Now You Can Read About The King Of Indie Animation

Via: Bill Plympton on Scribble Junkies

A real quick post to relay the news that Independently Animated, a whole book dedicated to the amazing career of Bill Plympton launches today March 22nd. I’m at work so I can’t post a lot but it was co-authored by my good friend David B. Levy so you know it’s a good read.

You can buy it here or, read this great interview with the man himself over on Cool Hunting.

EDIT: I lept before I looked. Woops! Oh well, it’s as good a time as any to post it 🙂

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Anomaly Appraisal: The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes

Via: The Cartoon Cave

We got some snow here in Baltimore last night, so today I get to work from home! Without having to engage in the usual race against time that I normally do to write a post, I became rather distracted by some Looney Tunes on YouTube. Having grown up with all of them, it was very hard not to watch just a few as they finally give me the impetus I needed to post my review of The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes.

Edited by Jerry Beck (whom you all should know as one half of Cartoon Brew and the guy who knows more about classic animation than anyone else), it does pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. However, this is no mere directory of shorts, but a carefully curated collection of the ones that stand out, that are worth mentioning and, as Jerry notes in his introduction, are worthy of being ranked among the classics of American cinema from the same era.

The book is superbly laid out with each short getting a two-page spread with screenshots on one and the commentary opposite. There is the title, a quote, the production details, a short paragraph description and then there is the real gem of the book, the personal responses.

See, there are tons of books out there that detail Looney Tunes shorts and there are plenty of books out there that contain personal tales of people’s favourite ones, but rarely are the two brought together so wonderfully. The commentators includes a who’s who of animation folk, such as Linda Simensky, Michael Sporn, Greg Ford, Eric Goldberg, Mark Mayerson, J. J. Sadelmaier, the list goes on and on.

What makes all these personal responses so great is exactly that, they’re personal! Many remark about how much they learned from watching these shorts, and indeed how often they used to view them, mostly on TV re-runs. While reading through them, I found myself on more than one occasion mentally playing the film in my head, which only added to the enjoyment as I recalled all the gags and indeed, my own viewing experiences.

The Looney Tunes series of shorts are just one series that have had a profound effect on American culture. Their longevity is proof that they have managed to transcend the fickle nature of the entertainment industry, where fads rule and films can date quicker than the Chinese food in the fridge. The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes is a superb companion book that should bring back fond memories of these shorts, and may also inspire you to seek them out again. Highly recommended and can be bought on Amazon.

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Anomaly Appraisal: The Vault of Walt

Via: Mayerson on Animation

I suppose I’m kinda going backwards with these things, seeing as I’ve read this but no biographies of Walt. Nonetheless, I don’t think this will stand as a barrier to my enjoyment of either. I received The Vault of Walt as a Christmas present and was thoroughly surprised by what I read.

The first shock was it’s size, over 400 pages! I wasn’t expecting anything near that long, although that did not perturb me from racing through the entire tome in about 4 days such was the ease and eagerness at which I read it.

Jim Korkis, for those who do not know, wrote a blog over on the Mouse Planet website under a pseudonym before leaving the Disney Company and writing this book under his own name. Basically, it is a collection of stories that revolve around Walt Disney that Jim felt are not given adequate exposure in current biographies or even in any other literature.

The book is divided into four parts, each dealing with a different aspect of Walt’s life and work. They include such wide-ranging topics as: The Miniature World of Walt, the Gospel According to Walt, the Song of the South Premiere, Cinderella’s Golden Carousel, Khrushchev in Disneyland and Tinker Bell Tales.

All in all it the book is a smorgasbord of stories that I’d never heard of and that touch on aspect’s of Walt’s life that others either didn’t know about or chose to gloss over. A fine example is Walt’s religious beliefs and his apparent extreme religious tolerance of other faiths.

Some of the stories that revolve around Disneyland are almost as exciting as those surrounding the man himself. For instance there is a fascinating insight in the carousel at Walt Disney World, which is a genuine historical artefact and worth many millions of dollars. Yet park visitors ride it every day without even realising it!

