Monday, August 31, 2009

Harmonizing Harman-Ising! Silly-Looney-Merrie-Happy...

Today would have been Hugh Harman's 106th birthday.

Hugh, along with his partner Rudolph (his birthday was pre-empted about a month ago here) Ising are responsible for a great deal of the golden age of animation from the 1920's-1940's and beyond.

Though they didn't really create any lasting characters that you would remember today, through their pursuit of furthering the are of animation, they are responsible for creating the venues which would give stage to characters by others.
They began in Kansas City, Missouri working for Walt Disney's Laugh-O-Gram studios and came west with him to California for the formation of "The Disney Brothers Studio". There they worked on the "Alice in Cartoonland", "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit" and "Mickey Mouse" series. Creative/personal/monetary differences with Walt forced them to leave the studio.
It was a ripe time creatively and technologically in the country. The Depression had hit us, so peoples entrepreneurial spirit came to the forefront. Hugh and Rudy produced a pilot film to shop around to the major movie studios, to try and begin an animation department there all their own. The character was Bosko.

And here's that very film...that's Rudolph Ising you see interacting with Bosko.

They sold the cartoon to Warner Brothers and "Looney Tunes" was born. Taking a tip from Walt and his "Silly Symphonies" series it originally was a series of musical cartoons. Here's the very first official "Looney Tunes" based on the popular song of the day "Singin' in the Bathtub" here's "Sinkin' in the Bathtub" with Bosko.

They spent the next couple of years at Warner's also creating the "Merrie Melodies" series. Wanting to expand the technique and appeal of animation, they were constantly squabbling for larger budgets and were let go from Warner's.
They went to MGM and created the "Happy Harmonies" series.
You can see that in the mid to late 1930's, Bosko became a much more realistic character and much more racially offensive by today's standards.

But finally today, historians can acknowledge the influence the boys had...pictured below on Warner's last official Looney Tunes DVD release from 2008...Bosko made the cover along with Bugs Bunny and the rest of the better known characters.
At MGM they also had financial disagreements with the head office and were eventually let go. By this time the studios were all set up with cartoon studios of their own as well as their own producers and directors. Hugh and Rudy faded into the sunset.
But between the boys work at Disney, Warner's and MGM, the stage was set for countless other cartoon characters to come along. Where would Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig have played out their comic adventures without the stage that Hugh and Rudy built for them? They didn't create the characters that came after, but they established the forum for them to flourish.
Thanks Hugh!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

I'm Happy to Be Here!

It's been a chaotic couple of weeks here for your friendly blogster.

Changes on the work front are pending and uncertain. The work front for my former roommate Mike brings him back to my neck of the woods-or rather back to my apartment-so living conditions have a change.

Just 2 little things, yes, but two things which affect my work life and home life...kinda covers the gamut.

Everything's good though. Just the uncertainty of how things land that throws us out of our comfort zone. This ain't my first barbeque though and I know it'll all work out.

At any rate...I'm just happy to be here.

I hope you're happy too.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Please Stand By

Please stand by. Big doings here today and I won't have time to do my regular blog post.

My first missed post in 83 days? Not while I have my Indian head friend here.

See ya tomorrow.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Jack "King" Kirby: "The King of the Comics"

Jack Kirby was born in 1917, he would have been 92 today.

Jack Kirby was easily the most dynamic, possibly the most prolific, definitely the most influential artist in comic book history.

He created or co-created Captain America, The Newsboy Legion and The Shield in the 1940's and helped popularize The Manhunter and Sandman.

Through the late 1940's through the 1950's he worked on science fiction comics, western comics and even invented the romance comic.

Then in the 1960's he created or co-created The Fantastic Four (reviving The Human Torch and Sub-Mariner on the way), Thor, Iron Man, The X-Men, The Inhumans, The Hulk, The Avengers (bringing back his own Captain America), Ant-Man and the Wasp, The Black Panther, The Silver Surfer, and basically set the Marvel Style of comics for everyone else to follow.

In the 1070's he moved over to DC and set Jimmy Olsen on his ear and created The Demon before creating his "Fourth World". The New Gods, The Forever People and Mister Miracle.

Jacks work was bigger than life, and I believe I'll let it speak for itself.

Lest those horrible movies with Jessica Alba leave a dark spot on his reputation and a sick taste in your mouths from their sheer atrociousness, here's the first issue of "Fantastic Four" from 1961. Enjoy.

As always, click the thumbnails for full size.

And if any of you at "Marvel Entertainment" think this copyright infringement. Sue yourselves first for fucking up this comic over the last 35 years since Jack left.

Thanks Jack! Rest in worked hard.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Smile

I wrote this song for everyone who's ever had "one of those days". You know, the kind of day when everyone you come in contact with seems to take pleasure in going out of their way to take a big steaming dump on your shoes.

I haven't had one of these in a while. Or at least it hasn't felt like it, thanks to the lesson I learned that made me write this.

Years ago I was having "one of those days" trying to make progress, people around me squatting in front of me and defecating on my PF Flyer's, for no other purpose seemingly than, just to slow me down and make me miserable. On my way home I stopped at the store and the cashier said "Thank you" after the transaction.

