Teach Principles and Techniques To The Next Generation Of Cartoonists:

Not every cartoonist is interested in the classic artistic and cartoon drawing tools, but for those who love old cartoons and would like to have those skills, there is no place I know of today where you can learn them.

I know this from experience, because I have hired so many cartoonists straight out of college and have had to personally teach what used to be basic skills to them.

You really can't afford to do this while actually on a project. Networks expect you to start drawing functional drawings the day you begin a project. They can't tell the difference between a truly descriptive controlled drawing and a flat uncontrolled drawing. They don't know that one makes a cartoon much more effective in telling a story and they don't care.

I've spent so much of my own money training people and have decided I can't afford it anymore. So I figured when I started this blog, I'd just put up my old manuals and then people could teach themselves. That way, next time I start a major project, I could just find the people who really wanted to do the same sorts of cartoons I like and who already have the tools I know I need.

5) To encourage Analysis:

If anyone is to bring back some of what we like about classic cartoons, we need to be able to break down what we like into its separate elements and then start applying those elements to our own work.

This can be a difficult process and it hurts to break down our prejudices, but it's the only way to begin to understand why we like certain cartoons. Then it is important to apply what we learn to our own work and that is even harder!

But you really can't understand an artistic concept fully, until you can do it yourself. First, discover a concept, then do it a few times until it sinks in.

I hope I have unveiled some elements of what makes cartoons work, but only each individual can make themselves learn it by doing it.

6) Blind Habit:
It's become a habit to do this stuff. I really don't expect everyone to agree with everything I say, or which cartoons I like. The danger of publishing your own opinions publicly is that those who disagree with you sometimes take it too seriously - especially online!

I think most people who come here are probably in 80-90% agreement with my overall view.
Basically that classic cartoons are mostly of a much higher quality than modern cartoons. We may disagree on whether Chuck is better than Bob, or whether Disney is more artistic than Avery, but in the broad scheme of things those are really minor differences.

I'm amazed at how those small differences sometimes explode into huge flame wars! Really, what we all agree on is what I hope will someday come back into fashion in the animation world. There are many forces against us, so I hope a few of us will find a way to collaborate on what we agree on and take back a place for ourselves in the business that those like us created and made so successful and unique in the first place.

So thanks to everyone who has encouraged my incessant rambling and striving for ways to make more cartoon fun!

7) Crass Capitalism

Oh yeah! It doesn't hurt to have people contribute! Thanks to all the latest pals who know the sincerest form of appreciation.

Mitch Lodolt
Mitch Leewe
Dan Mozgai
John Guy
David de Rooij