Jim’s writing style is easy-going and easy to read as a result. The break-up of the stories also means that you can read it in a any order you wish, so it’s great for people (such as myself) who might only find time to read on story at a time.

Overall, I found that the Vault of Walt helped give me a more complete picture of the man known as Walt Disney. it helped fill in some blanks about how his childhood in Kansas and Missouri helped shape his work in Hollywood and beyond. As a purely entertainment piece alone I would recommend the book, but seeing as it is quite unique on its topic. As a pseudo-biographical collection of stories about one of the best-known people in the world, it is an essential place on my bookshelf.

You can order it here, but also please read the thoughts of Mark Mayerson and Michael Sporn who are much more knowledgeable on the subject than I.

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What I Found at the Second-Hand Bookshop


A wee while ago I espoused the virtues of the library as a great source for animation and animation-related books. Naturally, it is not the only source in existence for reading materials. Frankly, I’m quite ashamed that I forgot to mention the second-hand book shop as well.

While up in western New York this past weekend (hence the brief hiatus), I happened to pay a visit to a local bookshop whose owners had decided it was time to enjoy the finer things in life and were in the process of flogging off ever single book in the place (all 200,000 of them) for the princely sum of $2 each. Yes, that’s right, two of your fine [American] dollars would get you any book in the joint.

Now myself, being the bookworm type, simply had to pop in and take a bit of a nose around to see what I could find. The only downside to such shops is that you can guarantee that nothing is really organised and that a bit of foraging is required to find what you’re looking for.

So, in amongst the Idiot’s Guide to Netscape and first editions of Nancy Drew there is the possibility of finding some, shall we say, diamonds in the rough. Thankfully, I did manage to locate said diamonds, and promptly cleaned the guy out of every decent animation book he had, all 6 of them!

There’s a biography of Chuck Jones by Hugh Kenner that looks pretty decent, a book dedicated to Big Little Books that has a ton of early, 1930s-era animation, comic and detective books and Walt in Wonderland, which focuses on his silent animated films from the 20s.

Excited as I was to start reading those, they will have to wait. Before then, I have to plough through How to Make Animated Movies by Anthony Kinsey, the official Walt Disney biography by Bob Thomas (very excited to read this) and last but certainly not least, “That’s All Folks: The Art of Warner Bros. Animation” by Steve Schneider.

Are these real gems of book? Nah, they’re fairly run of the mill (except the Kinsey book, that seems pretty rare) and any second-hand bookshop is likely to be the same. Nonetheless, if I hadn’t stopped in and looked around, I wouldn’t have all these lovely books to read in the coming months. 🙂

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An Early Goal for 2011

I had a nice post written all about the healthy state of TV animtion worldwide and then the computer went and lost it. Seeing as I am now late for work, it will have to wait for another day. In the meantime, here is the beginnings of my latest project. I have to juggle girlfriend, work, school and the dog in between everything else going on in my life so it may take a while (read: the better part of a year) to see some resutls. Nonetheless, I’m excited.


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Anomaly Appraisal: The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History

Via: Uncrate

This book was launched around this time last year (wow, time flies eh?) and at the time was the result of a considerable amount of press exposure for the simple reason that nobody from FOX or The Simpsons themselves would comment on it. Of course the logical excuse offered up was that an ‘official’ history will come along at some point which will naturally contain all the official stories and anecdotes.

This book however, is the unofficial version, replete with warts-and-all tales from inside and outside the show. For a loyal stonecutter’s take on the book, I suggest hitting up the Dead Homer’s Society for their review, which is refreshingly realistic in its synopsis.

John Ortved should be commended for putting together a tome that combines more first hand accounts of the show than any I care to remember. In contrast to Planet Simpson, which I posted about last week, which was a much more existentialist view of the series and its characters, this book looks past all that for what was going on behind the TV screen.