It wasn't the robotic "Thank you" or at least it didn't seem like it. She gave it a little "Oomph" that made it seem like she was happy to serve and do business with me.

Was that so hard?????????

That one 1/4 second of human courtesy suddenly erased the previous 10 hours of my "scumbag interaction". So simple. Takes so little.

Here's the song.

For all you "tough-guy mooks" out there, go ahead a watch this when no one's looking. I won't tell.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

For Gene, Roy and Tex

Ah, what the heck! I am a completeist after all. Here's the song which accompanies "Turf Log #1".

I wrote the song in 1993, grew past it in 1994 and haven't played it since 1995...but it's starting to grow on me.

And besides, who am I to judge?

See ya tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Okeefenokee Stars: Walt Kelly and Pogo

Born this day in 1913, Walt Kelly would have been 96 years old today.

Walt Kelly is a tough one for me to write about. His creation "Pogo" was so appealing, "Pluperfectly Appealing", on so many levels that I have found myself drawn to it from my earliest memories of looking at the funny pictures, through every stage of intellectual development of my life. From characterization, depth of dialogue, wimsey of dialogue, political views, ecological views, philosophical views, narrative complexity...Pogo had it all and much, much much more that I discover a new appreciation with every age that I pick it up. A new level and depth that never alienates me from the person I was at 3 who loved it just for the funny drawings.

Even that paragraph seems wrong. This masters work deserves serious study, but the wit and fancy of the strip and the man himself denies we take it seriously. Denies, defies and scoffs at the very idea.

Let's let one of his characters, Albert the Alligator tell us about him.


Very zen-like...let's just appreciate this complexity in the simplest way possible. Pure thought-tickling, eye dazzling, funny-bone poking pleasure.

Walt Kelly worked as a story man for Walt Disney in the late 1930's and worked on Pinocchio and Dumbo. After 5 years there, seeing that animation (and I think collaboration...he was a true individual) weren't his forte', he tried his hand in the comic book field. He worked for Dell Publishing on their series of Fairy Tale based comics.

During his time there, he began writing his own characters. Taking a tip from Aesop, it dawned on him he could write more about human foibles and basically the pure comedy of being human, by making his characters animals. Humans take being made fun of best, if you don't let them know it's them that they are laughing at.

He decided to set his stories in the South, even though the closest to Dixie he had ever been was Southern California. He noted that Southerners were oft the brunt of jokes, and their own gentle sense of humor, dignity and depth of character let them absorb and roll with this far better than the fragile "modern" folk who did the needling. He knew they could take it. And once it was made apparent who the real butts of the joke were...ALL OF US, we all took comfort that no one was the fall guy...except us.

The stories in the comic books initially were about Albert the Alligator and a little African-American boy named Bombazine. Bombazine sort of functioned like Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh, he was a small boy of about 10 who had learned to talk to the swamp critters. A way for us to view the action in the swamp, through his eyes.


We didn't need this narrative tool. This slowing down of the storytelling by explaining what was happening. Them critters was what we wanted to see! It was almost as if Walt judged that, if it wasn't apparent what he was trying to say with his animals, maybe we humans weren't worth telling a story to, after all.

Bombazine was dropped after a few issues, and Albert's second banana's shoes were filled by Pogo Possum.

After a few more issues, Walt moved from Comic Books to tell his stories in newspaper Comic Strip form. A reverse course from the norm. But a course I'm glad he took. He was able to do even more with this limited space.

And Pogo became a national phenom.

The strip eventualy became populated with a couple hundred characters. A COUPLE HUNDRED! Each one with it's own personality, patterns of speech and reason for being there.

Here's a few of the up-front mainstays.

Albert the Alligator (seen here with a carrier pigeon who had walked so far, he wore a hole in his shoe, through which the message he was carrying fell out).

Churchy La Femme.

Howland Owl.

Porky Pine.
Miss Mam'selle Hepzibah.Rackety-Coon Chile.

Chug Chug Curtis.Characters just as fun to look at as read.

The artists self-portrait and self-discription.

Here's probably the most famous Pogo strip. From Earth Day 1971.

On top of his much heralded social commentary and drawing skills, Walt was also very hip to the way sounds went together. A lyric poet I guess you might call him. A nonsense poet, who sometimes makes sense.

Every Christmas season was filled with great stuff and the animals' take on the holiday. Lots of songs too. Songs in comic form, hmmmmmm I knew I got it from soemwhere. A recurring, always requested classic, was his annual take of "Deck the Halls". A few stanzas and strips are collected below.

Here's a great lyric-nonsense-sense poem.

His great take on mortality and the self-importance we place on our own lives. After his own death.

Walt's gone now, but he left us decades of great material which can be drunk up and appreciated. There are a lot of collections of his work and studies done of his work, studies by abler folk than I.

I will continue to drink up his work, confidently for the rest of my life. Knowing each time will bring a new discovery or fascination.

One last poem which I think pretty much sums up every one of these posts of mine for artists of the past. Dreamers who did things worth doing, and made not just a mark on the world, but a mark for the better. They dreamt of things that will be.

It's good for us to remember and learn from the "will-be's that was" so we can make new ones.

Thanks Walt, for a list of things too long to name.

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