Tuesday, April 21, 2009

An Age Of Extreme Conservatism pt 2 - Cartoons Today

Conservative VS Liberal Cartoons Of The Past:

Disney's studio was extremely conservative in its content. Their characters and attitudes were wholesome and generic, never veering into the territory of the specific individual - because conservatives naturally distrust anybody that has a unique personality. Disney himself admitted it many times. He distrusted anybody that stood out from the crowd. On the other hand, the studio liberally experimented in the advancement of skills. They believed in "quality" - which in the 1930s partly meant extreme inhuman otherworldly phenomenal ability. Nobody before the mid 60s ever expected there would be a time when famous people would be average. We all took it for granted that if you were on TV, or in the movies, on radio, sold records, were a politician that you must be some amazingly gifted accomplished person. Whether you were a liberal or a conservative, you shouldn't be rich and famous unless you could do something that hardly anyone else can do.

Bill and Joe - Typical Conservatives From The "Great Generation"

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were extreme conservatives from the "great generation". They believed in skill, gloss, professionalism and - not breaking the mold. That was the general conception of a "conservative" before hippies arrived and destroyed everything good about both camps.

Bill and Joe took a couple years of mild experimentation (and politicking with management against more imaginative directors) with some different characters before they hit upon their one success - Tom and Jerry. Tom and Jerry is about as uninspired a cartoon series as was ever created. It's pure generic cartoon thinking of the time. What is a cartoon? Uh...it's where a cat chases a mouse and there is lots of hurt and noise and mayhem. It's hard to be more basic than that, so Bill and Joe didn't fix something that wasn't broken for 15 or 16 years. For that whole period they didn't even try to create new characters. As long as Tom and Jerry was popular and still winning awards, why waste brain cells thinking up something new that might fail? Now I like Bill and Joe as people and I admire their skill and professionalism and even their basic cartoony instincts, but where we depart is in this: I can't even imagine having to draw the same small handful of characters doing the same things for decades. I would go insane. Don't creative people want to create? In other words do new things? Apparently not all of them do.

WB Cartoons Much More Liberal Creativity - More inventive

Meanwhile over at Warner Bros, a lot of liberal creativity was going on - and the inventions and explorations being pioneered dragged the rest of the more conservative studios along with it. Obviously Clampett was the most "liberal" of the whole group and he himself dragged along a lot of the rest of the Looney Tunes group of cartoonists that in general were more imaginative than rest of the studios in the late 30s and throughout the 40s. Chuck was sort of half and half - he was cautious in his content yet liberal in his techniques. Friz was the most conservative of the bunch and reluctantly, half-heartedly followed behind the trends that Clampett, Avery and Jones set - grumbling about it the whole time.

Disney Animators Baffled By Looney Tunes

I've heard stories that the Disney animators would screen all the cartoons that every other studio was making just to see if they had any competition. I can just imagine them being dumbfounded when the latest rebellious individualistic new Warner Bros. or Tex Avery MGM cartoons came out. Can you see Frank and Ollie watching "The Great Piggy Bank Robbery" or "Uncle Tom's Cabana"? I know that even 50 years after those cartoons changed everything and were still popular, Frank and Ollie were still dumbfounded.

I went to a celebration and screening of classic cartoons in the 80s in L.A. and a lot of old timers were there. When Disney cartoons were run, there was polite silence throughout the packed audience. When they played Chuck Jones' "Pest In The House" the whole audience erupted in laughter and hysteria. They also ran a classic Tex Avery (I forget which one) and the same thing happened.

During an intermission, Frank and Ollie came onstage to be interviewed (by Leonard Maltin?). They right away admitted their astonishment that the Jones and Avery cartoons were received with such joy and hysteria - and then they explained it away. I'll try to paraphrase (if you were at this show and remember more details, please comment). It was something like "Well yes those cartoons certainly had energy and they got a lot of laughs. I remember when we first screened such brash cartoons at Disney's that we were worried that maybe our own cartoons would be too sedate and old-fashioned by comparison, but then when we saw the same cartoons played in the midwest where most decent Americans live, nobody understood the jokes. So these are good for sophisticated urban crowds on the coasts, but our more conservative wholesome cartoons were much more popular overall." Now that's conservatism. Warner Bros. characters cartoons have outlasted Disney's popularity by decades, Frank and Ollie witnessed it with their very own eyes, and still had the audacity to deny it.

Old Conservativism Different than Modern Conservatism

Boy do I miss the old kind of conservative - because at least they had a tendency to preserve some of the good things that the previous generations of liberals pioneered.

Forcing Conservatives To Break Habits

In hard times, conservatives are sometimes forced to be creative. When the cartoon studios collapsed in the mid 50s, Bill and Joe - after making the same 2 characters in cartoons for the last 15 years, were all of a sudden on the street. The times had changed and so had the conditions of production. There was no more big-budget slow moving theatrical cartoon production where you could spend decades polishing up the same tired old ideas. Now the only way to survive was to get into television and pump out tons of product for bargain basement prices. You couldn't just make one set of characters and expect to survive (not till the 90s).

So now Bill and Joe scrambled and were forced to find new ideas and characters. Being the pragmatic conservatives that they were, they jumped at the task and created more characters in a year than they had in their whole previous career. They also had no choice but to change drawing styles to keep up with the market. Now they had to write dialogue - they had never had to do this for Tom and Jerry. This resulted in way more interesting characters than a generic silent cat and mouse. Not as interesting as the best Looney Tunes characters, but quite an advance for Bill and Joe. They never had to create characters with personality before. So how did they do it all at once?

Conservatives Copy Successful Liberal Inventions

They basically copied a bunch of other more creative people's ideas and characters. Huckleberry Hound is the voice and personality of Tex Avery's southern wolf - but he has Droopy's design. The Flinstones are the Honeymooners living in cave times. Quick Draw McGraw is a watered down Red Skelton. Yogi's voice and outfit is patterned after Norton from the Honeymooners. Etc.

What made their cartoons seem fresh and unique were the individual star talents that created the style. Ed Benedict's character designs (after Joe had told him nobody liked that "UPA" crap) were striking and appealing and modern. Daws Butler's beautiful voice and rhythms and versatility gave the voice patterns he mimicked from already established radio and TV stars a new sound. A sound so appealing that it made you think the characters were actually brand new.

