By the time I was reading MAD Magazine as a kid, Antonio Prohías had already finished his run of the iconic Spy vs. Spy feature that ran every month, passing it along to a new artist in 1987 after illustrating 241 strips. I only recently learned that Prohías was already an established political cartoonist and satirist in Cuba by the time he immigrated to the U.S. in 1961, himself an accused spy after fleeing Castro’s clampdown on the free press:
In 1946, Prohías was given the Juan Gualberto Gómez award, recognizing him as the foremost cartoonist in Cuba. By the late 1940s, Prohías had begun working at El Mundo, the most important newspaper in Cuba at the time. In January 1959, Prohías was the president of the Cuban Cartoonists Association; after Fidel Castro seized power, he personally honored the cartoonist for his anti-Batista political cartoons. But Prohías soon soured on Castro’s actions of muzzling the press. When he drew cartoons to this effect, he was accused of working for the CIA by Fidel Castro’s government. Consequently, he resigned from the newspaper in February 1959.
With his professional career in limbo, Prohías left Cuba for New York on May 1, 1960, working in a garment factory by day and building a cartoon portfolio for Mad by night. Ten weeks later, he walked into Mad’s offices unannounced. He spoke no English, but his daughter Marta acted as an interpreter for him. Before he’d left, he had an $800 check and had sold his first three Spy vs. Spy cartoons to Mad. […] During an interview with the Miami Herald in 1983, Prohías gloated, “The sweetest revenge has been to turn Fidel’s accusation of me as a spy into a moneymaking venture.”
The rest of the magazine’s humor hasn’t entirely aged as well, but I’m still sad to think about a world without MAD.
Hey, it’s Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, and Maurice White talking about their roles in the odd, uneven 1983 toon film Rock & Rule. The movie itself is kind of lousy, except that it somehow was starring these folks (and their music), and despite Nelvana turning it into a very off Disney / Goofy-esque rotoscoped nightmare.
Possibly of interest for the above-mentioned musician interviews alone, the documentary also has scenes of how feature animation was made in the early 1980s (traditional hand-drawn cels with multiplane camera photography), and some talk about the synthesizer work of Patricia Cullen (who IMBD tells me recorded synth scores for a number of other 1980s cartoons and TV shows).
I never knew that some of the main characters from Thimble Theatre, the 1920s newspaper comic that birthed Popeye, were based on real people that E. C. Segar knew from his hometown! What the what! Above, photos of the real-life Popeye (Frank “Rocky” Fiegel), Olive Oyl (Dora Paskel), and J. Wellington Wimpy (J. William Schuchert). No sign of Bluto or Eugene the Magical Jeep.
If it ever gets too bleak, just remember that Al Jaffee is still making the world a better place through his incredible (and bitingly funny) illustrations for Mad at age 96 (!!!).
I was making fun of the fold-outs you’d see in Playboy or National Geographic or Life Magazine. They had these big, fancy, full-color fold-outs. Well, at Mad we didn’t have that kind of budget. So I thought, wouldn’t it be funny to do the exact opposite? We’d do a cheap black-and-white fold in.
I love that the Fold-In started as another subversive bit of meta-humor about how “cheap” Mad magazine is.
Maria Popova posts a wonderful selection of cartoons from Charles Addam’s lesser-known book of Mother Goose rhymes from 1967. Such good stuff, and fun to imagine the crossovers between the classic grim nursery rhymes and his own macabre sense of humor, juxtaposed with his mid-century New York City skylines and deadpan-faced characters.
Meanwhile, the two friends are targeted by Boris and Natasha and a couple of Moon Men, who want to sabotage the space program, lest their home fill up with tourists. There are also plot complications involving Rocky and Bullwinkle’s seafaring friend Captain Peter Peachfuzz; Boris and Natasha’s boss, Fearless Leader; the Abominable Snowman; and a blight that almost wipes out the world’s supply of mooseberries. As the weeks go by and the show keeps adding to the plates spinning in the air, it’s easy to imagine that the writers may have thought that the network was postponing cancellation because someone high up was curious to see how long they could keep this shit up.
