Saturday, March 30, 2013

Rabbit Redux, or Shelling Points

Christianity speaking, Easter is a much more important holiday than Christmas. After all, Easter celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Neat trick if you can pull it off. Christmas, on the other hand, merely celebrates Jesus' birth. Anybody can be born. Just look at David Hasselhoff. He was born, wasn't he? So was Paula Abdul. And Scott Baio, Vanna White, Prince Charles, Kitty Kelley, Peirs Morgan, Michelle Bachmann, Harry Reid, Florence Henderson, and the guy who played Mini-Me in the Austin Powers movies.

For that matter, I was born. Trust me, folks, it's doable.

So, if it's a less important occasion, why does Christmas seem bigger? Nobody wants to admit this, but it's because the secularists got into the act. They took a solemn holiday and made it fun. More important, as far as the merchants are concerned, they made it profitable. So profitable with all those Christmas sales, blaring songs, horrendous crowds, and blinding tinsel, they've made all the non-mercantile secularists among us wonder if we shouldn't give solemnity another chance.

Easter, then, is another chance for solem-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z...

Even if Easter is second-rate as far as secular holidays go, it's not for lack of trying on the part of the mover and shakers of popular culture, who've kept up the potentially profitable fight all these years. Some examples:

Actually, I think Easter would be the safest time of year for vegetables (assuming vegetables can think, as the above illustration implies.) I mean, it's not like you're going to find rutabagas in your basket. And who dyes onions?

(Incidentally, since the above computer-animated series features anthropomorphic vegetables, what happens when one goes into a coma? It's a bit a redundant to say they're in a vegetative state, isn't it?)

I wonder if she delivers the Un-eggs.

Soft boiled humor.

I hope they don't accidentally drink the dye and beer the eggs. (You may think that's bad grammar, but those folks are Dutch; they may not even notice.)

Easter cheesecake.

I wonder if these are also good for a sore throat.

A nice, cozy, romantic getaway.

Easter before cell phones.

Easter eggs that snap, crackle, and pop.

 He has to get to work somehow, doesn't he?

"...with liberty and jelly beans for all."

That's one creepy-looking Easter Bunny.

" will be a blue Easter without you..."

" singular sensation..."

They celebrate Easter in France, too.

So, is it working? Have we made the holiday secular enough?

Still no Christmas, but close...very, very close.

Have a happy and safe Easter, whatever your belief system may be.



Sunday, March 24, 2013

Cell Break

Animator Ub Iwerks, co-creator of Mickey Mouse, was born on this day in 1901. The other co-creator was, of course, Walt Disney. Walt asked Ub to draw a mouse, and he did just that. Earlier the two men had co-created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit for Universal Studios. But Walt wanted to be his own boss, so he went in business for himself, bringing Ub along with him. Steamboat Willie was their first big hit. Other classic cartoon shorts that they made together include The Skeleton Dance,  The Gallopin' Gaucho, The Barn Dance, The Opry House, The Plow Boy, The Karnival Kid, Haunted House, Springtime, Summer, and Autumn (what, no winter?), all of which made Walt Disney a household name. Ub Iwerks, meanwhile, decided he'd like to be his own boss, and with the help of producer Pat Powers, left Disney to go in business for himself.

Here's some of the delightful results from Iwerks brief (yes, I'm foreshadowing) stab at independence:

The Soup Song (1931)

The Air Race (1933)

Jack in the Beanstalk (1933)

Balloon Land (1935)

I find these, and many others that I've seen on YouTube, just as entertaining as anything Walt Disney, Max Fleischer or Walter Lantz (who had taken over Oswald) were doing at the time. But 1930s audiences were mainly indifferent, and Ub Iwerks never became a household word. However, he did retain a great deal of respect within the animation industry itself. Producer Leon Schlesinger, whose cartoons were distributed by Warner Brothers, farmed out some work to Iwerks. Schlesinger animators (and future directors) Robert Clampett and Chuck Jones assisted, and these bear more their stamp than Iwerks.

After producing some stuff for Columbia, Iwerks finally closed up shop in 1940 and returned to Disney. While he did some animation, he worked mostly on special effects, and later, even helped develop rides for Disneyland.

Before he died in 1971, Ub Iwerks did have one last hurrah that didn't involve Walt, or anybody you would normally associate with animation. But animation it was, though in order to tell you have to look closely...if you dare:

The Birds (1964)

Maybe Hitchcock should have asked Disney to lend him Donald Duck as well.



Sunday, March 17, 2013

Serpentine Logic, or Dublin or Nothing

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Today millions of Americans will don green clothes (a bit redundant if your a boy scout or forest ranger), drink green beer, and subsequently spew green vomit in celebration.

I hear the holiday's popular in Ireland, too.