The other innovations in the first HB cartoons came from the fact that they were being churned out so fast, that Bill and Joe had to use a ton of cartoonists, painters and other talents that all had different styles and personalities. The haphazard mixing and matching of all these talents - unsupervised by the conservatives who wished they had the time to force everyone into a formula - created a freshness and collection of a lot of lucky accidents. The first 3 years of Bill and Joe's new life showed much raw promise for a very creative future - had they not been so conservative that they couldn't pick up on the lucky accidents.

Formula Sets In

As soon as they became established and successful and began to get a studio in system in place, they got more control over the whole effort and everything became a complete depressing formula. These cheaper formulaic cartoons allowed them to survive for decades, but they also ruined their chances for respect from their peers. With every year, the cartoons got less imaginative, less cartoony, less fun - but the networks would still buy 'em like that so - why fix something that ain't broken? Most of them got cancelled after the first year, and yet the networks would buy the latest batch of Godawful cartoons. There was no incentive to do anything even professional - let alone creative. Had they been more liberal thinkers, they could have taken the lucky accidents that happened in the first couple years of their TV careers (gifts from God!) and built upon then - while throwing out the parts that were boring or didn't work. Instead, being extreme conservatives, they threw out the fresh lucky innovations and built upon the formula.

Hippies Deliver The Final Blow To Any Kind Of Creativity

Once the hippies came along, Bill and Joe - like everyone else - threw out even the good part of the formula - and any pretense at all of skill and professionalism. Scooby Doo was born and a whole new age of the worst, ugliest, unimaginative and amateurish cartoons burst through the dam and we've never recovered.
The worst things about 70s cartoons still influence even the most expensive "quality" feature animation today. People much more conservative and less creative than Bill and Joe jumped on the bandwagon and took over the whole business. Filmation, Dic, Nelvana eventually influenced Disney in turn, then led straight to Dreamworks, the uber-conservative animation studio.

Bill and Joe Reap Their Sour Seed

The sad thing about this is that in their old age, both Bill and Joe admitted to me that they hated their later cartoons and really didn't enjoy the creative reputation they had earned as the guys who ruined cartoons. I felt for them, but they sure asked for it.

Modern Conservatism Doesn't Even Value Skill Or Preservation Of Tradition

Today's conservative animation leaders are very different than not only liberal creators like Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones and Tex Avery but even their conservative counterparts of the past - Bill, Joe and Walt.

Today's conservatism fears and distrust everything, not just NEW ideas, but even just barely honest HUMAN ideas. The moguls have zero respect for anyone creative - whether they are liberally creative or conservatively creative. They are so afraid of individual initiative and talent that they have to use closed distribution systems to keep out any competition.

Today's creative leaders may label themselves "liberals", may have voted for Obama, but the last thing they want is anything to shake up their safe system. "Change" and "Individuality" are curse words for this new type of ultra conservative thinking yet poltically affiliated liberal.


Lucky said...

I've always loved reading your posts, and I learn more and more about the history of animation with them. But most of the times they don't really seem positive. I don't believe animation's become worse, I believe it simply branched out into more sections , styles and techniques than ever before ,which is why I wouldn't want to live in any other time than today! Yep, you are speaking the truth, but if you really don't have faith in today's animation business then what do you suggest to emerging animators wanting to make it in it?

Anonymous said...


Ralph Bakshi already answered that.

Rudy Tenebre said...

An interesting essay, Mr. K., with a nice little dialectic. Can you really blame hippies directly for mainstream culture's attempt to appropriate and cash in on the counterculture, the latter who were balling in the thickets and eating mescaline and not producing the Scooby-Doo show?! (tho' mebbie they watched it... on mescaline).

This climate also produced animation's most radical voice, pushing it beyond its cultural role as well as its commercial demographic--: Ralph Bakshi (on the shoulders of his golden agers, no less-- Virgil Ross and Irv Spence!!)

Alex I.R., Esq. said...

'What is a cartoon? Uh...it's where a cat chases a mouse and there is lots of hurt and noise and mayhem.'

What's wrong with that? What DOES pass for an idea, in your book? I'm told that THERE ARE NO ORIGINAL IDEAS! EVERYTHING HAS BEEN DONE! All we can do is fresh variations, even if we're not aware that it was already done previously.

'The moguls have zero respect for anyone creative - whether they are liberally creative or conservatively creative.'

I dunno: the way they're talked up, I think that well-known TV show creators and feature directors ARE respected. And they DO have creativity. Maybe the inconsistant WRITING in "modern" cartoons is not to your taste.

Couldn't you have whatever visual style you wanted, but avoid bad storytelling and lame humor at all costs?

Ben said...

Hey John!

Your posts are always interesting. Amir and I have been talking about cartoons today and how there is nothing left with substance. Theres no funny and well drawn drawings It's all just a lot of tude and flat boring ideas. There's nothing to be inspired by thats of the quality of the early Betty Boop cartoons or Bob Clampett cartoons.

Oh! And your Obama toy is in the latest Wizard Magazine Good thing it's getting some publicity!


J Hobart B said...

"I'm told that THERE ARE NO ORIGINAL IDEAS! EVERYTHING HAS BEEN DONE! All we can do is fresh variations, even if we're not aware that it was already done previously."

Man, I've heard that theory before too, and everytime someone says that I have to force my lunch back down.

This theory was invented by executives and boring people as an excuse not to be creative. "I don't have new ideas," they say, "Therefore they must not exist." Of course there are new ideas. People with talent and imagination have them.

Thanks for this post, John. Makes me all the more excited about the Spumco book.

Niki said...

I figure I'll follow uncle Eddie's plan and go the internet route. I'll try and get as good as I can, maybe try and learn oil painting too, and make cartoons over the internet. Just try and be better than the Telly.If I can do that, amybe I'll benefit off of my own hard work.

Mr. Semaj said...

As always, I'm in agreement with half of this assessment (I ain't-a tellin' which).

Trevor Thompson said...

What's wrong with that? What DOES pass for an idea, in your book? I'm told that THERE ARE NO ORIGINAL IDEAS! EVERYTHING HAS BEEN DONE! All we can do is fresh variations, even if we're not aware that it was already done previously.Yes, but what John's pointing out, rather obviously in my view, is that Bill and Joe never did any fresh variations on Tom and Jerry. In fact, to expound on that point, it could be argued that, as Tom and Jerry went on, there was less and less experimentation and new ideas. As the series continued, their designs changed into twin-heavy conservative versions of their earlier more liberal designs.

