Saturday, January 23, 2010

Great Writing Can Be Found In Comic Books

I love comic books but don't generally read them. I look at the nice pictures because comic books aren't usually well-written. But there are exceptions. A great comic book writer first must invent a brilliant and unique story premise:
Now you can't beat that for an original premise! A talking duck doesn't believe in talking dogs.
An executive would question the logic of that, but I would answer - cartoons are supposed to be preposterous - as long as you follow your own internal logic.
Donald's nephews love to irritate them, and us. Here they interrupt Donald's favorite TV show to ask for a ridiculous impossible present.
After giving the boys a piece of his duck mind, he returns to watch his favorite talk show.
And who's doing the talking?
Donald wants to be on the talk show too, so he applies to the talking producer who is a half dog.
Donald is miffed, but not defeated. He heads to the beach to perform something more miraculous than a talking dog and reporters are there to get the story. Reporters who are dogs who not only talk, but they write for a living.
Finally a dog comes along and Donald finally notices that dogs can talk.

Donald has never watched any Walt Disney cartoons.
The talking half-dog is amazed that there is a talking dog.

Another half dog comes in, equally surprised that there are talking animals at all.
In another story, Donald has finally suspended his disbelief -which is what you should do when reading cartoon stories.
Here's some dogs that just can't shut up!
Here's one that can only talk if he has a microphone.
Of course he can talk to kids though, because immature ducks have open imaginations and will accept anything.
This is where I discovered that anything goes in a cartoon story!

Here are Donald's 2 best friends, a talking mouse and a talking dog. They are funny too.


Elana Pritchard said...

That premise is almost as unique as:

"there is a person who looks exactly like you- but rich- and you trade places for some reason"

or that old chestnut:
"oh dear! I have been hit on the head and have amnesia and will continue to do so until I get hit again for some reason"

Humphrey Erm said...

I'll agree with you on the idea of the preposterous nature of the story, but as Carl Barks himself had said about these characters "They are humans with duck masks" or whatever other mask they have on.

These characters differ a bit from the Looney Toons since here they rarely have a hierarchy of nature, in terms of predator and prey, like with Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny. All the Disney Characters in the comics are simply humans, and human is defined in the Disney Comics (or any talking animal comic for that matter) as a sentient being that talks and walks upright irregardless of species. Goofy and Pluto are perfect examples of this. One is a dog dog, and the other is a dog human.

So while its still preposterous, all the characters are seen as humans, with very few gags I have ever read with them commenting on this absurdity (there was a Marco Rota comic I read once where they are on a farm and Donald passes a normal duck, and they lock eyes midwalk, as if noticing the paradox)

C.M.S Branting said...

Don´t forget Pluto, Mickeys non talking pet whose... also a dog!

RooniMan said...

The logic of this story would blow any normal persons' mind.

Guy Cx said...

Pete Emslie has an interesting theory about these "levels of anthropomorphism" in his blog. Here it is:

I think Donald Duck is a great character, but never really liked his nephews or the dog-nosed people from his comics...

C said...

And Minnie Mouse has a pet cat. Animal worlds are always so confusing.

I liked Pogo because of the writing as well as the art. I wonder how Albert the Alligator would read this comic? Considering how dramatic he is over Who Killed Cock Robin.

Whit said...

Mickey's animators eventually developed a complex about the fact he was a two foot tall talking mouse.

Anonymous said...

My mom has some of these comics in the attic! The exact same ones! She only has three or four though has her mom wasn't keen on TV, toys, or comics.

The only comics I read as a child besides the funnies were Sonic the Hedgehog and Archie. Sonic eventually became too cluttered and used a lot of lens flare on the anatomy - basically it became bland... The art went from ok, to good, then to bland. :P

Also! I did some studies of the dog from lesson 2. I made a lot of notes but you've got a keener eye than me so crits would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

I don't want to move on to the next lesson until these are improved as much as possible. Otherwise I'm stacking on some bad blocks.

Chip Butty said...

I thought you didn't like Carl Barks...?

JohnK said...

I think he's great for kids
who said that?

Mykal said...

John: What a wonderful post. The entire logic of Barks is fascinating. The town of Duckburg, though so named, is populated entirely by two-legged dogs and pigs (except for Donald and his family). The real cool part is, every now and then, Barks would throw in an actual human being - a homo sapiens - usually working in the service industry (a waiter, a janitor, a bank teller, etc.). Why did Barks do that? What would it be like, being a human in Duckburg? I will always think Barks mad (but magnificent). – Mykal

Roberto González said...