The above was a joke, but in many way St Patrick's Day is an American invention. It started in Ireland, of course, but as a religious holiday, something to do with that Patrick fellow being a "saint". It was us Yanks who secularized it, in the best way we know how, by excessive promotion (St. Paddy's Day Sale! 17% OFF Anything in the Store That is Green!), excessive merchandising (St Patrick's Day Pimp Hat for only $8.99!), excessive eating (16" corn beef and cabbage pizza for $13.99 plus tax), as I mentioned earlier, excessive drinking (Irish I were drunk, as one T-shirt puts it) excessive horniness (Get lucky tonight--St Patrick's Day Lingerie and Costumes in stock!), and, finally, excessive law enforcement (Police Ramp Up Alcohol Patrols for St. Patrick's Day.)

In recent years, some of these traditions have made their way to Ireland, mainly because American tourists have made their way to Ireland. Still, you're unlikely to see anybody on that side of the pond wearing "Kiss me, I'm Irish" T-shirts. Irish people can kiss each other any time they want; they don't have to wait until March 17.

Of course, parades are popular on St. Patrick's Day. If you go to one today, you might see something like this:

Kilts and bagpipes? That's Scotland, not Ireland! Oh, well, to most American ears the accents sound the same. They might as well dress alike and play the same music.

In case you're wondering who exactly St Patrick was, legend has it he drove all the snakes out of Ireland.

Good reason to celebrate. In Ireland. How about here in the US? What's our snake situation?

According to my research, there's about 130 species of snakes in North America, several of them venomous. We're up to our necks in snakes! Cancel the camping trip! Don't I have enough things to worry about without some long, slimy, creeping, crawling, slithering reptile sneaking into my tent and strangling me in my sleep?

And exactly why do we have all these snakes in the first place, huh? I have my suspicions. When Patrick drove them out of Ireland, they had to go somewhere, right? Thanks to him, we now have 130 invasive species--that's thousands of snakes per species--just biding there time in the weeds waiting to attack. And we're throwing a party celebrating the man responsible for this ecological catastrophe?

All that green beer has dulled our senses. Or maybe just mine.



Saturday, March 9, 2013

Quips and Quotations

There is a good side and a bad side to most people, and in accordance with your own character and disposition you will bring out one of them, and the other will remain a sealed book to you.

--Mark Twain

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Graphic Grandeur (Cram for Midterms Edition)

The above ad is from the September 1948 issue of Modern Mechanix. There seems to be very little about it that has anything to do with mechanics, though I imagine some 1940s smartass took one look at the drawing and quipped, "Nice chassis!"

The Professional School of Cartooning, Inc doesn't seem to have had any actual classrooms. A similar ad makes it clear that it offered correspondence courses only. I like the fact that this school felt the need to include "Inc" in its' name, as if not to confuse it with The Professional School of Cartooning, Mom-and-Pop Store. Its doors weren't, or mailbox wasn't, open for very long, I don't think. Every time I google the school's name looking for more information, I get either this ad or one just like it in the back of magazines published between '47 and '50. It seems to have fizzled out  just as the postwar economy was booming. Perhaps things would have turned out different if it had advertised in front of the magazine.

I mean, it does seem like a good deal. Or might if one knew exactly how much the whole thing cost. The first critique is free, except for the mailing charge, but what about the next two years? According to the ad, these weren't famous amateurs looking at your scribbles. An aspiring artist might have to make some sacrifices to continue with such a course. Maybe cancel their Modern Mechanix subscription.

And just how famous were those professionals critiquing your drawing of a five-legged dog? (Oops. Sorry. That last leg's actually a tail.) Well, while probably lacking the same 1940s name recognition of Humphrey Bogart or Bette Davis, they all had impressive enough resumes. Lawrence Lariar was a successful gag cartoonist who also edited Best Cartoons of...books for three decades. According to one web site, Lariar may have also drawn the girl in the ad. Brothers Irving Roir, Al Ross, Salo, and Ben Roth (the latter the only one to use the family name) were also popular.  Adolph Schus did both gag and political cartoons. George Wolfe was a gag cartoonist who later did newspaper strips. Ed Nofziger is remembered best for his talking animal cartoons. Henry Boltinoff worked for DC comics and did funny filler strips that ran between Superman and Batman stories. Anybody out there who knows more about these gentlemen (especially if you happen to have a comic strip-oriented blog of your own), feel free to expound about such knowledge in the comments section.

My point is, to get an A, B, or even a C+ from one of these guys would seem to me to be a big deal. Maybe potential customers/students were just too intimidated by the big names. More likely the big names got weary of all the customers/students stick drawings, and decided to close up Inc.

One last thing. The web site where I originally saw this ad (as I said earlier, it's on several) made mention that CUTE GIRLS appears in capital letters. What it didn't make mention of, but what I noticed anyway toward the bottom, was this:

Approved for Veterans
Remember, this was just after World War II. A serviceman returning to civilian life could look forward to meeting cute girls.

Even if he apparently had to draw them himself.