Mark Your Calendars

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April 30th will be a day unlike any other–at least if you’re a Scrappy fan, and happen to be anywhere near Hollywood. Click here, then scroll down to the last event announcement, near the bottom. And don’t say we didn’t warn you.

More details soon…

Robots Rave

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Here’s a link to a story from the new issue of Newsweek on Robots, which opens this weekend. It’s a good read from the standpoint of behind-the-scenes info on the film, but it also seems to say that the movie’s the best-looking CG feature ever made–and a great animated film, period. (It reaches back to Pinocchio to find something to compare it against.)

I like both William Joyce’s children’s books and Chris Wedge’s short films. For some reason, though, I’ve given Robots almost no thought at all–maybe because Blue Sky’s Ice Age didn’t particularly engage me–but now I’m looking forward to at least giving Robots a chance. It would be nice if a studio were to emerge as the other great CG production house besides Pixar (and I see no evidence that it’s going to be Dreamworks)…

Comic Relief Relocated

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I can think of only a few comic-book shops I’ve visited that are contenders for the distinction of being the single best such store in the country. Berkeley’s Comic Relief is one of them. (Others include Cambridge’s Million Year Picnic and Manhattan’s Jim Hanley’s Universe.)

I bring this up because Comic Relief has just moved, albeit not very far–its new home is around the corner from its old one. The new location is not only dramatically larger than the old one, but also one of the biggest, best stocked, most diverse comics stores I’ve seen in the U.S. And it’s next door to Another Change of Hobbit, a science fiction book store. If you’re ever anywhere near Northern California, get yourself to 2026 Shattuck Street–you’ll be glad you did.

The Good Huemer Man

dick huemer.jpg

Being the proprietor of Scrappyland has its fringe benefits–none more pleasant than the opportunity to meet Dr. Richard P. Huemer, son of Scrappy’s creator, Dick Huemer. (See my terrible cameraphone picture to the right.)

Dr. Huemer, who was in San Francisco with his wife Mary Kay for a medical conference, has a wonderful Web site with lots of material on his father’s work, and has a general appreciation for Dick Huemer’s legacy. He shared other tidbits during our visit–some of which weren’t surprising, such as the fact that Dick was probably most proud of his work on Fantasia and Dumbo. But did you know that Dick Huemer and Joe Grant almost left Disney for MGM, or that Roy Williams had a game show that Dick wrote for? Or that Dick and A.C. Gamer formed a company together that did very early animated TV commercials?

As for what it was like to grow up with a father who worked for Walt Disney, Dr. Huemer said it didn’t occur to him that this was anything of note–especially since some of the kids who he hung out with had movie stars for parents. But he did like getting to ride Ward Kimball’s train, to eat in the Disney commisary, and to meet Walt himself.

I’m sorry that I never got to meet the Dick Huemer who worked in the animation business for so long–I did read and love his Funnyworld writings–but I’m delighted to have gotten the chance to meet the charming gent named Dick Huemer (and his equally charming spouse) who I had lunch with today.

The Flattening of Fleischer’s

The weather was awful in New York last Wednesday–it was one of those days when the rain not only turns your umbrella inside out, but destroys it. But I had good reason to brave the storm: I was trying to visit the site where the Fleischer studio stood for fifteen years, starting in 1923.

For years, I’ve been visiting New York. For years, I’d known that Fleischer had made its home somewhere near Times Square, at 1600 Broadway, and that the Van Beuren studio had been across the street at 729 Seventh Avenue. But I’d never bothered to locate the buildings or pay my respects–even after Jerry Beck reported that the building was about to be demolished. On Wednesday, I had a little spare time during a business trip, and realized it might be my last chance.

I was startled to realize that I’d walked by 1600 Broadway dozens of times without realizing I was outside the building where some of the greatest cartoons of all time were made. But now, I couldn’t quite tell if it was still there–which was not a good sign. There was a structure, shrouded in black fabric, but it wasn’t clear whether it was the old building or the start of a new one:

As I got closer, I could see that the original building was there, but just barely–workmen were in the process of dismantling it, and there wasn’t much left other than the frame and a giant pile of debris. I wondered just what was in that debris, and if there was any chance that the wrecking crew might still find a safe full of Fleischer artwork in the basement. Did any of these guys know what they were knocking down? If so, did they care?

Looking around, I was stunned to find that the Fleischer hadn’t just been across the street from Van Beuren–it was also kitty-corner from the Brill Building, where much of my favorite music was composed. Once again, I’d passed many times without noticing that this building was no ordinary New York office building:

In fact, I’d been inside the Brill Building without realizing it–its ground floor is home to the historic Colony Records. Which is one of those landmarks that you always expect is going to close someday, although at the moment it seems to be alive and well, albeit undergoing refurbishment (nice to see that they’ve replicated their “happy girl” sign on the construction enclosure):

As for 729 Seventh Ave., it’s still there, and shows no signs of being in immediate danger. Van Beuren isn’t the only bit of animation history that transpired within its walls–the building was also home to Columbia Pictures’ Scrappy Franchise Department (no, I’m not making that up; stay turned for more details). And Jerry Beck recently told me that he’d worked in the building himself for several years, when he was at United Artists.

The worst thing you can say about 729 Seventh’s fate at the moment is that it has two giant Jackie Mason signs on it:

729 Seventh’s ground floor contains one of those omnipresent New York gift shops; like all of them, it was full of Betty Boop merchandise–so I bought a vase in the shape of Betty as a memento, wondering whether any of the employees knew that the character had been invented across the street. (I also picked up a replacement for my busted umbrella.)

Stepping back, I could see both 1600 Broadway and 729 Seventh Ave. (along with a poster for a Jenna Jameson X-rated movie; what happened to the new family-oriented Times Square?). A lot of animation came out of those two buildings–great, good, indifferent, and downright bad.