The whole Rocky & Bullwinkle series is on Netflix in pretty decent condition (it’s been re-re-edited into many different formats over the years) if you need to fill a few hundred hours of your life!
Comics give to the artist a very interesting field of exploration and research. Everything is possible. You can be very small or very big or very modest or very ambitious. You can stay in a regular style like everybody, or you can escape and be completely unusual and incredible. You can give more to the world, more to the drawing. Everything.
Life is a circus, Zippy! It can be a circus of pain or a circus of delight!
As the Bil Keane RIP notices started flooding across the net yesterday, my friend Julien reminded me of the bizarre phenomenon of Zippy the Pinhead making a crossover appearance in Family Circus back in 1994 (go look at it, it’s weird!). It wasn’t a single-panel affair: that out-of-context Family Circus strip was a followup to a week in which Bil Keane literally drew his characters into the surreal world of Zippy as a sort of exchange project. From a speech by Zippy artist Bill Griffith:
Here’s an example of something that kind of blew my mind, and a number of readers. I did a number of comic strips in 1994 in which the idea was that Zippy and Griffy were going to, at least Zippy, enter, literally, the world of The Family Circus, a single panel comic. Into the strip a few days I thought, “What the hell, I’ll call Bill Keene. I’ll get his phone number, and I’ll see if he wants to literally jam this strip with me.” I figured the chances were zero, but why not? I called him up; he was incredibly friendly. He lives in Phoenix, where Zippy is published in the local paper. Loves the strip; reads it every day. Y’know, at the end of the phone call I thought, “He’s my blood brother. We’re like the two surreal comic strip artists.”
Behind the sticky-sweet facade of everyone’s favorite round newspaper comic, it’s good to know there was an artist of subversive humor and warmth for his fellow cartoonists, appreciative of both parody and collaboration.
RIP Charles Napier, who I’ll always remember as the great voice actor behind The Critic’s Southern TV magnate Duke Phillips. If you have access to the Critic DVD set, be sure to listen to the commentary tracks where Maurice LaMarche and Nick Jameson share the recording booth with a seemingly uncomfortable Napier… (the above clip also features the remarkable Doris Grau, who passed on around the time the show was still in production)
Thanks to the Alamo Drafthouse’s always-amazing preshow entertainment reels, Marsha and I have had this Three Stooges earworm stuck in our head for the past week. Maybe now you’ll be stuck with it too.
Do you enjoy newspaper comics? Want to learn more about their history and place in the world through interviews with a laundry list of comic artists? Then you might be interested in helping these guys in Kickstarter finish out their documentary: STRIPPED: The Comics Documentary
The principal factor in my success has been an absolute desire to draw constantly. I never decided to be an artist. Simply, I could not stop myself from drawing. I drew for my own pleasure. I never wanted to know whether or not someone liked my drawings. I drew on walls, the school blackboard, old bits of paper, the walls of barns. Today I’m still as fond of drawing as when I was a kid — and that’s a long time ago…
In 1963, the Disney Studio learned just how wide and faithful a readership [Carl] Barks had. A letter arrived from Joseph B. Lambert of the California Institute of Technology, pointing out a curious reference in “The Spin States of Carbenes,” a technical article soon to be published by P.P. Gaspar and G.S. Hammond (in Carbene Chemistry, edited by Wolfgang Kirmse, New York: Academic Press, 1964). “Despite the recent extensive interest in methylene chemistry,” read the article’s last paragraph, “much additional study is required…. Among experiments which have not, to our knowledge, been carried out as yet is one of a most intriguing nature suggested in the literature of no less than 19 years ago (91).” Footnote 91, in turn, directed readers to issue 44 of Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories. … A year later, the Studio received a letter from Richard Greenwald, a scientist at Harvard. “Recent developments in chemistry have focused much attention to species of this sort,” Greenwald commented. “Without getting technical let me say that carbenes can be made but not isolated; i.e. they cannot be put into a jar and kept on a shell. They can, however, be made to react with other substances. Donald was using carbene in just such a manner, many years before ‘real chemists’ thought to do so.”
