A Bullwinkle Christmas

Almost everything of note that I bought at this year’s San Diego Con used to belong to Pete Burness, apparently. Besides the Scrappy art, I picked up a promotional booklet for The Bullwinkle Show–Sing Along With Bullwinkle Meets Santa Claus:

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For me at least, the whole Jay Ward sensibility has a profoundly Cold War-era feel to it, so I was tickled to see this art, with Bullwinkle, Boris, and Dudley on a sleigh ride along with JFK, Jackie, Bobby (I think), Castro (in back, to the left of Bullwinkle), and Jay Ward (Right?). I’m not sure who the dapper guy in the middle with the moustache is, though. And I feel I should be able to identify who drew this, but I can’t.

Inside are a bunch of satiric Christmas carols that don’t mention any Jay Ward characters, but do make reference to Caroline and other Kennedy kin, the Peace Corps, Green Stamps, the New York Mets, Nielsen ratings, the Beverly Hillbillies, Dean Rusk, and other hot topics of the early 60s.(From the references to Christmas, JFK, and the Hillbillies, I deduce that the booklet dates from 1962–unless, and this is sadly possible–it was published for Christmas 1963 and released before November 22nd.)

Here’s one page from the interior, with a song by Bill Scott (most of the ones in the book are by Allan Burns, and all of them are sort of faux-Tom Lehrer):

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I bought one other Ward-related item–yep, also from the Burness archive–and I’ll try to remember to post it, too.

Walt in the Neighborhood

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When it comes to cartoon-related matters, I’ve always had a bizarre knack for being in the right place at the right time. But this is silly. I’ve just learned that the Disney family (and specifically Diane Disney Miller and Ron Miller, who are San Franciscans these days) intend to build a Walt Disney Family Museum, paying tribute to the man–and it’s going to be in the Presidio, about a mile and a half from my home. (Already, the Presidio has an animation connection: It’s now the home of Industrial Light and Magic.)

Apparently, the plans have been brewing for awhile now, but I managed to miss hearing about ’em. (That would be the third comics/animation-related museum in the general area, along with the Cartoon Art Museum, which is less than a mile from my office, and Santa Rosa’s Charles M. Schulz Museum, which is an hour’s drive away, and worth it.)

There’s a whole section at Disney.com on this proposed Disney museum, and this piece at Jim Hill Media by Roger Colton has more details and says it’s all planned for 2008 or 2009. And here’s the Presidio’s own page on the project, which says that the Walt Disney Family Foundation has been a neighbor of mine since I moved here four years ago. Who knew?

I can’t say for sure that I know Walt would be pleased. But I know I am…

The Art of Scrappy

I don’t know how much original Scrappy production art survives–for all I know, Columbia has a vaultful of the stuff–but it’s safe to say that it’s not exactly plentiful on the open market. I do own one piece that seems to have been prepared for a book. In all my time as a collector of Scrappyana, though, I’ve run across only two pieces that seem to have been done during production of a cartoon–one of which was gone before I found it, and the other of which I was foolish enough to let out of my grasp.

Until this weekend. Within ten minutes of arriving on the floor of the dealer’s room at the San Diego Con, I was rifling through Scrappy drawings. Maybe I’ve developed some sort of weird Sixth Scrappy Sense.

True, the seller, who said that they came from Pete Burness’s collection (did he ever work for Mintz?) also told me they were from Willie Whopper cartoons. But I knew better, and now they’re mine.

This one’s probably the nicest of the bunch. It looks like a posed shot, so it’s possible it’s for a publicity drawing or somesuch. But it sure conveys the flavor of early Scrappy:

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Here’s what’s pretty clearly an actual Scrappy animation drawing–possibly from Sunday Clothes, the third one (I need to check my copy):

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And here’s what seem to be warmup sketches of Yippy, a bully (or is that Scrappy himself in a particularly foul mood?), and a little character who I believe is a one-shot Harpo Marx satire, although I’m not sure what cartoon he would have appeared in:

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It’s been almost a year since my last significant update to Scrappyland–but I’ve begun work on a version 3.0 that’ll feature these and other recent additions to the archives. Meanwhile, does anyone else out there have more information (or informed speculation) about these pieces?