Plus, they repeated gags and re-used animation in later cartoons.

So, in the case of Tom and Jerry there was no fresh variation. And there won't be any fresh variations on the new cartoon ideas because no one studies the original ideas, they merely copy it superficially, often not being critical or educated enough to discern what the mistakes are and why the good things worked. It's not a matter of opinion.

I dunno: the way they're talked up, I think that well-known TV show creators and feature directors ARE respected. And they DO have creativity. Don't confuse 'respect' with being well-known.

And as for 'talking up', something which is only done on talk shows, no one is going to say on a show promoting a new cartoon that the creator is anything short of a genius. He's the one who got them the job.

Plus, creators today get away with murder. They don't have to be talented or even know anything about animation once the show goes into production, because they'll forever be creators. They "create" from now on.

Which means, because they're creators now, they'll become executives. Which means they are now in charge of hiring who makes their art for them: hiring character designers to incorporate their drawing style, even it out, dumb it down and make it generic and easy to adapt to, finding a person they trust to hire the voice actors ( and someone to direct the voice sessions for that person ) and figure out what studios in which foreign countries are going to work for which director of which unit.

There's your creativity.

Fortunately for your 'creator', all that is done, with his input, by committee.

- trevor.

Jeff said...

...And, what have you done?

Ren and Stimpy went off the air long ago - yet that's all you seem to be riding on. How can you complain that H/B stuck to Tom and Jerry? How many new cartoons have you pushed out?

It's not easy to create great gags and stories inside such a tight Cat and Mouse formula. And they did amazing work time after time. Plus, they had to communicate without words. You think that's easier? Sure, H/B cartoons went down the toilet but should you blame them or the TV industry as a whole. I seem to remember a few later Ren and Stimpy cartoons that might not have been made to your standards. Whose fault was that?

In the age of the internet there is no reason why you can't be making NEW and CREATIVE shorts and getting them seen. But you don't. Instead it appears that your whole perception about why to make animation and how to distribute your animation is OLD and CONSERVATIVE.

I loved the Tenacious D cartoons (2003?) but John, how are you pushing the medium? It's 2009. Wake up.

brad said...

I love these posts and hang off every word.

DuckTwacy said...

John How dare you! Disney's characters and attitudes where totally unique and tailored to the story. You know nothing. Just look at this clip for proof:

Disney Unique Acting*Sarcasm

Zoran Taylor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gracesix said...

Alex wrote:


Every time someone regurgitates that statement to me I always tell them not to fall for "Information Age" branding. This is the age of customization. That is all that is being sold and TOLD to us. Now if everyone was willing to try new ideas or make their own things, then the limited range of options, choices and/or services placed in front us wouldn't be so appealing. Everything hasn't been done before. That's just something said to prevent you from thinking of new ideas or looking up distinctly different sources of inspiration.

ChristopherC said...

John! here's a cool article on how How Disney recycled its classic cartoons What do you think of this?, isn't normal to recycle scenes especially if they work?

-jjmm- said...


Kelly Toon said...


Do you feel at all heartened by the fact that there is a real movement for economic liberty happening in this country? The ability to pay for what delights you, to have the infinite options available in a free market, and the resultant lowering of prices . . . this is what drives the kind of individual accomplishments you write about. The opposite is true today. Instead, the individual is burdened not only with taxes on everything he owns, buys, inherits, and produces, but with an outrageously complicated system of regulations to deal with when attempting to make money. Those who benefit from such systems are those who already have the money and influence to bend, break, or just create new rules, especially rules that prohibit anyone else from competing. God only knows the extent of political corruption and cronyism associated with the entertainment industry.

Thank you for the last paragraph. I consider myself a conservative . . . or to be specific, a FISCAL conservative. I am very socially liberal more freedom to be whoever you are, in whatever fashion you see fit, so long as you aren't physically assaulting, cheating, or stealing from anyone. That is very different from our current system of governance, which does everything it can to control and manipulate the individual where it REALLY COUNTS, that is, financially. Our freedom to spend money in exchange for goods and services is one of the greatest powers we have.

What does this have to do with cartoons? Well, I'd have to know more about the specific history of the entertainment industry in terms of consolidation of power to answer that. What gives me hope, and I hope it does you as well ,John, Is that the internet IS a free market. We have more access to information about old cartoons than the hippies ever thought possible.

Last night I was watching classic Chip and Dale cartoons, and some Donald Duck, on YouTube. The vast majority of comments left on these is favorable. Tredfx41253he current youthful generation says things like "Why don't they show these on TV?" and "The stuff on TV is ugly crap, I hate it!" The same goes for classic Looney Tunes. People talk about how much they laughed, how happy the cartoons make them. SO don't lose hope, until the Powers that Be extend their long arm onto the internet, establishing the same forces of interference, control, and censorship that is enacted on the outside world. That is when you are going to see people in this country get even angrier than they are right now.

To anyone who is reading this: If you would like to learn more about the economics of liberty, please visit Education for Liberty and click on Economics, and also check out The Ludwig Von Mises Institute.

Thanks for letting me soapbox on your blog, John ^_^ I just updated my own blog with several construction studies, and some original cartoon drawings. The last picture in your post reminded me to post my own recent frog design (very preliminary stuff): Toon Frogs. Would you consider my designs terribly conservative? It might work in my favor . . . I'm pitching my services to a conservative/libertarian publication, after all :p Any feedback here or on my blog is greatly appreciated, as always.


Mark said...

I though Huckaberry Hound was based on Andy Griffith, Yogi was Sgt. Bilko.

CartoonSteve said...


If John needs to "wake up" then you need CPR (or your head examined). John has and IS doing more to advance the medium than anyone I can think of. How? Aside from the characters hes developed since R&S and web animation he innovated long before anyone else, how about this incredible blog? Many readers have said "you should write a book" (which he is) but here we already have the best interactive learning resource ever, cross referenced while explaining and promoting excellent drawing skills along what would otherwise be long forgotten animation techniques and inspiration.

I shake my head in amazement that anyone would not realize the worth of this forum.

Vince Gorman said...

I love to hear the history from John K. You critique and you're tougher on what you care about. It's good to hear someone who is so passionate and opinionated about all things animation, (without reverence to any single studio)

Kelly Toon said...

