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Every year I publish my list of favourites, and every year I always realize I’ve forgotten a few due to absent-mindedness or, more likely, my cluttered office. So here are a few more, which I’ll append to the original list:
There’s something quite special about the unadorned, simple black-and-white mini-minicomics that show up every few weeks from Chuck Forsman’s subscription series, which offers comics from a number of cartoonists like Melissa Mendes, Michael DeForge, Max de Radiguès, and more. They’re small things, and short to read, so unlike the growing pile of unread books by my bedside, they are actually inviting rather than intimidating when it comes to reading them. And they’re cheap and disposable enough that they don’t feel like precious objects. They feel like little gifts when they come in the mail. It appears that subscription memberships are currently closed, but at the very least you can head over to the Oily Boutique and order the books a la carte for a buck a pop.
Patrick Kyle released the collected book of his comic series Black Mass this year, but for my money I’m much more excited by his latest series Distance Mover, which like Oily Comics, I’ve been getting in the mail every month as a subscription. Each little book is a risographed art object, and I enjoy seeing Patrick’s work grow more abstract and even further from the traditional norm than Black Mass which already eschewed panels in favour of a freeform fill-the-page-with-drawings method. Each issue in the mail comes with goodies like extra prints or zines. Subscriptions are likely closed as the series nears its end, but you can order books directly from Patrick’s site, and read the first three issues (in black and white) online.
Dustin’s Diary Comics made the list in previous years when they weren’t even this good — the great thing with a project like this is being able to literally see the artist improve over time. This fourth issue comprises more of Dustin’s just-like-the-title-says diary comics, and his drawing chops remain as honed as ever, but it’s the multi-page story Boxes that is the real zinger here. In it Dustin reflects on the diary comics themselves, and how comics have affected his day-to-day perception of the world around him, for better or for worse. Yes, meta journal comics about drawing said comics aren’t anything new, but Dustin’s gifts for thoughtfulness and introspection make it a special thing, and a powerful unexpected product of having distilled his life into four panels, a page at a time, for the past few years. You can read Boxes online for free (full disclosure: I am featured in the story), and buy all of Dustin’s books and prints at his online store (which currently offers 35% off orders of $50 or more with the code DHARBMAS).
I knew my list didn’t feel right without any reprints of classic comic strips. Nancy seems to be a love-it-or-leave-it strip, and I am firmly in the Love It camp. Nancy is the granddaddy of the gag strip. Often surreal, and always impeccably drawn, there is nothing quite like it. D&Q got a head start in publishing John Stanley’s Nancy comic books, which are certainly fun, but these Bushmiller strips are the real deal — perfectly constructed comic strips with not a line or word wasted. It’s been said it’s harder to not read a Nancy strip than it is to read one, and for that alone these books are a virtual masterclass in cartooning.
In a list of Great Cartoonists Who Weren’t Cartoonists, Jim Henson would top the list. Is there a better example of simple, contrasting character design than Bert and Ernie? Jim Henson famously kept a journal with simple one-line entries. It was a proto-Twitter account that, of course, is now a Twitter account. This book, Imagination Illustrated, compiles the most notable entries in chronological order and fills the pages with sketches, drawings, photographs, storyboards, and ephemera to create a scrapbook of the Muppet creator’s professional life, and is the perfect piece of nostalgia for a Muppet-loving child of the 80s like myself.
To recap: this season has already brought two must-have books – J.B. Kaufman’s Snow White history, The Fairest One Of All and Charles Solomon’s lavishly illustrated survey of Charlie Brown animation, The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation. But the season isn’t over and here are four more highly recommended hardcovers worth every cent of their suggested retail price.
First up, “I Say, I Say… Son! A Tribute To legendary Animators Bob, Chuck and Tom McKimson by Roberet McKimson Jr., with a forward by John Kricfalusi and an introduction by Darrell Van Citters. Wow! This is a surprise and a real treat. Poor Robert McKimson never got the attention and adoration his fellow directors Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng did. Thankfully, his champions have created this celebration of of all things McKimson – and that includes the incredible contributions of his siblings, Charles and Tom, who all together contributed more to the look and feel of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies than almost anyone else.