Comic-Con Rumor

I’m sure there’s scads of post-con reporting going on that I’m not reading, so I’m not sure if this is common knowledge, but here goes: I attended a “talk back” session at the close of the con, and the organizers said they’re contemplating the possibility of only letting pre-registered attendees in on Saturday next year.

They also said they weren’t sure if this would help with crowd issues at panels–they felt that it might skew attendance towards dedicated fans who were most likely to want to attend lots of panels. And they said that one of the biggest challenges with the con has become the fact that all the companies involved in the most popular panels are insistent that they be held on Saturday–which is at least one reason why that day has become the most frustrating, least pleasurable one of the convention, at least for me. But it’s an intriguing idea…

Crammed Diego

This may be–for me, at least–the year that the San Diego Con got too big. I haven’t heard any word on attendance, but I seem to have spent more time than ever more or less trapped in show-floor traffic that’s just not going anywhere. One panel I wanted to go to–not obviously a huge crowd-pleaser–was turning people away by the time I got there; the line for the Simpsons panel was so long that it was half over by the time I got into the room. I’ve also been barked at twice by con representatives for trying to jump lines when I was simply trying to use hallways to get from one place to another.

Part of the problem, I think, is that this convention isn’t about anything, other than the vague notion of “a celebration of the popular arts.” Not being about anything, it’s about everything, including comics, animation, fantasy movies, horror, science fiction, costume-making, toys, role-playing games, computer games, and myriad other topics. I didn’t see any scheduled events about tattoos, but judging from some of the attendees this year, the showing off of elaborate tattoos has become another theme of this show.

Conventions, like magazines, need to be edited. Most of the best comics conventions I’ve ever attended had a clear sensibility at work–often that of a single person, such as the old New York cons’ Phil Seuling, or Don Phelps, the proprietor of some amazing conventions in Boston in the 1970s. If there’s a sensibility at work in the San Diego programming, I can’t detect it. And while it may be a celebration of the popular arts, it’s anything but a celebration of excellence–over and over, the programming booklet applies the same superlatives to anything and everything. Veronica Mars is memorable. Shag has entered the pop culture pantheon. Gumby is magical. David Boreanaz is one of TV’s biggest stars. A blurb on a session about Pokemon season 9 uses two exclamation points (!!). And so on. There’s no editing going on, and that, I’m sure, is one reason why the con is so huge.

Oh, and would someone inform the management of the San Diego Convention Center that convention-center food can consist of more than ludicrously overpriced pretzels and cookies served at understaffed counters with nowhere to sit? I spend a lot of time in major convention centers as part of my day job; I don’t know of another whose food service is as bad as what we get in this otherwise lovely , highly functional city.

I’m not sure if there’s any way to change San Diego into something other than what it’s become, and to be fair, the people who run it do a mostly good job of crowd control and attendees are generally respectful of each other. But this is the first year I’ve said to myself, “Gee, I’m not sure if this’ll be worth the hassle next year.”

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Of course, even a San Diego Con with more than its share of hassles also has more than its share of virtues–you just need to find the small, focused convention hidden in this mammoth enterprise. I’ve enjoyed hanging out with folks like Jerry Beck, Amid Amidi, Bob Miller, Milt Gray, Will Ryan, and others, and meeting ones like Craig Yoe and Leslie Carbaga. I’ve been to some good panels, including a Jerry Robinson one hosted by Mark Evanier, an Alex Toth tribute, one on Dan DeCarlo (an artist who, I discovered for the first time, I admired), and Jerry Beck’s Worst Cartoons Ever, which included not one but two Sam Singer cartoons I’d never seen. (Some of my favorite memories of the convention involve sitting in a huge crowd of strangers who were singing, snapping, and clapping along to the theme songs to things like Mr. Titan and Super President–who knew that terrible cartoons could bring people together?)