Oh, I almost forgot!

Can you tell me anything about this cartoon, John? It was privately commissioned by Harding College back in the late 40's, I think? It's a John Sutherland Production called "Make Mine Freedom."

I'd love to know who worked on this. It's definitely in the conservative camp of animation in terms of style. It's very interesting to see a piece of propaganda, basically, which was NOT produced by the State. In fact, the message of this piece is staunchly in favor of freedom, capitalism, and reduction of State interference in the market.

Here is the YouTube Link:
Make Mine Freedom

C. A. M. Thompson said...

It's funny how instantly so much popular culture stuff (like cartoons) got so much uglier as you move from 1969 to 1970. Color selection moves from using these bright primary colors (I'm thinking stuff like Star Trek and 60s album covers) to all these ugly oranges and browns and pea-soup greens. Rock music mostly stagnated too until punk and new wave came along. The 70's were maybe a period where the worst parts of liberals and conservatives merged and everybody was apathetic. So many great people died during the 60's. I guess everything inspiring from the 60's seemed like it was dead to people.

Isaac said...

A lot of replies seem to be confused about the meaning of "hippies".

These aren't the long-hair, free-love, down-with-the-man political activists from the '60s.

These are the people selling those ideas to corporations. They say everything needs to be "marketable", "inoffensive", "inspiring", "carrying a positive message", "tolerant and multicultural", "morally uplifting".

The truth is, while those principles are completely unobjectionable, they contribute nothing by themselves. When you follow them, you get today's animated feature films.

Apparently, the audience buys it.

Isaac said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
drawingtherightway said...

Even though most modern day cartoons suck, there might be one upside. With the internet there could be cartoons that showcase real talent. With a wealth of information from John's blog and other online resources, people can learn to make better cartoons. If every person who reads these resources and practices them were to make their own online cartoons, they would be better the the junk that's on tv now. I'm sure many of these people's cartoons would have technical issues, but at least they would be attempting to use the principals to create something better considering the modern toons don't use many if any principals. Maybe a sensible executive would see these people's creations and try them out on tv. That last part probably won't happen but at least we can dream!

Anonymous said...

Many thoughts about this…

It's thought that if someone were to make something truly great, the audience would demand more and then maybe we'd get out of this "dark age".

How do we get the audience to see anything great when executives and the entire system won't allow anything like that to be seen?

They won't buy your shows, John, so why would they buy ours?

JohnK said...

Who said they wouldn't buy yours?

My whole point has been, it's not an idea that makes something good, it's the execution.

That's what my shorts program series is about. How to execute sensibly.

Alex I.R., Esq. said...

There's something else that bugs me...

John has been posting comic cover arts of Tom and Jerry, which convey the message that these are admirable characters, and NOW he's telling us that Tom and Jerry...well...SUCK?

What oldster characters CAN we trust in if guys like Tom and Jerry are apparantly the work of the devil?

Chuck said...

To Mark -

Yogi's voice and appearance were definitely Art Carney/Ed Norton, but his soul was certainly Bilko's. As for Huckleberry Hound, there may be a more winding path to Daws Butler's voice work here than is generally acknowledged. Though Butler denied the Andy Griffith link and said the voice, also used for the Avery wolf and for Lantz as well, was based on a North Carolina neighbor of his wife's, I'm not so sure. He did like to take celebrity voices and make them his own, and to me the Huck voice has an uncanny similarity to the laconic, Texas drawl of radio actor Barton Yarborough. Yarborough was part of two famous radio acting stables, that of Jack Webb, as Friday's first partner Ben Romero on DRAGNET, and that of Carlton E. Morse, for whom he played Cliff on ONE MAN'S FAMILY and, of more relevance here, soldier of fortune "Doc" Long on I LOVE A MYSTERY. I couldn't come up with any online audio of that show, but here's a link to a short-lived western he did called HAWK LARRABEE - http://www.otrcat.com/hawk-larabee-p-1375.html

I'd be interested to hear what people think of my theory.


John Scroggins said...

Does anyone know how Warner Bros. gauged how popular their characters were with audiences in the early days? Did they have guys sit in during a premier and listen to how loudly the audience laughed? Did they get fan mail? Anyone know?


JohnK said...

What oldster characters CAN we trust in if guys like Tom and Jerry are apparantly the work of the devil?<<

I said they were conservative cartoons, not the work of the Devil.

Conservative, very well done cartoons, as opposed to today's conservative, not very well done cartoons.

Zorrilla said...

I think 3 reasons why cartoons suck are:

1 - Minimum quality required for the sale.

It's the same idea as in orange juice: 100% natural juice is expensive, so companies water it down with radioactive yellow crap. And they get away with it because people buy that shit as orange juice. Same thing happens with cartoons, if people accept that cheap crap, the business geniuses at the studios don't see any reason to make them any better.

2 - Corporate crap

Creative, skilled guys are relied with increasing responsibilities, and eventually climb up the corporate ladder. But talentless corporate guys don't like that kind of competition, and don't like creative types anyway. So they keep producing their crappy stuff, which for some reason people buy anyway.

3 - Inbreeding

Artists are to blame too, they have consumed so much of that crap that they started to like it. And each generation of cartoons seems more retarded.

Corey said...

Whats the name of the toon from that screencap of Daffy reading the book?

introvert said...

I figure I'll follow uncle Eddie's plan and go the internet route. I'll try and get as good as I can, maybe try and learn oil painting too, and make cartoons over the internet. Just try and be better than the Telly.If I can do that, amybe I'll benefit off of my own hard work.That's what I figure is the only route open to anyone who wants to be creative, or even try to be uncreative in a skilled and professional manner.

Television just isn't suited to the medium anymore. It's too big to let anyone in, and I for one know that John is using his valuable time and genius much more effectively by explaining just how and why that is, rather than trying to wedge another show into that seemingly neverending crapshoot.

Our standards are so low that with any given cartoon, we have to dive deep and hope beyond hope in order to find even one enjoyable aspect. Just to cling as tight as we can onto that quality and proclaim the "creator" of the show a genius for showing it to us. It's not like we can expect this guy to even know why or what it is we are enjoying, because in just about every case imaginable, he got that title from someone who knows even less about cartoons than him!