According to an interview cited by Cartoon Brew, an angry Walt Disney made Kimball stop contributing to the magazine, even though it was on his own time and for gratis. Thankfully these scans are cropping up on the Ward Kimball Facebook page, along with lots of other great stuff!
Awesome thing that I didn’t realize I had on my bookshelf: the Tom Lehrer sheet music songbook I’ve had since I was a kid was illustrated by cartoonist Ronald Searle. I must have been unfamiliar with Searle the last time I looked through this book — his scratchy style complements Lehrer’s acerbic wit nicely.
The whole book, “Too Many Songs By Tom Lehrer with not enough drawings by Ronald Searle”, is available for perusal on Scribd, in case you’re the sort that enjoys songs about masochism, the periodic table, bull fighting, nuclear annihilation, and Ivy League snobbery…
Awesome full sets of sprites and backgrounds ripped from Konami’s 1991 Simpsons arcade game are available over at The Spriters Resource. I could have bought one of those machines with all of the quarters I lost playing it at the bowling alley or pizza parlor or wherever else grubby kids hung out in 1990s suburbia.
I’ve trimmed down Marge’s action sprites here because I’m fascinated by one detail that I’m pretty sure is otherwise depicted nowhere else in the rest of Simpsons canon: Marge’s Life in Hell rabbit ears hidden inside her hair!
More things I did not know: on the right is Jack Mercer, the famed voice of Popeye from 1935–1984, and on the left is Margie Hines, who voiced Olive Oyl from 1938–1943. The two were married in 1939. How romantical!
A paper in the academic journal Palliative and Supportive Care analyzing perceptions of death and dying through the lens of New Yorker cartoons. Science!
“Personification of Death” (n = 38) included a subtheme of “Bargaining with Death.” The main theme included representations of death with human attributes, such as the Grim Reaper. Examples are the Grim Reaper sitting in a bar talking to another man; the caption reads, “Sometimes I give myself the creeps” (from 2005; Mankoff, 2006. p. 28). The subtheme involved people negotiating for more time to live. Many of the cartoons in this theme show the Grim Reaper standing at someone’s door as he or she tries to negotiate his or her way out of dying. For example, one such caption read, “Couldn’t I do a couple of hundred hours of community service instead?” (from 1990; Mankoff, 2006. p. 46). This can be seen as the legacy of death (Elgee, 2003), that we are all its slaves.
Animator Patrick Smith offers advice over on Scribble Junkies about drawing hands, an area of life drawing I still struggle with. He rails against both Preston Blair and Burne Hogarth’s popular treatises, and I’d have to agree with him there (I think the Hogarth “dynamic” books stunted my artistic abilities and understanding of anatomy by a few years, personally…).
One of the responses in the comments section rings true: “The drawings of hands you admire were probably drawn by people who looked at hands, not drawings of drawings of hands.”
Yeah, it’s great. A lot of that is the fans that have kept it alive. When people discovered it, they would be such rabid fans of it they would feel like they were the ones that got it. It was a little too obscure for their friends, maybe, but they were the ones that were getting it. A thing about the old comics I always heard was that people would lend them to their friends and never get them back. It was always this process where you’d be trying to turn someone onto it, which I thought was great. So there was a long stretch where I didn’t do anything with Sam & Max and there were fan sites that were keeping them active, so I attribute that [to the fact] they’re still around.
The Onion A.V. Club catches up with and gets a good interview from my favorite cartoonist Steve Purcell to ask him about Monkey Island, Sinistar, and the new season of Telltale’s adaptation of his creation.
Fun fact: one of the first websites I created way back in 1994 was a Sam & Max fan site with a handful of scans from the comics and related ephemera, so I guess I was one of those fans!