The book very much follows the shows own timeline, from pre-conception to the present time (well, 2009) so sa you can expect, the climactic, exciting stuff is in the middle, not the end. Ortved lays out in some detail the conflicts and fall-outs that have been the reality behind the greatest TV show ever made. Although he rightfully points out money and egos as being the main ingredients, he does present the facts in a reasonably fair and balance way. In other words, he doesn’t take sides in the war.

I loved reading first-hand accounts from people involved in the show, from writers, to the voice-actors all the way up to Rupert Murdoch himself. Although I found the transcript form of the book weary at first, it became a much easier read in the end (more on that later). The sheer number of stories (both humourous and otherwise) from these folks are gold to a Simpsons fan such as myself.

The book is excellent overall but there are just one or two areas where I was disappointed. Firstly, Ortved’s own writing is quite lacking in the fact-checking department. The biggest one I found was getting Binky and Bongo from Life in Hell mixed up.

Besides the factual errors, the book seems to have this dark overtone. In more than one occasion I found footnotes that were gratuitously politicised. Personally I don’t really care, but please, I’m reading a book about a funny show, there’s no need to bring up your own politcal leanings for the sake of it.

Lastly, there is the discussion about certain folks on the show. While I have mentioned above that Ortved stays pretty impartial to the infighting, there is a substantial imbalance in how he meters out praise and scorn. For example, David Silverman gets one mention whereas Al Jean is single-handedly ridiculed for allowing the show to decline over the last decade. Maybe he is and maybe he isn’t, but I firmly believe that you should meter out praise much more than criticism.

Overall, this is a must-read for any Simpsons fan. It helps set the frame of the Simpsons as an institution of American culture and helped me to see the show in a new, more compassionate light.

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Quick Note: Mr. Warburton Recommends Directing Animation by David B. Levy

Apologies for the short post today but that’s because you’ll want to head on over to the weblog of Mr. Warburton (Genius) to hear him sing the praises of David’s new book all about directing animation. In typical Warburtonese you can read how awesome the book is and why you should buy it (as if you needed any reasons to buy it).

Look out for a full review here in the near future.

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Anomaly Appraisal: Planet Simpson

Via: The Ontario Library Service

I’m currently just beginning a different book on the Simpsons (which I’ll post about in due course). So far I’ve read the first chapter or so, but it has already made me think back to the first book (and I mean real book here) I read on the show.

Nearly two years ago, I picked up Planet Simpson by Chris Turner and ate it up like it was ice-cream. Now I bought it simply because it was about the Simpsons and because it looked like it was of a slightly higher intelligence than the usual lot. However, I was in for a bit of a surprise.

Of course I was already familiar with how the Simpsons came about and I assume you are too, but if not, click here. What I found in this book was a much more substantial essay on how the Simpsons defined and were defined by, everyday life and the cultural changes occuring in the US at the start of the early 90s.

First off, it’s clear the Turner is a huge fan of the show. The book is full of quotes and cross-references that any fan worth their salt will immediately recognise. Secondly, what makes the book stand out, at least structurally, is that each character in the family has their own chapter, within which various other topics are mentioned and discussed. Turner does a very thorough job of detailing the complexities of each character and prodding me into seeing them in a slightly different light. For the record, Lisa is my favourite of the whole bunch.

Turner does an excellent job of analysing the connections between the Simpsons and the real world on which it is based. Pop-cultural references in the show itself, the characters themselves as a reflection of contemporary civilisation, the life of a worker in the radioactive ooze of an American corporation and the ability to see the lighter side of it all in the end are what attracted fans to the show. Turner looks into all of them all and then some.

The book is not a light read (440 pages and no pictures). While it is certainly interesting, don’t expect to read a pile of fluff. Turner knows how to write (unlike yours truly) and the ample peppering of quotes and references helps break things up and induces plenty of reruns inside your own head.