Robert McKimson’s son has put together a delicious volume of art and history that’s way overdue. John K. starts it off with a great seven-page Foreword explaining his admiration for the McKimson brothers work (images in this section include an original John K. drawing of Foghorn Leghorn meeting Stimpy!); and Darrel Van Citters does likewise in his informative intro. The meat of the book is the incredible art and photos that follow from the McKimson family estate. Bob Jr’s text takes us from his fathers earliest experiences at Disney and the Romer Grey studio to the earliest days at Harman-Ising. Absolutely gorgeous pencil art of Bosko (from Schlesinger) and Binko (from Romer Grey) highlight this section. Rare paintings, staff photos, the U.S. copyright registration for Bugs Bunny (!), model sheets, layout sketches, coloring book art… incredible stuff. A chapter on Tom McKimson’s work at Western Publishing and Bob’s later career at UPA, DePatie Freleng and back at Warners in 1969 tie up any and all loose ends. A thorough, competent, visually delightful job – exactly what you’d expect from someone named McKimson. Bravo, I love it!
What can I say? Gerstein and Groth do it again. For the 4th time, Floyd Gottfredson’s incredible (and incredibly rare) 1930s Mickey Mouse adventure strip is collected with much care and great thought. The fact these were never reprinted before is criminal – the way they have been presented here more than makes up for it. The comics strips are compiled from the highest quality reprint masters and the daily strips themselves are truly classic material – worthy of a more prominent place in the Disney canon. As usual, Gerstein’s “bonus materials” – the liner notes, essays and special features – that appear at the beginning and end of the book represent Disney scholarship at its highest level.
This time Gerstein (along with colleagues Tom Andrae, Carson Van Osten and Thad Komorowski) provide insight into Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and such supporting players as Oscar the Ostrich and Dr. Einmug, rare artwork from international merchandise, publicity images and lost storyboards from from the Disney Animation Research Library. This series is a keeper. If you’ve got the first three volumes, you know the score. If not, maybe this video (below) will convince you. It’s terrific!
Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal by Karen Falk, is not devoted to animation (though Muppet Babies is given a nice spread), but Henson’s Muppet legacy – and that cannot be ignored. Henson’s films, shows and all-over creativity are an inspiration to all who create frame-by-frame cartoons and this book is an incredible peek inside his mind. This book is based around Henson’s personal handwritten journal and materials from his archives – a scrapbook of Muppet history that I’m grateful the family has deemed to share. Beyond the Muppets, the book contains rare memorabilia and information on Henson’s experimental shorts and TV specials (some of which I’d never heard of), TV pilots, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, commercials and industrial shorts – everything he did is noted one way or another with rare photos, script pages, publicity photos and other incredible ephemera. If you like Muppets or have any interest in Henson, it’s a must. Get it.
Usually I recommend these “Art of” books because – let’s face it – even if the movie is no-good, the pre-vis and character designs are usually fantastic. Wreck-It Ralph is not only a great little film, but the artwork is especially fun. Director Rich Moore assembled a hand-picked crew of cartoonists to inspire the look of the film and they did not fail. No wonder the stuff on the screen looks so good – the preliminary art pictured here shows he had a lot of quality to choose from. Mike Gabriel, Jin Kim, Bill Schwab, Lorelay Bove, Glen Keane, and Minkyu Lee are just a few of the artists supplying the eye candy here, providing the appropriate “sugar rush” you require. This is a good one.
With the arrival of the new Muppet movie, Kermit, Miss Piggy, Beaker, and our other felt friends are everywhere. There’s no escaping Jim Henson’s creations, and few of us would want to (unless the movie happens to suck, which is doubtful, given the stewardship of Jason Segel, who showed major Muppet mojo in the heartbreaking and spit-taking Forgetting Sarah Marshall). It’s a good time to look at the history of the word Muppet, which has some meanings that would make the Swedish Chef bork with outrage.
Thanks to interviews with Muppet creator Jim Henson, we know Muppet is not a blend of marionette and puppet, though that theory has been appearing since 1959, just four years after Henson invented the crew, who appeared in pre-Sesame Street and Muppet Show fare such as commercials for Wilkins coffee. I love this part of the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of Muppet: “Any of a number of humorously grotesque glove puppets.” That phrasing seems humorously grotesque itself, but if it helps a Martian understand a Muppet, I guess it’s worthwhile.
