Saturday, November 29, 2008
The classic Mickey Mouse newspaper comic strip of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s has been mentioned many times in Tulgey Wood. Drawn by the great Floyd Gottfredson, this terrific comic strip is regarded by comic scholars and historians as one of the best examples of the daily narrative form, deftly combining comedy, adventure and character development only hinted at in the animated cartoon shorts. Here's a 1934 example of publicity for Gottfredson's strip, starring Mickey and his pals during the height of the Mouse's popularity in the 1930s. This idea for promoting both Mickey's cartoons and his comic strip was given to movie theatre owners by United Artists, the distributors of Walt Disney's animated shorts at the time.
Tulgey Wood visitors undoubtedly often visit the blog of artist Patrick Owsley, a visual feast for animation fans. A couple of days ago, Patrick ran something of historical interest: a 1968 issue of The Exposure Sheet newsletter from Hanna-Barbera Studios. Of particular interest in this issue of the H-B house organ is an interview with legendary animator Art Babbitt. In addition article properly credits Art's contributions as a major Disney artist but wisely avoids any mention of that messy 1941 strike business. Take a look at the entire newsletter at Patrick's blog (you will have to scroll down to the posts for Friday, November 29, 2008) here. You'll find plenty of other cartoon-related goodies there too.
Friday, November 28, 2008
CBS broadcast its annual coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade yesterday and one big disappointment was that Neil Patrick Harris was not the "man-on-the-street" reporter this year. As I reported here, in 2007 NPH (as the hipsters down with Mr. Harris refer to him) provided witty and quick-thinking color commentary for the parade for two years, the first time in the pouring rain. Although I went on record saying I was sure he would be back in 2008, alas, it was not to be. (Quick-witted viewers of The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson will have noted that Neil appeared earlier this week on the Hollywood-based show and introduced his parents [visiting from Albuquerque, NM] and said they were all spending Thanksgiving in Los Angeles, thus precluding his being in Manhattan for the parade.) His replacement, Patrick Warburton, did a good job, but nothing can compare to the delights of NPH, most well-known for his role as the libidinous Barney Stinson on the otherwise so-so show, How I Met Your Mother. To ease my disappointment I thought I'd post Entertainment Weekly's article celebrating NPH as one of their choices for Entertainers of the Year. This multi-talented performer—not only a triple threat Broadway-TV-movie star, but also a magician and talk show guest and awards show presenter. (If there are any doubts about the latter, recall that Neil got the biggest laugh of the evening on this year's Emmy Show broadcast with his ad-libbed comment about "Howie Mandel's prattling"—although in fairness, it would be hard not to get a laugh in what is commonly considered the worst Emmys show in its history.) So let's give thanks for NPH in spite of his not being part of the CBS's Thanksgiving parade coverage, and that he will continue to appear in venues that will showcase his native wit and intelligence, even beyond How I Met Your Mother.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Each year on the day before Thanksgiving (informally known as "Thanksgiving Eve"), Macy's runs their annual poster for their Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the front section of the Los Angeles Times, and it's an edition of that publication I never miss. Aside from increasing excitement for that annual miracle on 34th Street, the poster itself is always a work of art. Here's the poster from last year (one of my favorites as Snoopy, in his guise as the famous World War I Flying Ace, is the hero image of the colorful composition), beautifully illustrated by artist and author Dan Santat. You can get a closer look at the poster's details and, better yet, read his account of the poster's creation. For those that may not know, there's more than artistry involved; there's also licensed characters, Macy's own requirements, budgets and finances (of course), committees, and the proper Pantone colors. That's what it's all about, baby! It takes real artistic talent to mingle creativity and commerce and allow the creativity to still shine. Giving thanks for the parade and the annual poster is just a small start of so much we have to be grateful for. Happy Thanksgiving!
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The cornerstone of the Rankin/Bass empire was its Christmas specials, but the famous animation studio also produced shows about other holidays, including The Mouse on the Mayflower for Thanksgiving.