Television doesn't want our help, and truth be told it doesn't even need it at this point. Our only hope is to compete with it. If someone can find a way to make better cartoons for less, along with a manner of marketing them to the public's attention in a manner that puts TV to shame.

Heck, I see the method posted right here for all to see. The internet's already proven itself by pulling such a large market-share of the public's attention with crap so pungent that it puts even the most uninspired trite available on TV to shame!

All we need is some talent and determination from just enough people to put that attention to good use and show the world just what "entertainment" is supposed to mean in the first place!

It's not going to be easy (failure is apparent if anyone is going to learn anything), but if we are lucky, television will eventually have to face the cold realities of it's existence and change to meet the challenge, or simply shrivel up and die off in the face of it's own crippling inadequacy.

mike f. said...

Ah, I've seen this post a million times. I still don't believe for a second that "hippies" have anything to do with animation. Stop writing verbal porn for Fontanelli and get back to the cool stuff, please. Thank you.Yeah! What do you think this is, John - your blog or something? Forget your own thoughts and professional opinions. Start blogging what your adult-male-virgin-fanboys-in-bunny-suits-who-romanticize-ignorance tell you to blog!

The world will be a better place, "creatives" will lie down with executives, and a little hippie will lead them...

Ahahnah said...

I think the internet may cause change if the corporations and the governments don't kill it to maintain their dreary 1984 style managed society. I'm afraid conservatism will win because people aren't going to figure out how to make money from stuff that people get for free on the internet. The distribution system is fan driven and I don't see creators or advertisers taking to that.

People can happily have a Bush or Obama in the White house and pat themselves on the back for being traditional or liberal. What passes off for either is rhetoric. The policy virtually remains the same. If someone actually has those values then they are called a kook, and an extremist because they want change. It is like modern cartoons trying to pass themselves off for what they aren't and people seeking to tone them down. People support this through voting, viewership and their dollars. And the battle between the enlightenment and the old regime continues.

Do you think the Flintstones is influenced by Tex Avery's "The First Bad Man?"

crf said...

Modern commercial animation gets little inspiration from any other art forms. But within older cartoons are directly represented music, painting, sculpture, theatre, opera, music practice, bands, and installation art (+ more tangential influences I'm sure).

Yet, just visit a year end show at an art school today: there is lots of interesting new forms and new ideas that ought to inspire cartoonists. Creativity in the arts is not lacking: it just has not found it's way into commercial cartooning.

It's worthwhile to look to past cartoons for direct inspiration. But I don't think an unappreciation of past masters is the problem: it's far more basic. Too many of them produce product out of a near total cultural vacuum: past, modern or otherwise.

gracesix said...

Alex wrote: "There's something else that bugs me...

John has been posting comic cover arts of Tom and Jerry, which convey the message that these are admirable characters, and NOW he's telling us that Tom and Jerry...well...SUCK?

What oldster characters CAN we trust in if guys like Tom and Jerry are apparantly the work of the devil?"

I think Alex is just having a bad day.

Caleb said...

Great post.

The modern pseudo-liberals need a catchy nickname like hippies. Flippies?

Geneva said...

It must be really frustrating being constantly misinterpreted like this!

I love your big, wordy posts. I can't believe this stuff is free.

stiff said...


Jeffrey Beaumont said...

God, man, you've got it right on.

Roberto González said...

One thing that can be said about Tom and Jerry is that they have a lot of variations in their formula. The premises were usually more creative and distinct than the majority of Roadrunner or Freleng's version of Sylvester and Tweety. Sometimes Tom was in love, other times they both befriend to confront a common enemy, they are presented as musketeers, cowboys, the cartoon is presented as a story-book (Johann Mouse)...The animation itself did get more and more conversative over the years and the stories too, but there is a lot of imagination in the development of the formula. No matter how standard this formula might be on paper, it actually works cause not all of the cartoons are based on pure chasing but more in the enmity/friendship between the characters. In cartoons like "The Zoot Cat" they mostly play pranks to each other rather than showing an actual "chase". All Roadrunner cartoons are about Wile E. Coyote simply chasing the Roadrunner, which is fine, but it's difficult to tell one cartoon from another, except for some differences in the drawing style.

I used to be a great Tom and Jerry fan some years ago. I kinda got tired of the most conservative Tom and Jerry cartoons after a while, so I get what John is saying, but I still think there is a lot of things to be praised in the earlier cartoons, and that includes Tom and Jerry personalities, the imaginative premises and the energy of the animation.

cartoonretro said...

Another great, well thought out post- which makes it even more frustrating to read these comments from people who either didn't bother to read it before jumping to conclusions or apparently have absolutely no reading comprehension.

Brendan Body said...

Thanks John, very interesting.

I'd love to see a debate on animation, and making animated films between you and, say, Brad Bird.

He did an interesting interview on the spline doctors website, I'd love to hear your response to it. If you have the time, you can
listen to it here

James said...

John, tell me if I got this right. Tom and Jerry were a great pair, however the cartoons were pretty generic and eventually developed a formula, but they still very appealing. They were very conservative -as you would say- with little change, and less and less experimentation if any.

Once H-B began television shows, and they needed different things, a different look, dialog, etc. They looked at liberal, unique things for inspiration. This worked for a while until they broke it down into a formula, how ever this time it just lost it's appeal.

I don't know if that's what you're trying to say, but that's what I got out of it.

Rick Roberts said...

Alex's ignorace and confusion makes me laugh.

"It's not easy to create great gags and stories inside such a tight Cat and Mouse formula."

It was very broad just like any other standard cartoon formula, A is after B. However what made the Tom and Jerry cartoons so boring is that they had no personalities at all, that's why after one cartoon it's not interesting to watch. The same goes for the Wile E. Coyote vs. Roadrunner cartoons.

Rick Roberts said...

And surprise, surprise, Jeff has no artwork to show us.

HemlockMan said...

Wow. That's a great essay!

The only thing I'd take issue with is the part about extreme talent = wealth. There was nothing at all talented about such creeps as Henry Ford or John D. Rockefeller or Cornelius Vanderbilt. These were just ruthless bastards. The truly talented folk worked for the rich folk, and sometimes became rich themselves (but not so much as you might think).

But I get your drift about the famous in them thar days: you had to be pretty darned beautiful and/or talented to be famous.

Noel said...

Man i love this Blog!!

Trevor Thompson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Manomite said...