I also thought you didn't like Carl Barks. I don't remember if I read someone who said that or a quote of you...

I think it was you saying there was not complexity in Carl Barks stories at all or something like that.

Sometimes critics overanalyze his work a little too much, but I think there's some complexity to them.

The tone is not as subversive as Looney Tunes but the stories are pretty well written both for kids and adults.

I remember I read this talkin' dog story. I don't remember how it goes and I had forgotten everything about it but I remember the Droopy face dog very well.

HemlockMan said...

Well...there are dogs and there are dogs. The button-nosed people who were pink-skinned, had hands and floppy ears weren't dogs. They were people. Pluto was a dog. Goofy was a person.

One thing I don't recall is seeing any stories wherein Mickey Mouse had a house infested with mice. I'm not talking about his "nephews", but real flea-carrying, disease-ridden, food stealing mice.

And that gets us to the subject of Donald's and Mickey's "nephews". And Daisy had "nieces". (I assume Minnie had "nieces", too.) Even Donald was Uncle Scrooge's "nephew". Why wouldn't anyone in the comics acknowledge paternity.

Well, there was Grandma Duck. Jove, this makes my brain hurt.

Chip Butty said...

Eddie, on one of R&S season 3 commentaries. I wouldn't have remembered if I hadn't just watched it, but I guess you can't read too much into small asides.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be a bugger once more. I just noticed you've reorganized your links and you've started a blog pertaining solely to animating lessons and tricks.

I was wondering, do you prefer if I post there inquiring critiques on animation concepts? I feel kind of weird asking for commentary via your more personal blog.

Thanks in advance!

Would be cool if there was as website dedicated to your Curriculum. I bet keeping track of students, lessons, and donations would be a lot easier.

Ross Irving said...

I wouldn't consider myself normal, but this entire explanation for the Donald comic has left me in disbelief, in a good way. I should know that anything goes in a cartoon story, but for some reason, I just can't bring myself to draw any story that does just this. It ends up getting bogged down with body language and dialogue, something more earthbound. I'm always leery about trying too hard when I'm coming up with something more surreal.

May I ask about how can someone break out of this kind of thing, John?

Jerry Beck said...

One of the funniest comic book writer/cartoonists from the old days is Sheldon Mayer - check his work in the DC funny animal books like FUNNY STUFF and ANIMAL ANTICS in strips like Bo Bunny and Doodles Duck.

Ben Cohen said...

Thanks for the rundown and using wonderful source material. However, from a contemporary comic book artist perspective this (while still sadly more valid then not...same can be said about any mass media art) is not a very useful and helpful statement "I love comic books but don't generally read them. I look at the nice pictures because comic books aren't usually well-written. But there are exceptions." Coming from one who works in Animation it is akin to having your younger brother make fun of you. It stings. But it is also a generalization that has been debunked since the beginning and is only continued on life support because of these statements. You may want to actually read more comics...there are plenty of brilliant ones from all corners and time periods of the medium.

From George Herriman-Havey Kurtzman, from Jamie Hernadez to Chris Ware, From Herge to Jason, from Jim Woodring to Dan Clowes, from Yoshihiro Tatsumi to Adrian Tomine, From Trina Robins to Eleanor Davis, Alen Moore to Dave Mazzucchelli and from Jack Kirby to Don Rosa. This is just scratching the surface.

Thanks, Ben

P.S. I am Emily Cohen Pine's cousin.

Raff said...

I think the whole reason everyone's so picky about logical arguments now is that people won't draw a line between TV (and other media) and the real world anymore.

Same issue with Tinkerbell and that weed burka. She's from another world AND she doesn't exist! Why not bug real people about what they wear instead?

Raff said...

>> The real cool part is, every now and then, Barks would throw in an actual human being - a homo sapiens - usually working in the service industry (a waiter, a janitor, a bank teller, etc.). Why did Barks do that? <<

Because even in that world, the foreigners get the crappy jobs! Hahaaa!!! That's racist. :)

The Restless Mouse said...

My dog often sidles up to me and says, "Times are tough, huh, Bud?" It's somewhat comforting.

Waqas Malik said...


I read it for one minute and it already blew me away.

Ed Dyer said...

One thing I always found obnoxious about the old cartoons was the main character, his group of friends and his loveable goofy pet companion! It seemed no animated series was complete without copying the Scooby Doo template. A show that I never liked to begin with. But there always had to be the cute wise cracking side kick, the bumbling doofus or just something cute to draw your attention from the fact the rest of the story was going nowhere.

Waqas Malik said...

i think this will answer everyone's questions ;-)