I’ve picked up some cool stuff, including the new issue of Amid’s Animation Blast (which is one of the best single issues of an animation magazine, ever) and Craig Yoe’s wonderful and wonderfully weird Arf Museum. And did I mention I bought three pieces of production artwork from Scappy cartoons? (More on that soon.)

In short, this trip hasn’t been a waste at all. But if you know of any smallish, focused, high-quality comics conventions anywhere, lemme know about them–I’m not sure what Comic-Con is these days, but it isn’t a comic con, exactly…

Food, Fleischer, Frisco

Well, it’s been an odd and interesting weekend, cartoon-wise. I had lunch at one Fleischer-themed restaurant, a couple of miles from my house–and learned that another such establishment existed decades ago.

I wrote about Betty Boop’s Diner in Union Square back in February, and ate there shortly thereafter–and found the experience so unremarkable that I forgot to report back here. The Boop theming seemed half-hearted, and the menu consisted of generic fast food. Big whoop.

Then I learned that the restaurant’s grand opening happened in June, months after I ate there, and involved a visit by Betty herself, along with a couple of (living) Fleischers. And King Features’ press release about the diner mentioned a Koko’s Chicken Sandwich.I began to wonder if I’d eaten there when the restaurant was in an unfinished state.

Indeed. When I went back today, Betty Boop’s Diner had me from the moment I went in and saw a giant TV screen showing footage of…Wiffle Piffle. And the counter ordering and humdrum menu I encountered before had been replaced by waitress service and diner fare such as the aforementioned Koko’s Chicken Sandwich, a Bimbo hot dog, and breakfast offerings called Grampy’s Morning Favorites. (I’m somewhat wary about the notion of Grampy being entrusted with breakfast, but it does one’s hart good to see a new restuarant in a posh San Francisco location paying tribute to him seven decades after his film career ended.)

Here’s the exterior:

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And here’s an interior shot:

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The best aspect of the decor are the murals by Ned Sonntag and Frank Caruso (which, I must concede, were there during my first visit). They’re so Fleischeresque it’s a little scary, with Grampy, Fearless Fred, and a skeleton working in the kitchen, Bimbo and a multibosomed centipede waitress behind the counter, and Betty herself serving a hippo customer:

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Also entertaining are a couple of large paintings by one T. Peterson, depicting La Boop in San Francisco settings:

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Betty Boop’s Diner isn’t the ultimate cartoon-themed restaurant (nor California’s greatest monument to a character owned by King Features), but I’m glad it’s here. (Another one is opening at a local mall soon, apparently.)

And I’m sorry I didn’t leave here back when there was a Wimpy’s Inn at 576 Haight, about a mile and a half from where I’m blogging. While perusing the catalog for Hake Americana’s most recent auction, I came across a vintage menu for Wimpy’s, which at the time seemed to consist of the Haight location and one across the Golden Gate Bridge–assuming the bridge had been completed at the time–in San Rafael. Here’s its cover, which suggests that the Segar association was extremely tangible (Hake’s says the menu dates from the 1930s):

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I know absolutely nothing about Wimpy’s Inn other than what the Hake’s listing tells me–including how long it existed, and whether it’s any relation to the UK-based Wimpy’s chain, which, when I ate there thirty years ago, didn’t promote a connection with J. Wellington (which was just as well, considering that even he might have refused one of their “burgers”). How long it was at 576 Haight is anyone’s guess, but today, that address is still one of a restaurant–a BBQ joint that Wimpy would probably be extremely happy in, were he to show up in the ‘hood today–in a little shacklike building that looks like it might indeed have once been a Wimpy’s Inn:

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One last thought: Why is it that all cartoon-themed restaurants feature characters owned by King Features? It seems that way, anyhow: When I was a kid in Portland, there was a chain featuring another character who appeared with Betty in one short, Otto Soglow’s Little King. (Sadly, I have no memory of eating there.) And Blondie scribe Dean Young has, inevitably, founded a chain of Dagwood’s Sandwich Shoppes.



(I won’t mention Popeyes Fried Chicken here, even though my neighborhood one had a nice mural of the sailor and his friends until recently–since I see no mention of the seadog on that company’s current Web site, which claims it was named after the Gene Hackman character.)