I understand what your getting at, John, and I respect that your speaking up for what you believe in, but what I always believed in is the concept of "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." In this case, the "beauty" is "quality." Everyone has different tastes and not everyone is going to agree that something is good or bad. Each person interprets things differently, so in my eyes, there is no "good" or "bad," but only whatever you think. If you want to know the true "quality" of something, you're out of luck. Only God knows a complex answer like that.

I'm speaking up for what I believe in too, John. Everyone has a right to do that. And I'm speaking up for the fact that I like today's animation and I'm not ashamed of doing so. I know you don't mean to do this, but these posts of yours are always denouncing everything of today's ways and it honestly makes me upset, because I'm living in today's ways! I've had a tough life of people insulting me for what I like and you're not helping. I know you're not doing it to me directly, but it just feels like it. I really have low self esteem at times and I don't want constantly negative blogs making me feel any worse. I know I shouldn't read any of this stuff if it bothers me, but it just sneaks up on you when you search the Internet.

I want to live in a world where there's a humorous silver lining in everything, not one where I pick out the negative parts of things on a regular basis. If you or anyone else wants to live in that world, fine. It's a free country. I just choose to be positive at any time possible and like what I want to like without ridicule. I like old animation, but I also like today's animation and I'm proud of this. I am not afraid to admit that if it will make people think about this issue of "quality." If anyone here can't deal with someone like me thinking differently - which this blog post was somewhat talking about, oddly enough - then that's your problem.

John, I respect you and your work, but try to lighten up just a bit. If you don't want to, I won't do anything to stop you.

Anonymous said...

Cool post with some great observations John. I like visual examples you picked. The previous post on smears was rad too.

Some thoughts:

It seems like the corporate animation system is too broken to fix. Why try to go back, like an abused girlfriend? Make cartoons and sell them directly to the audience. Either through iTunes or ad supported site like Hulu. Self finance cartoons instead of taking hand outs from 'the man', who's only going to try destroy anything good or original. Maybe even get fans to donate money to a specific short to get it into production and post some behind these scenes goodies only for them.

Rick Roberts said...

"There was nothing at all talented about such creeps as Henry Ford"

How so ? He was a very talented mechanic.

ZenQued [MasterK] said...

I say again, its not all this way. The animation is limited, the formula is dead, but there are still creative people out there John. The animated feature is all but dead, so you might as well not bother criticizing movies that are decades old. CG is not a cartoon. Your criticism is excellent, but its behind the times. Even things like powerpuff girls are considered old cartoons now. Its time to look at the real modern cartoons.

Zoran Taylor said...

FLIPPIES! I think we have it now.

Oh and hey, there's Mike. Couldn't resist, eh? How often do you google your own name?

Isaac said...

Personal attacks don't make your point any more convincing, and you won't win any support by insulting people. Comments like that only show you have no substance to support your argument.

John said...

I'd say the part about hippies coming in, with relevance to Scooby Doo, is appropriate. We ALL know what type of characters populated THAT show!

I remember JohnK's stories about his meeting Bill and Joe and their admittance that their later shows were terrible..though strangely the THING model sheets looked good, especiall the two girls, but that's not an actual scene from the cartoon. We've come a long, sad, way from Ed Benedict..

-Steve J.Carras,
a devoted Ren and Stimpy fan, using a different account.

Isaac said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
smbhax said...

Thanks for the Bakshi link, Darby! That was inspiring.

Oliver_A said...


What was that again with being the most misquoted individual in history? ;)

It's funny how many people are willfully misreading what John is saying here.

Tom & Jerry are cartoons which are conservative in their ideas and formulas they use, contrary to most of the Warner Bros. cartoons, which had a lot of variation and experimentation going on. However, T&J is conservatism on a very high level of artistic skill, contrary to the conservatism today, which is based on lack of skill AND the unwillingness to try new ideas.

It's not that hard to understand.

Roberto González said...

I get what John is saying but I think cartoons like The Zoot Cat, Solid Serenade or Flirty Birdy are not that conservative.

I also think Tom and Jerry have very distinct personalities (I keep repeating this post after post, but just because they don't talk that doesn't mean they don't have personalities).

mike f. said...

Oh and hey, there's Mike. Couldn't resist, eh? How often do you google your own name?As a matter of fact, John emailed your comment to me for a response.

I'm glad you replied, Zoran. For a while I was afraid I was too hard on you. Thanks for proving you're the same tedious ignoramus I thought you were.

Jizz Wad said...

Spot on Post.

Modern conservatism is increasingly dangerous and aggressive.

JohnK said...

Thanks, Oliver. I should get you to summarize all my posts!

Rudy Tenebre said...

We even got an earnest libertarian sales pitch in this series of chirrups!

Johnny, you ever sit alone and sing "My Way"? Goddam right!

The hippie concept grows on me, more like a literary motif than a credible social concept.

Rick Roberts said...

"I also think Tom and Jerry have very distinct personalities (I keep repeating this post after post, but just because they don't talk that doesn't mean they don't have personalities)."

Why don't just explain why you think so ?

pappy d said...

John, I know you like the early prime-time Flintstones as much as the current generation likes Scooby-doo. I apologise to all of you for my complicity in destroying your sense of taste. I needed the money.

Unlike so many of their generation who were blinded by their love of cartoons or children, Bill & Joe were open-minded enough to quickly grasp the new concept that it really doesn't matter what the viewer thinks about the damn cartoon. The viewer is nasty, poor, brutish, short & immature. It's the customer who counts.

"These are the people selling those ideas to corporations. They say everything needs to be "marketable", "inoffensive", "inspiring", "carrying a positive message", "tolerant and multicultural", "morally uplifting"."

The above is the market responding to the person with the money; Mom. All media censorship in this country is self-censorship & it is answerable to market forces alone. Mom really just wants to know she can leave the kid alone in front of the TV & not have him warped or confused. The broadcaster just wants the kid to pester his mother to buy the sponsor's sugared cereal. It's win-win-win.

The secret to Bill & Joe's shit-genius is that they always tried to make a system where they put money in one end & even more money came out the other. They always maintained their focus & strove to improve the process by eliminating inefficiencies like quality or superfluous entertainment. This model of functional design was brought to near-perfection by Lou Scheimer at Filmation.

A "G" rating isn't intended for a "General Audience" any more. It's just for kids. They have their own little ghetto to play in & we get to have tits on primetime TV. That's the American Way.