In the eighties, the word took on several meanings. Since 1983, a muppet has been “A lure made to resemble a young squid.” I don’t want to give my enemies (arch or mortal) any ideas, but since calamari is squid, I’m pretty sure this kind of muppet could lure me anywhere. In British prison slang, a muppet is “A prisoner with psychiatric problems; a vulnerable inmate liable to be bullied or harassed by others.” As this 1998 use shows, Muppets aren’t the only Henson creation to carry this meaning: “Their favourite targets are the fraggles, the nonces and the muppets. But anyone showing tell-tale signs of fear is a target for Britain’s jail bullies.”
A muppet can also be an idiot, though I have no idea why, since the Muppets are among the least idiotic members of the puppet community (Elmo excluded). However, this part of the OED’s definition sort of rings true: “someone enthusiastic but inept; a person prone to mishaps through naivety.” With the exception of curmudgeons (RIP Andy Rooney) such as Oscar, Statler, and Waldorf, the Muppets are brimming with optimism from their pieholes to their puppetholes. Green’s Dictionary of Slang also has examples of muppet meaning a child or a cop.
These Muppet meanderings are similar to the meanings smurf has taken on over the years. While most know Smurfs as blue elves with a disturbingly low female population, other smurfs or smurfers make smurf dope: blue crystal meth. A smurf is also “an inexperienced or short prison officer,” as Green’s puts it, and a gay man who’s youngish and blonde. Plus, smurf is one of the most awesome euphemisms for the f-word in the known universe, as seen in words like clustersmurf, mothersmurfer, ratsmurf, and fan-smurfing-tastic. If I didn’t know better, I’d think smurf has an acronymic origin, like fubar and milf. Despite the PG origin, something about smurf feels blue in the naughty sense.
When a word is as fun to say as Smurf or Muppet, there’s no stopping how people will use it. Now that the Muppets are back, who knows what this mega-appealing word will soon describe? I have no idea, but let me suggest a meaning, Urban Dictionary-style, that I’ve used and suspect others use: “A harmless, lovable person.” I used this sense when I called my friend Neil a Muppet a few years ago, as Neil was stuck giving a presentation that typically made students reach for pitchforks and torches. This pernicious presentation made presenters long for a force field, or at least student-proof chicken wire. In calling Neil a Muppet, I
Kathleen Krull is an award-winning author of many, many children’s books, including most recently Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played With Puppets. She specializes in biographies written especially for children. Krull lives in San Diego with her husband Paul Brewer a children’s book illustrator. She once worked a part-time job at a library and was fired for reading too often. Now she can read to her heart’s content- all in the service of research for her wonderful books!
Nicki Richesin: Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played With Puppets is a brilliant depiction of a man loved by the world for his creative genius. I admired how you followed the trajectory of Henson’s career and the paintings captured the various eras- from his humble beginning in Mississippi to the sweet seventies clothes and hairstyles- to the man himself. What was your approach when telling the story of Mr. Henson’s life?
Kathleen Krull: Thanks for your kind words. I wanted to shed light on a person who has done so much for children, a modern-day hero, just unbelievably creative. In his early days, everyone wondered what he was doing, playing with puppets, but he grew into this brilliant magician at making people of all ages laugh.
One of the many things I admired about your book is that you conveyed how Henson continued to pursue his dream of becoming a puppeteer, even when his father disapproved and even when his peers thought it was a little odd. Yet he stayed true to himself and his vision of what he wanted to achieve. I think this is such an important lesson for children, but really for everyone. I understand Henson’s children are running his company now. Do you think they’ve remained true to their father’s unique vision?
Do you believe Henson’s work bringing Sesame Street to television programming for children revolutionized the way they learn?
I’m a bit past the Sesame Street target audience, but I well remember how progressive this show was when it premiered, how in tune with the spirit of the 60s and 70s. The idea that TV could be used as a force for good– wow– that laughter could help children learn– this was huge. It’s now the longest-running TV show for children ever, seen in more than 140 countries, so this is a major validation of his work.
While Archaia does publish comic books, they are best known for their graphic novels. (They will even publish a hardcover for Free Comic Book Day in 2012!) So it’s no surprise to see a lot of great titles from them, be they creator- or corporate-owned titles.