Something of an oddity in the Rankin/Bass canon, The Mouse on the Mayflower is for one thing a cel animated production, and though Rankin/Bass certainly produced hand-drawn shows, its reputation was built on its unique stop-motion animation "Animagic" releases. For another thing, it isn't particularly good. Though the hour-long special has its moments and has a certain charm, its many elements somehow do not gel. There are comedic supporting characters such as a grandmotherly pilgrim (voiced by June Foray) who reacts with some bizarrely cartoony takes in which her face squashes and stretches just a little too much. Several comedic baddies are introduced only to be dropped from the narrative part-way through. These include a bumbling bear, whose design was unquestionably inspired by Baloo from Walt Disney's The Jungle Book (1967), which was in release while this special was being styled and produced. And while we're at it, let's mention a narrator who introduces the story by telling of his mouse ancestor and then turns to the titular rodent's journal to relate the story at hand—all of which is a direct lift from Walt Disney's TV framing of Ben and Me (1953) when it was presented on television in the 1957 Disneyland episode "The Liberty Story." (And by the way, when the narrator mouse shows us the Mayflower Compact—complete with Willyum's tiny mouse prints—let's just say that's either a very tiny document or the narrator is one very large mouse.) Given its at-times awkward storytelling and its substandard design, the special makes one wonder if it was hastily produced to meet a last-minute order for a quickie Thanksgiving TV special. But as always with Rankin/Bass, one of the best elements is its songs, performed in this case not by Bing Crosby, who was the original choice, but by the excellent Tennessee Ernie Ford, who is also our narrator (another Rankin/Bass tradition—think Burl Ives as Sam the Snowman). Along with some expressive visuals, the songs (composed as usual by Maury Laws and the "Bass" of Rankin/Bass, Jules Bass) beautifully evoke November, Thanksgiving and some of the historical events and timeless themes from that first feast of gratitude for the Lord's blessings. The Mouse on the Mayflower originally premiered in prime time on Saturday November 23, 1968, "in Living Color on NBC." It was rebroadcast several times, including on the afternoon of Thanksgiving 1972, sponsored in its entirety by McDonald's. There aren't that many major TV "spectaculars" produced about Thanksgiving and if for no other reason, The Mouse on the Mayflower remains a special Rankin/Bass special.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Today is the big day it all started with a Mouse (well, at least today's the anniversary of the day Steamboat Willie made it's debut in 1928, making this Mickey's official birthday). To celebrate here's a special ("A Golden Special") issue of Walt Disney Comics Digest. This edition—Number 40, to be exact—was issued not to celebrate Mickey's birthday but as part of the year long celebration of Walt Disney Productions' golden anniversary in 1973. (I mentioned this celebration a few months back here.) Along with the classy "50 Happy Years" logo (a clever melding of Mickey's head with the then-ubiquitous "smiley" or happy face) and a nice nostalgic image of the vintage, button-eyed Mickey, this "Special Edition" of the by-then bi-monthly feast of classic comics offered a real treat for Disney comic strip/book fans: three Mickey Mouse comic book serials, all reprinted from the long-running flagship title, Walt Disney's Comics and Stories. Included were "The Monarch of Medioka," adapted from the classic 1937-1938 comic strip continuity by Floyd Gottfredson, and redrawn for its 1950 Comics and Stories run by Bill Wright (appraently to "update" Mickey's look) and also a classic Paul Murry-drawn serial, "The Idol of Moaning Island." Best of all was the reprint of Gottfredson's 1940 continuity, "The Bar None Ranch," one of the best of all the great Gottfredson stories run in the strip—and consquentialy serialized in 1942 in Comics and Stories just two years after that classy, classic comic book started its run in 1940—and then rerun in this pictured issue Walt Disney Comics Digest. There aren't many better ways to salute Mickey's long and varied career of eight decades than to recall some of the highlights of his sterling appearances in the comic medium—especially as perfected by not only such solid if secondary talents as Bill Wright but also the great Paul Murry and especially the superlative Floyd Gottfredson.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
In 1972 and in 1976, Disneyland threw a "Winnie the Pooh for President" promotional bash, in which the "tubby little cubby" became a Pooh-litical candidate, crossing party lines with his promise for hunny in every pot. Sears, then the exclusive Pooh licensee, jumped on the bear-of-very-little-brain's bandwagon with selected merchandise, including this irresistible drinking glass. Aside from the wonderful character graphics on the front of the glass, there's a map of "Pooh Country" on the back, complete with the old Sears logo, once a hallmark of some wonderfully designed and produced Pooh memorabilia. Incidentally, if you're thinking that Pooh makes an unlikely candidate, just consider how often we've been faced with contenders of very little brain.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Looking for a candidate who's honest, folksy, hard-working and true-blue (literally)? Then Huckleberry Hound is your man. The star of the first all-new-made-for TV-animated show, The Huckleberry Hound Show, which premiered in 1958, was also the star of comic books, including this election themed cover, drawn by Harvey Eisenberg. With this wonderful comic cover for inspiration, personally I don't think you could do better than vote for Huck. Though his overall blue-ness makes me wonder: Is Huck from a blue state or a red state?
Sunday, November 2, 2008
It's almost Election Day, so thought I might post a suitable bit of artistry to add some fun to the proceedings. Hallmark, one of the best and longest-running Peanuts licensees, issued this set of "Snoopy For President" beverage napkins in what the price guides characterize as the early 1970s, but I dunno, I'm guessing earlier than that... I'm guessing the presidential election of 1968, although the designs could be from the 1972 election. The first image shows the top of the box, the second shows the bottom, with the other three napkin designs included in the box. Interesting that Lucy could only "run" for the position of First Lady. Today, in the era of Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin (to cover both ends of the political spectrum) Lucy would certainly be competing for "top dog" position, not vying for a role as White House helpmate. (Besides, you know her aversion to kissing beagles—"Dog germs! Get the iodine! Get the disinfectant!") Quite frankly, I'd vote for— or at least very much want to go to a party thrown by— anyone who would use these napkins.