The signage around the 1600 Broadway demolishment says something about how the construction company is building the future of New York. That may be true, but they’re also tearing down its past. I’m glad I got there before they eradicated this piece of it.

Daffy Desecrated?

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Warner Bros. is readying a new show called Loonatics for the WB Network. The show, which is set in 2772, applies the same sort of “reimagining” to the Looney Tunes characters that Warner has inflicted on Superman, Batman, and other characters.
(Cartoon Brew has an image of the new Bugs. So does Mike Barrier, who’s either back from his travels or so horrified that he’s blogging from the road.)

If you’re a fan of the vintage Warner cartoons, your impulse is to be revulsed by this news. That was certainly my reaction when I laid eyes upon someone else’s copy of the Journal during a meeting this morning. On reflection, though, I ended up with a somewhat contrarian reaction: This isn’t necessarily any worse treatment than Warner’s has given the characters for years.

Or at least I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve seen the results (assuming I get around to it, that is). I’ve sometimes argued that there’s no artistic upside in producing any new cartoons with classic characters. But if new cartoons are to be made, you could argue that it’s better to start fresh than to make slavish, less-than-brilliant copies of the old shorts–and how many of those have we seen over the past thirty years?

Also, I can’t claim that I’ve never liked a reimagining of old characters, given that I was actually tickled by the Asian-ized versions of Disney characters and Olive Oyl which I saw in Hong Kong last year. (Side note: My local Disney Store has started stocking some of the Asian products–which are a heckuva lot more appealing than most of the other items it sells.)

And it’s not like the characters didn’t get reimagined back in the old days; if they hadn’t, Daffy Duck would still be a squat, genial, nutcase, rather than a taller, sour-tempered-but-sane fellow. If he hadn’t evolved back then, he probably would have ceased to exist in about 1942.

But the old reimaginings clearly had one purpose: to entertain the people who made the films. Unfortunately, the Journal story is for paying subscribers only, so I can’t link to it (Mike quotes a fair chunk if it). But it’s a good piece which explains exactly why the characters are being reimagined right now–which involves issues such as declining advertising on children’s TV.

Then there’s the tail that clearly wags, er, the wabbit–the bucks to be made from merchandising, spinoffs, and other side effects of a hit show. The article ends with a quote from a WB exec: “That’s the ultimate goal of all kids’ programming…if we score, it’s a gold mine.” Leon Schlesinger might have voiced similar sentiments back in the day…but I’m pretty sure that Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, and Bob Clampett wouldn’t have.

Arf for Arf’s Sake


This just in: Two of C.M. Coolidge’s “dogs playing poker” paintings have sold at a New York auction for $590,400. Which is a record–but if anything, it seems low to me in relation to their significance. (And I’m sorry I didn’t know about the auction, since I happen to be in the Big Apple at the moment.)

CNN has a nice story on the sale and on Coolidge’s work in general. (Among other things, the article reveals that he also invented those “life-size Boardwalk cutouts into which one’s head is placed, allowing the person to be photographed as a character or animal.”)

I’ll probably never own a Coolidge original, but I’m tickled to say that I do have two vintage calendars with his prints–which is how his work was intended to be displayed. (In one, the dogs are shooting craps; in the other, “Staying Up With a Sick Friend,” their wives are busting into their party.) I have these nicely framed and on the wall, and they’re one of the best presents that my Aunt Liz (or anyone) has ever given me.

Only in New York

I’m in Manhattan for work, and my trip back to the hotel tonight from dinner took me by the Good Morning America studio in Times Square, where Bryan Berg of Ames, Iowa is currently living and building a New York city skyline made of 170,000 playing cards–no fasteners involved.

Bryan is attempting to break his own Guinness record, and is doing it all in the name of tsunami relief–the 170,000 cards include one for each victim. (I hope he buys his decks in bulk, at a steep discount–and that Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer aren’t prone to sneezing fits.)

How anyone can dislike a country where this can be going on in a storefront window in the middle of a major city, I don’t know–for the most part, I’m not a fan of the new “improved” Times Square, but I’m delighted to make an exception here.

I had fun watching and taking pictures, and quickly discovered that it was just as much fun to take pictures of other people who were having fun watching and taking pictures.

(Update: Bryan’s cards were donated by Allegra Network and the Chicago Playing Card Company.)

Bill Gates Meets King Kirby


I’m surprised to find myself with a bit of superhero news, but I was walking through PC World’s art department today, and saw this nifty booklet of blown-up images from (mostly 1960s) Marvel comics. Turns out that Corbis–the image archive owned by Bill Gates–has acquired the rights to Marvel graphics for licensing as fancy clip art. This booklet was something they’d sent to us to promote their wares. It’s well done, eye-catching, and probably a minor collector’s item–and this copy is mine, since (sad to say) PC World is unlikely to illustrate anything with vintage Marvel images.

The best thing about the booklet: It’s maybe the only Marvel product I’ve ever seen that doesn’t mention Stan Lee but does give prominent credit to Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Buscema, and others for the images it touts. (It doesn’t give them, or their estates, money, I suspect–but credit’s a lot better than nothing.)

As I was shrinking this art down for this site (violating Marvel’s copyright, no doubt), it struck me that one of the many strengths of this art is that it looks great in oversized form (as in the booklet) but also reads extremely well at a small size (the Surfer and Captain America images you see here are only 125 pixels across apiece). Those guys really knew how to draw for legible, impactul reproduction,

You can browse the available Marvel art at Corbis’s fancy-schmancy Marvel section. Note: The site, unlike the booklet, is rife with recent, unremarkable Marvel art–in most cases, you need to scroll to the right to see the vintage stuff.