Marvel and Disney might own the rights to the Muppets, but Archaia has a good relationship with The Jim Henson Company, publishing everything else (“whatnot” in Muppet parlance) available in the archives, including a long forgotten screenplay! Plus there’s the “classic” Fraggle Rock comics originally published by Marvel/Star Comics back in 1985 (oh, the irony!) featuring art by Marie Severin!
Oh, and if that isn’t enough, how about a new title by Marjane Satrapi? Or the Dare Detectives? Or Miranda Mercury?
All links direct to Archaia’s excellent website, and many titles have previews!
A few years ago, The Jim Henson Company Archives discovered material relating to an unfinished 1965 animated short by Jim Henson: Alexander The Grape. They combined the found footage with the storyboard and an existing soundtrack, and completed a reconstruction – which is now online. The complete story behind this find is here, on Jim Henson’s Red Book.
My favorite publisher Chronicle Books just put out their Fall/Winter 2012 catalog and they’re releasing more animation and cartoon-related books this holiday season than ever before. Below are the six titles (including one by myself) that will be of interest to Cartoon Brew readers, followed by the catalog pages with images and descriptions of each book.
Twenty-two years ago, on May 16, 1990, Jim Henson died from a rare bacterial infection.
Like many in my generation, I had grown up surrounded by Muppets. There was Sesame Street (a mere four months younger than me) which taught and entertained twice a day until I had to go to school. There was the “Sex and Violence” special which served as a pilot to The Muppet Show a few years later. Once a week, on Wednesdays, the local CBS affiliate would air The Muppet Show, which my family would watch during dinner. The success from that television show would produce multiple movies, creating imagined worlds which seemed very real.
I discovered that song by accident, a few years ago. During the second season of the Muppet Show, Bernadette Peters guest starred. Robin, Kermit’s nephew, feels ignored, and decides to run away. He stops by Ms. Peters dressing room to say goodbye…
So where did this song come from? 1975. Hal Hackady and Larry Grossman wrote the music for “Snoopy! The Musical”, the sequel to “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”. (Both musicals were animated. You can find the Peanuts version of this song on YouTube, but it’s a bit strange, what with Snoopy singing, and some strange cinematography.) So how did this song work its way to the Muppet Show? Larry Grossman served as a musical consultant for the first three seasons, suggesting musical numbers for each guest, as well as penning a few songs during the third season. (“Jamboree” and “The Rhyming Song” are the two best known.)
But I’m sharing this because I got to thinking… It’s hard to believe in yourself when others believe you to be worthless, or less than perfect. Add in the uncertainty and awkwardness of adolescence, power it with just enough intellect which makes you question the world around you, and it’s easy to believe what others say about you, even when one’s imagination fuels hope for a better day someday.
I don’t know exactly what Jim Henson believed in, although he left many examples in his work. He had quite a few doubts and stumbles before the success of Sesame Street, and a few afterwards. But others did believe in him, like Lew Grade and Joan Ganz Cooney, and he managed to do what he loved, and to share that enjoyment with the world.
Some of us wait for the second coming of the Jim Henson Company with a kind of fervent hope. Jim dies and nothing is ever the same again. Well check out this news item if you will:
The Jim Henson Company is looking to head deeper into a genre it does very well, as it picked up three fantasy based books for its film development slate and live-action projects. Jim Henson's Creature Shop , the visual and special effects division of Henson, will develop the characters for each movie using a mix of CGI and animatronics. All three movies will be produced by co-CEOs Lisa Henson and Brian Henson, and Jason Lust, SVP/Feature Films. The company has picked up the movie rights to:
The Boggart , by author Susan Cooper , is the story of Canadian family that inherits a Scottish castle including a jovial spirit, which has been playing tricks on castle residents for generations. Developed as a live-action family film with Brian Henson is set to direct.
The Doubtful Guest , by the inimitable Edward Gorey , is about a mysterious creature that shows up unannounced and unwelcome at a family-owned bed & breakfast, where all are perplexed by its habits. Brad Peyton is slated to direct the movie featuring a screenplay by Matthew Huffman.