The nice thing about Planet Simpson is that it doesn’t try to prove a point. There’s no hidden agenda and I finished the book feeling that although my thoughts on the Simpsons hadn’t changed, I had a little more respect for the team behind it that put it all together and how they are (were?) the smartest people on television, and are likely to be for decades to come.

If you are looking for a deeper understanding of The Simpsons as it pertains to modern life, this book is definitely for you.

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Looking For A Book on Animation? Try the Library!

Seriously, go to the library! I found that in recent months, I was becoming a bit consternated with the number of books I wanted to read. The reason this is so is because I was concerned about the rather daunting amount of money it would cost to read them all. You figure $10-20 for a book isn’t too bad until you add it all up and realise that for your $100 you got only 5 or so books.

Yes, it is possible to go used, but you are still spending hard earned cash. The main sticking point for me was not so much the price, it was that I just wanted to read the book, not necessarily won it.

So last Saturday, when I had a bit of free time in the afternoon, I decided to wander on down to the local library. Now I hadn’t been in a library outside of school in about 10 years or so; the result of outgrowing the children’s section, lack of time and a general lack of interest.

I used to love going to the library every Friday evening after school with my sister. I never stopped loving books, it just seemed that the library, as a source of books, slipped further and further down my list. Well, now it is right back up at the top!

Why you ask? Well for one, why pay $20 for a book when you can borrow it for free?

The nature of libraries today is such that it is possible to obtain practically any book you could imagine. The existence of inter-library loans means that you can request any book, and if your local library doesn’t have it, there’s a good chance at least one other one in the country will. The cost of this wonderful service is only $1.

Having said that, you’d be surprised what animation books turn up on the shelf. A quick scour of the shelves in my local branch revealed a copy of Animation Development: From Pitch to Production by David B. Levy which suffice to say, everyone interested in animation should read.

With the ever-growing prevalence of the internet, it is easy to say that books are becoming increasingly marginalised in favour of online content and e-books. The fact of the matter is, if copyright continues to grow every more severe and restricting, traditional dead tree books may well be the only way to freely read content without having to pay for it. It’s sad to say, but as far as I know, you can’t borrow an e-book near as easily as a real one.

So what are you waiting for? Hit up your local library’s website and see what they’ve got. Or even head down to the local branch yourself. I know

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Patiently Waiting for The Vault of Walt

Via Mark Mayerson’s Blog

There are a lot of stories and legends surrounding Walt Disney. Some are genuine, others are not, but all are entertaining or informative in some shape or form. He is, without a doubt, a giant in the animation world, not just because of his early developments, but because he proved that animation could provide a strong base on which to build a media empire.

Written By Jim Kokis, a noted Disney historian, the list of stories detailed in the press release and over on Mark Mayerson’s blog have certainly whetted my appetite for this book. Over the last year or so (especially after I read Serious Business), I have become more interested in learning about the early history of animation in Hollywood and Walt Disney plays a fairly large part in that.

The book will be out in October and by the looks of things it will be a very good read indeed.

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Quick Note: Two Guys Named Joe by John Canemaker

Yes, we have indeed arrived at the launch of yet another of John Canemaker’s excellent tomes. This one centres on two extremes of the Disney animation universe, Joe Grant and Joe Ranft. Two fellows who are surprisingly similar despite their differences (mainly their age).

Both Michael Sporn and Mark Mayerson have posted details of the book, as have Cartoon Brew who posted a brief interview with Mr. Canemaker. Suffice to say, I did not need them to tell me to be excited about this book.

It centers on two animators who worked at Disney over different periods and gives an account of their experiences, noth good and bad. While I have not yet read the book, those who have espouse that it is yet another book that is required reading for anyone with a remote interest in animation.

John Canemaker is one of those people who are unique for a very good reason: they are emphatic about their chosen subject and put supreme effort into everything they do. he has written numerous books on animation history before and there is no reason to doubt that this will be any different.

The book launches today (August 3rd) and can be had over on for a tidy discount. I’ll publish a full review in due course.


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