The New York Times has up a nice review of the new Charles Addams exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York:
The city street is dark and deserted. The buildings are empty. There are no witnesses. A lone man carrying a briefcase, after a long day at the office perhaps, approaches a subway staircase. Out of the subterranean gloom, a giant human hand protrudes, its index finger beckoning the office worker, inviting him into the depths. His eyes are wide with astonishment, his face showing the hint of a grin, as if the bizarre, illicit invitation were not entirely unwelcome. […]
Above is my personal favorite Addams cartoon, perhaps one of my favorite cartoons of all time. His drawings are often cited as finding their humor and inspiration in the macabre — I think their lasting appeal comes more from his ability to find joy in laughing at and rejecting the bleakness of modern life.
WOW, I’m about four years late on this one, but in case anyone else hasn’t come across this: a fan has collected and cataloged a huge chunk (nearly 7½ hours worth!) of the incidental music from Ren & Stimpy. You know the stuff: the delightfully surreal, atomic age lounge music that defined the series. Don’t miss the smallish image link to Volume 2! The direct download links went dark, but if you poke around towards the bottom of the comments you can probably figure it out…
I’ve seen artists on the Internet question the necessity for this, saying that you can’t really learn anything about drawing by carrying a sketchbook, and that the drawings you do in a sketchbook are always dashed off, careless and sloppy. […]
The real reason I carry a sketchbook is so that I can record and remember details that I observe. Drawing from real life is the best way to teach yourself how people look, act and move in a naturalistic way (and help you remember it later). Life drawing and studying the work of other artists and animators are great learning experiences, but those things aren’t the same as studying real life. A great life drawing is an amazing feat and you can learn a lot about drawing and anatomy by going to life drawing. But very few life drawings give you a lot of information about the model’s personality and what kind of human being they are. You’re never going to create an original story or character based on a life drawing model you saw.
A circa-1966 industry ad for Leon Maurer’s Animascope process for producing animation on the cheap: animation without drawing and with fewer pesky artists! Similar to but different than rotoscoping, this process used high-contrast photography and actors in contrasty costumes with their skin painted white and contour lines painted on. The performers would then be filmed dancing around under bright light on a black-lined stage, and the resulting photography could be composited onto traditional background plates. Weird, but sort of a primitive version of mocap, and done for the same economical reasons.
(Via Cartoon Brew – for more info on the process, a good place to start might be this comment left by Brew reader Kustom Kool)
Went digging through my archives and came across this, one of my favorite frames from the first year of the original Fleischer Brothers’ Popeye shorts. In a contest of manliness, Bluto smokes an entire cigar in one drag and blows the smoke in Popeye’s face. The sailor retaliates by doing the same but blowing the smoke out of his one good eye. This is what makes animation great, folks!
Winsor McCay’s 1911 animation of his Little Nemo comic strip (embedded above) was selected this year by the U.S. Library of Congress to be entered as a culturally significant work in the National Film Registry (along with Michael Jackson’s Thriller, The Muppet Movie, and others). Knowing that McCay did this all himself, by hand, cranking out tens of thousands of hand-colored drawings (keep in mind he was also pioneering the field of animation, inventing techniques as he worked) in addition to his incredibly intricate newspaper work leads me to suspect he was living in an alternate stream of time than the rest of us. Incredible stuff.
This papier-mâché Felix the Cat was the first image to be broadcast over experimental television in preparation for the first public RCA broadcast in 1928. Black and white and made of durable material, they had him revolving on a turntable, beaming out as a tiny test image so engineers could adjust the signal. Early TV technology fascinates me.
Documentary: A Little Love: The Art of Bill Melendez. A great short video taking a look at Meléndez’s work for UPA, the quick transition he made from working on those shorts to the graphic design of the classic Peanuts tv specials, and also the influence that he had on Wes Anderson’s films (I’d gotten the Charlie Brown / Max Fischer connection, but never noticed the homage where Max is walking with the little plant for Margaret Yang – brilliant). Via Cartoon Brew.
For possibly the first time in 80 years this Krazy Kat cartoon, Ratskin, has been reunited with its original soundtrack recording, discovered on a rare Vitaphone disc in Australia. Found via Cartoon Brew, who has a good writeup of the discovery.