Monster Blood Tattoo is a fantasy/adventure book trilogy, by D.M. Cornish, which includes Foundling, Lamplighter, and a third untitled novel, is set in a 'magical Victorian realm' and follows an orphaned boy on a dangerous quest to become an apprentice to a line of monster bounty hunters. There is no writer or director as of now.
There's also some talk of The Dark Crystal 2 and a Fraggle Rock movie (with Ahmet Zappa at the helm, oh ye gods) but for now we'll just concentrate on how nice a Boggart film would be. And I guess I have to read Monster Blood Tattoo, huh Tim?
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"Once Bil & Cora Baird had ruled the theatrical environs on TV (Bil & Cora Baird Show and Peter & the Wolf) , in theater (Flahooley, Baker Street) and on film (Sound of Music). Yet when the very successful scene in the film, Lili, where Leslie Caron talks to Bil Baird’s marionette, moved to Broadway as the musical, Carnival, it was Jim Henson who built the puppets for the show. A sea change had happened. The marionette had become a hand puppet."
Who knew that Jim Henson created a TV pilot in 1969 based on Johnny Hart and Brant Parker’s Wizard of Id? Watch rare excerpts above and then read more background about the project on the superbly curated Henson Company blog.
The company is posting other rare historical materials on their YouTube account as well, such as this Aurora toilet paper ad from the mid-Sixties with a delightful pantomime hand by Frank Oz:
In the late 1960s, Muppets creator Jim Henson collaborated with comic strip artist Johnny Hart (the creator of B.C. and The Wizard of Id)–planning TV show based on The Wizard of Id with puppets and animated sets. The duo created the trailer embedded above.
Here’s more from the Jim Henson Company Archives: “Jim loved comics and cartoons and collected books of Pogo, Peanuts, Dennis the Menace, L’il Abner, Charles Addams, Jules Feiffer, Roger Price, James Thurber, and Johnny Hart. During the 1960s, Jim pursued several projects based on classic fairy tales, but the Wizard of Id project was the first time Jim sought out a creative collaborator with an existing character group. The snarky humor of Hart’s B.C. and Wizard of Id appealed to Jim, and he saw how his sensibility overlapped with these funnies.”
A few years later, Henson started work on Sesame Street and his first Muppet projects, so the show never happened. Last summer, biographer Brian Jay Jonessold a biography of Henson to Ballantine. (Via i09)
It's a grey, quiet Saturday here. Everyone's off doing stuff: it's just me and the dogs.
On Thursday, Sharon and Bill Stiteler came over and we checked the hives and started to feed them. We have six hives right now - two Italians (doing brilliantly in comparison with everyone else after a late start and a lousy year - we even had a super full of honey), two Carniolans (doing okay) and two Russian hives (one may or may not survive even a mild winter, one has a solid chance). We came back to the house.
Sharon Stiteler started making noises. Normally when Sharon makes noises, it means that something exciting has been spotted, and it's generally to do with birds.
A merlin had taken a red-bellied woodpecker from one of my birdfeeders, and was eating it in front of the house.
Yesterday I decided to get some beeswax from the buckets of slumgullion in the garage. It took three tries to figure out how to do it correctly, but I now have a pie-dish filled with clean, perfect, butter-yellow beeswax, smelling faintly of honey, and know how to get it right for next time.
No idea what to do with the wax, mind. But at least it won't get thrown out.
Today I'm proofreading. The Little Gold Book Of Ghastly Stuff for Borderlands Press comes out very soon, and they emailed me over the pdfs last night. It's a really sweet little collection, almost entirely from the last decade: two poems, four stories (including, for the first time anywhere, my first ever published short story, "Featherquest", published in 1984, cut by half when it was published and never reprinted. Do not get excited: it isn't very good), two oddments, four articles, a couple of speeches, a few book reviews and suchlike. I signed the 500 limitation pages last week. Then Borderlands discovered that too many people had ordered the signed edition and asked me if they could overrun the print-run and do some unsigned, un-numbered copies, and I said yes.
There's only ever going to be one printing of this, so if you want a copy head over to http://www.borderlandspress.com/littlegold.html and order one. It costs more to mail it internationally than the book costs (four times if you want to internationally Fedex it).
I do not enjoy proofreading.
And I need to go back to it.
Before I do, here is a Bill Stiteler film of me shaking bees off a frame of honey or three on Thursday:
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