John, why do you & Mike F. hate our freedom?

Ahahnah said...

I hope my post wasn't considered off topic. I'll try to explain my mass generalization. I was trying to place the topic in context of society by comparing the values of classical liberalism and classical conservatism in relation to the overall breakdown in society.

I attribute the degradation in quality from the 40s cartoons to the 80s to the ideals of classical liberalism throughout society gradually losing to classical conservatism (corporatism) as society moved from independent producers to massive corporations. Many cartoons are takes on life (from pop cultural but innovative jazz, farms, optimism and the industrial innovation, in the golden age cartoons to cynicism and being a consumer in a pop cultural bubble today living the life of a prole). It reflects in what is produced. I've seen some really ugly looking cars on the road from the late 70-80s. The automotive industry is in trouble because the craftsmanship is no longer there. It has been documented on this blog the historical degeneracy in toy construction. The US was in it's decline at this time and still is. In cartoons the 70s had really ugly looking human characters. I couldn't watch the Super Friends. It is the ugliest looking thing I've ever seen. I think this is all evidence that the ideals of classical liberalism such as risk taking, innovation, individualism, and striving for excellence were mostly gone by the 70s. Cartoons aren't the only thing that repeat the same worn out formula over and over. It is found in overly produced radio friendly music, movies, politics, and games.

Conservatism is very status quo oriented. It values stability and solidarity. If Hanna Barbara makes awful cartoons then out of solidarity other conservatives will do the same. Conservatism broke from the past and lives in the present mediocrity (a defensive shell of propaganda/marketing created by the excrement of baby boomers weened on corporatism and the young flies that eat it). It masquerades and pays small insincere homages to classical liberalism (fake looney tunes, the freedom from privacy as the wires are tapped) and Christianity as it reproduces it's feats of dystopia by replicating itself over and over again. The bureaucracies are going to maintain the status quo if they can keep on creating new generations of conservatives fed on the values of mediocrity. I'm amazed at the cognitive dissonance inherent and required for it.

Raff said...

This post encouraged me to see the Disney Cinderella movie.

While I was watching, I couldn't help being reminded that grace is no longer a sought-after value in entertainment.It seems everything has to be faulty and awkward now, even if engineered that way, supposedly so that the common folk can relate to it.

Does this mean that the common folk don't want to dream anymore?

Alex I.R., Esq. said...

'This post encouraged me to see the Disney Cinderella movie.'

You've NEVER seen Cinderella before?!

As for me, I NEVER think in Conservative vs. Liberal. All I care about is if the cartoon's good or not: the animation quality, the writing, the content, what have you.

'Does this mean that the common folk don't want to dream anymore?'

I guess the mainstream doesn't dream anymore because they're more concerned about their comfort than they are in aiming higher.
Like a worst-case art school drop-out. Case-in-point: http://www.cartoonbrew.com/cgi/when-angry-animation-students-attack.html


Very interesting. Here’s a bit of cartoon history one won’t find in Disney’s “The Illusion of Life” book.

The vast majority of the population still prefers the zany old Clampett or Jones stuff over all of the bland new 3D and 2D crap out there today.

Isaac said...

"Mom really just wants to know she can leave the kid alone in front of the TV & not have him warped or confused. The broadcaster just wants the kid to pester his mother to buy the sponsor's sugared cereal. It's win-win-win."

This really has very little to do with it. Networks want kids' entertainment to be as unobjectionable as possible, that's true and good.

There's a giant leap between taking out content that's inappropriate, and putting in content that serves no entertainment purpose.

Shows that are "kid tested, mother approved" are fine by me. The problem started when they took out the "kid tested".

Prime time TV is different entirely.

The rest of your comment is so insane, it has to be tongue-in-cheek.

Jennifer said...

I absolutely love your perspective on these because they really give us a chance to see how you view them. Even if it seems like a lot of people misinterpreted it, a lot of us understand. I feel as though it's a nice breath of fresh air amongst the plethora of shit we see talking about cartoons (the whole McFarlane approach).

Thanks for updating so often with great views.

Roberto González said...

>>Why don't just explain why you think so ?>>

I think I already did it once, but if I didn't, well, it's because I don't speak fluid english, so it's hard to come up with adjectives. But I'll try.

Jerry is this happy-go-lucky little fella that has some childish traits but he's an adult. He is a prankster and has a sense of superiority/intelligence over Tom. He's also responsible and a good friend, always ready to defend little guys like Tuffy or other naive animals. He's brave. He can be a romantic too, girls usually like him.

Tom is less smart than Jerry, more selfish and greedy. He doesn't care as much about other creatures as he cares about himself. He wants to keep his job and his comfortable home. He's lazy and he likes to party. He's a coward. He is sometimes a romantic too but he usually comes out as too direct and not very sophisticated, that's why he doesn't get lucky at the end. He's generally more "evil" than Jerry, but he also has a hearth and likes Jerry to some extent (that's the difference with Wile E. Coyote for example, who would never feel symphaty for the Roadrunner).

How is that?

Rick Roberts said...

Roberto: Well from what I gather from all that is they are males. That's about it. Also one is the generic good guy and one is the generic bad guy.

SquirrelyWrath said...

The issue isn't conservative versus liberal as much as corporate culture versus artist. Yes po9litical sensibilities play a role in your content, but money is the thing. However your diatribe still has yet to factor in the effect the internet has had on these unwieldy institutions. Or animation studios seeming inability to capitalize on this new medium. You don't NEED Warner Brothers or Disney or anyone else to produce what you like and have it seen. You just have to be as creative with business and technology as you are with pen and paper. In the long run everything will drift away from the studios. They may even go to independent animation houses to have their own franchises animated eventually because it would be cheaper in the long run for them. It just takes someone with the drive to get the ball rolling.

Roberto González said...

>>Well from what I gather from all that is they are males. That's about it. Also one is the generic good guy and one is the generic bad guy.>>

Not all generic bad guys are cowards. Also Tom is not always portrayed as the bad guy, sometimes it's a sympathetic character. Even his laziness and cowardness makes him likeable. He seems more "human" with these qualities. He's definitely not the type of generic bad guy you see in a Disney movie.

