Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Side bar

I'm 60 years old and I grew up watching cartoons.  Still watch 'em, in fact, and I still love 'em.

Don't worry... I'm not going to bore you with why I love cartoons.  We all have our reasons.  And I'm no expert on the subject.  There are some very excellent blogs out there where you can read expert opinion on cartoons.  Yowp! comes to mind; you'll learn more from following that blog for a month than you'll ever learn from me.

I do want to recall for you what impressions I had from my very earliest days of cartoon-watching.  I was a fairly sensitive kid and I reacted strongly to visual clues.  The cartooning standards in the '50s of course included Popeye... always Popeye... and things like Mighty Mouse. 

Paul Terry's Mighty Mouse

Even back then I knew I didn't care much for Mighty Mouse.  I could never decipher his personality; I didn't like that cats were always being made the villains; I couldn't get any flavor out of those cartoons.  They were boring and dry and grey.  I can well believe that Paul Terry used to measure an in-betweener's output with a ruler: when the paper stack got to a certain point he'd tell him, "That's enough for today.  You can go home."

But back then there was also a show every kid watched.  That show was Captain Kangaroo.  And Bob Keeshaw had the power to make or break a cartoon studio by accepting their syndication.  Keeshaw never showed Hanna-Barbera... at least I don't think so... but he seemed to like UPA.  Especially when UPA took over Terrytoons.

They assigned artistic oversight to a young gentleman named Gene Deitch.  I've recently read some unkind things being said about Gene Deitch.  I don't think that's fair because the "look" that he gave to UPA/Terrytoons awoke something in me as I'm sure it did in countless other kids.

UPA's most successful creation Mr. Magoo at the left; Gerald McBoingBoing is in the middle; can't remember who the lady is.

Let's backtrack.  If you remember Famous Studios Popeye, you were familiar with this sort of look:

Famous Studios' Popeye...

UPA was completely different.  They hired true artists - in this writer's humble opinion, and certainly that's not to say Famous Studios didn't hire true artists - and gave a zany, modern, very simple, what today we would call a "retro" look to cartoons.  In that vein they were preeminent. 

Yes, I know they weren't the first first.  But it was UPA that brought that retro look to Captain Kangaroo and made believers of millions of kids.  It was our first exposure... first exposure?  I was 5 for gosh sake!... to what a cartoon could be!

UPA was probably the first to experiment with limited animation (what Iwao Takamoto refers to as planned animation which I think is a much better name!) to produce cartoons for T.V.  But I also used to see them as theatrical shorts.  One character was my favorite: a little artist wearing a smock and a beret called Gaston Le Crayon.  I thought he was hysterical.
Gaston Le Crayon, a supposed "French" artist, mincing over drawings of French policemen.  Oooo la la!!

It was on Captain Kangaroo that I used to watch Tom Terrific and Gerald McBoingBoing.  Tom Terrific was so limited a palette you could actually see through characters when they passed things.  It was literally pencil drawings on bond paper and little else.  And even though I was only 5, I could see the beauty and the cleverness in that.
Not shown: evil Crabby Appleton... rotten to the core!

Now, I said I didn't believe Captain Kangaroo accepted Hanna-Barbera syndicated output but I can't remember the exact circumstances under which I would watch Ruff 'n Ready.  It's funny that today I read how Ruff 'n Ready were HB's first venture in made-exclusively-for-T.V. cartoons ... this is all supposed to be ancient history... because I remember I used to watch Ruff 'n Ready religiously.  I absolutely loved them!
I loved Ruff 'n Ready.  They were always getting themselves into really interesting jams; things like being stowaways on a pirate ship; or being chased by this little guy with a Tommy gun who sailed around in a submarine; or going to Mars... stuff that a 5-year-old could really sink his teeth into!
 If you watched them you'd instantly recognize that early HB look.  [Note: in his book My Life with a Thousand Characters Iwao Takamoto took a dim view of references to a HB "look."  Consider that the Alex Toth/Doug Widley designed Johnny Quest ran concurrently with the Flintstones.  Any common ground there?  No, but by an HB look I'm referring to Ruff 'n Ready and '59 - '62 Huckleberry Hound, QuickDraw McGraw, Yogi Bear, and a host of others.  I don't wish to be argumentative but those cartoons did indeed have a look.]

I think the ultimate in cartoon design would have to be a cross between UPA creations and Ed Benedict designed HB characters.  That is my opinion. 

You may very well disagree.  There are so many new looks coming out these days.  Consider Pendleton Ward's Adventure Time. Or Butch Hartman's Fairly Odd Parents, Tuff Puppy.  Etc. etc.  So many different looks. 

Imagine a 5 year old who watches Cartoon Network.  Think of how he or she will wax nostalgic when they turn 60.  But, man, will they ever have things to be nostalgic about!!

I may have thought I grew up in the Golden Age of Cartoons but I think that day is today.  So flip the channel to CN or Nicktoons or Boomerang or what have you... it's all good.  We're in the true era of cartoons, my friends, enjoy it while it's here!

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