Cartoon Modern

Anomaly Appraisal: Cartoon Modern

Via: Amazon

So this review is a bit late to the game seeing as this book came out back in 2006; a mere 6 years ago. Happily, Cartoon Modern is the kind of book that doesn’t age and not just because it deals with a period far in the past!

For the uninitiated, Cartoon Modern is concerned with that period in American animation spanning the late 1940s through till the early 60s, when the new-found prosperity and hope of the postwar era combined with the desire to break the established boundaries of animation, resulting revolution in design that has yet to be matched.

We’re all familiar with the style, after all, it’s only influenced animation for the last 60 years or so, and of course, modern hits like Ren & Stimpy owe a lot to the culture of the era too.

So what is Cartoon Modern? Well, it’s not strictly an art book, although it is brimming with lots of wonderful eye candy and it’s not strictly a written history either, although it does contain lots of detail about the history and provocateurs of the style.

Instead, author Amid Amidi gives a comprehensive overview of the period that combines general information, details of the various studios on both coasts and notes on individual animators highlighting their contributions. Naturally UPA consumes a large chapter, but even that is broken up with many notes on the individual artists that contributed so greatly to that studio’s remarkable success.

Cartoon Modern is an easy read that is greatly aided by the presence of many stunning images from the time that continue to appear fresh today. Admittedly I could have said that I had an interest in 50s animation before this, but having read this book, I can safely say that my interest was shallow at best.

I now have a greater desire to learn about the period and Cartoon Modern has certainly played a part in that.

At 200 gorgeous pages, Cartoon Modern is essential to the bookcase of anyone with even a fledgling interest in animation.

Note: the images above are all from the excellent book review site, Parka Blogs unless noted. Click through to read his review.


Should You Aim For A Specific Animation Style?


An example of Mike Maihack's incredible style

Via Mike’s website

It’s a tough question that’s not too easy to answer straight off the bat. So let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages and compare them at the end, OK?

Having you own particular style of animation can have many advantages. Although it may sound tough to be unique in a market filled to the brim with creativity, there are always ways to make your own mark. A unique style can serve as a fantastic calling card. For example, look at the picture below. Can you tell who drew it? I bet you can.

It is of course, Bill Plympton. His pencilly style is known throughout the animation world and beyond. The same goes for the likes of Bruce Timm, Matt Groening, John Kricfalusi, David OReilly, etc. etc.

Besides being instantly recogniseable, a particular style can serve you well in your films as well. Arguably Bruce Timm’s style of hard edges and stylized characters and backgrounds served the original Batman: The Animated Series very well and played a significant role in that TV show’s success.

The same goes for the likes of South Park. Yes, it is incredibly crude, but it suits the incredibly crude nature of the show and after so many seasons, it is impossible to imagine it any other way.

Is there anything else a certain style can help you out with? How about merchandising? It’s something that is not necessarily at the forefront of your mind when you create a TV show is it? Or is it? Did you know that Chowder creator C. H. Greenblatt supposedly designed Chowder with a plush toy in mind?


Forget the fact that Cartoon Network never took up the opportunity but think about how easy it would be to turn the round little guy into a toy. Chowder is not a toyetic show in the traditional sense, but it style does lend itself quite well to marketing.

Now the bad news. Can a style hurt your career? Sure, it is easy to become typecast into a particular style although a lot of the time, this could be due to a multitude of other reasons besides the style of your work alone.

In fact, if you think about all the poor animated films out there, the style normally doesn’t even factor into it. Why? Well for one, a lot of poor films attempt to copy successful styles and appear as such, and secondly there are usually even bigger problems with the likes of the story or script that overshadow the style.

As an animator, it is these problems that will be the ones you will have to watch more so than your style. Having said that, there are still plenty of opportunities to go wrong, especially in the are of character design. An area where many non-Disney animated films seemed to fall short (at least according to my mother).

The second danger with having a strong style is that it may go out of fashion. A great example are the fantastic Cartoon Modern TV shows and films put out in the 1950s and early 60s. As fantastic looking as these shorts are now, they apparently could not stay in style forever and by the end of the 1960s, it was extinct in the mainstream.

This is not fault of its own, just the whims of consumer taste. Just bear in mind that if you have a very strong, contemporary feel to your style, you should be prepared to adapt a new one at some point.

Overall, the reasons for adopting your own style far outweigh the disadvantages. Signs of uniqueness and individualism can go a long way in the creative arts (just ask Andy Warhol or Georgia O’Keefe). In animation, developing a particular style should be a priority when it comes to your personal films or indeed your creative pitches to others.

What are your thoughts on a unique animation style?