Maybe the characterizations are not consistent in all the cartoons but I think they were quite defined in most of the earlier ones. And when they are not it shows (in the Gene Deitch era especially). I'd agree Mickey Mouse or even Woody Woodpecker don't have a personality but Tom and Jerry had enough personality considering they didn't speak, and it's difficult to define a mute character. Cartoons tend to have simple personalities. Looney Tunes are maybe the exception, but I don't think you could come up with a lot of specific traits for Wile E. Coyote either. His animation and poses suggest a specific personality but is he really a lot more complex than Tom and Jerry?

Rick Roberts said...

His animation and poses suggest a specific personality but is he really a lot more complex than Tom and Jerry?"

Of course he is. Wile E. Coyote is a fusterated and arogant genius who is inept as using tools. You see this more notably when he battles Bugs and he is alot funnier when dose so, Operation Rabbit for example. His ego is so great he demands his pray surrenders before he even chases them. The Roadrunner shorts are boring though because the Roadrunner has no personality and the Coyote is strictly kept from doing anything but reacting from his own misfortune.

Tom is just a comic foil, yeah he can be sympathetic but that's because isn't evil. That still dosen't given any personality. Jerry is just one being chased and just as personality deprived as the Roadrunner. There is nothinng remotely specfic about either of them, they are pure stock characters.

ther1 said...

I would expect defense of Internet cartoons from a guy named SquirrelyWrath.

I want to make funny Internet cartoons too, but most of what I see online-even the most respected stuff-has an approach to animation as formulaic and cliched as any Japanese cartoon.

Characters make sarcastic anime-inspired faces while their mouths tween independently of the rest of their bodies. I sincerely believe that so much of the Newgrounds stuff features a lot of bloody explosions and laser beams because it would be too hard to deal with the pose alterations of one character simply hitting another.

My god, the other guy was right about it being worse than TV.


Roberto González said...

"There is nothinng remotely specfic about either of them, they are pure stock characters."

Even though you have a point in some of your observations this is an hyperbole. Tom and Jerry still stand out as more defined characters than most of the creations from the 80s until today. You'll probably think that's not saying much, but, as much as we like them, we can't judge everything in comparison to Looney Tunes. Those were simply the best characters in cartoon history.

I agree about Wile E. Coyote in the Bugs Bunny shorts, but I was talking mostly about the Roadrunner ones. This is not as much a criticism to Wile E. Coyote as a character but an example of how it's difficult to reflect a specific personality through a mute character, and you seem to confirm that by mentioning the only episodes in which the coyote talks. I think Tom and Jerry did it fine enough with that limitation.

Even in new cartoons like "Tom and Jerry tales" it's obvious that certain episodes reflect their old personalities much better than others (the ones directed by Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone do it , the others not so much).

Rick Roberts said...

"and you seem to confirm that by mentioning the only episodes in which the coyote talks."

Quoting myself:

"You see this more notably when he battles Bugs"

I said more notably. Even in silence you can see his personality because of his acting,it's very easy define him speaking or not.

"Tom and Jerry still stand out as more defined characters than most of the creations from the 80s until today"

Modern cartoons characters and Tom and Jerry are both equally personality deprived. The difference is Tom and Jerry have good character designs and were well animated.

Steve Carras said...

Of course Tom and Jerry were really personality deprived in that MODERN "Tom and Jerry the Movie" [and any of the other post-H-B T&JS..]


garfield said...

So... you say Hanna and Barbera suddenly had to create characters far more interesting than Tom and Jerry? And the reason these new characters were more interesting, were that they talked more and had real dialogue? My God... that's ignorance on a high level.

With Tom and Jerry, Hanna and Barbera created a duo of great characters; far more interesting and spiced with far more depth and nuances than anything else they made up during their forty years in television. Pantomime comedy is an art which in many ways is far more difficult to master than dialogue, and Hanna and Barbera proved themselves masters of that art with their theatrical cartoons. Whatever inspired or uninspired product they turned out for TV, the original Tom and Jerrys from the 40s and early 50s were their créme de la créme. (Yes, T&J did decline in the mid-to late 50s, but that's another story). Also, I don' think every creator has to work with a lot of different characters in order to be original or talented. George Herriman (creator of Krazy Kat) decided to concentrate on a small number of characters in his Coconino County, and his strip has been declared a work of genius. When Tom and Jerry were in their Golden Age, it had a lot to do with the fact that Bill and Joe were simply concentrating on what they did best.

kurtwil said...

Good Post, though I keep wondering when the breakthrough of a story with "heart appeal" __and__ classy, John K. style cartoon drawing will happen (I've seen glimmers within Ren and Stimpy, "Mans Best Friend" coming to mind) ?

Maybe because in part the USA's (and by default, most of world) normal comedy mode changed from outrageous slapstick and unexpected events to mostly mean spirited satire or rants? (EX: SNL, had some Monty Python, All in the Family)?

MMTNewAdventures commentary kept saying how much anger the artists had stored up. Fortunately, they channeled theirs into mostly funny satire and a groundbreaking style.
Many recent artists have not done so well.

But for audiences who want heart and sympathetic characters to identify with (Cinderella does this in spades), the satirical approach - to my limited knowledge - just hasn't worked (are there cases where it DID work, John ??).

Maybe the reason for such renewed conservatism lately is our culture's current hyper desire to avoid anything that might hurt children? Leading the way here is Australia, which is trying to filter every internet feed it gets with the goal to protect their children?

As our USA culture __still__ equates animation with children, that may not change soon.
That is, unless Adult Swim and internet sources not blocked from potential audiences can change the perceptions of Gen Z towards _its_ children?

Meanwhile, the Alvin and Chipmunks sequel buried Princess and the Frog at the BO last year and month.
Does this portend a new trend?

BTW there are roughly 3000 Cinderella-type stories floating around, some of which date to Egyptian times.

kurtwil said...

..and I just watched the R.B's link about the industry and the potential.
Wish I was 20 instead of 60, but that and this blog are inspirational.

I'd help on LDoConeyIsland if I had the chance (do any of its artists work by internet hookup), but in any case I wish RB and crew the best with it! Let it prove to be yet another animation breakthrough !

ziglig said...

I think conservatives need to take advantage of more forms of communication on their own. With things like youtube and hulu etc people can generate their own content now. I just finished a deb/fiscal cliff claymation and would love to share it with you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZ0BguQCp1U

Please share it if you like it, we need to use new media to beat out the dinosaurs!