kottke.org posts about cartoons

Having it all: Bill Watterson's words grace new cartoonAug 29 2013

Watterson Aung Than slice 2.jpg

Bill Watterson famously quit cartooning after ten years during which his Calvin and Hobbes was a critical and commercial success you could only compare to Charles Schultz's Peanuts. (Gary Larsen, GB Trudeau, and Berkeley Breathed are great, but come on.)

You could say Watterson retreated from public view after his retirement, but he was rarely available to the public even during the height of his fame. One exception was his 1990 commencement speech to his alma mater Kenyon College.

Thoreau said, "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." That's one of those dumb cocktail quotations that will strike fear in your heart as you get older. Actually, I was leading a life of loud desperation.

When it seemed I would be writing about "Midnite Madness Sale-abrations" for the rest of my life, a friend used to console me that cream always rises to the top. I used to think, so do people who throw themselves into the sea.

I tell you all this because it's worth recognizing that there is no such thing as an overnight success. You will do well to cultivate the resources in yourself that bring you happiness outside of success or failure. The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive. At that time, we turn around and say, yes, this is obviously where I was going all along.

Zen Pencils cartoonist Gavin Aung Than took a series of quotes from Watterson's speech and illustrated them, consciously imitating Watterson's style for a new inspirational cartoon titled "Bill Watterson: A Cartoonist's Advice." It features a cartoonist who (like Watterson) gives up a commercial illustration job to embrace his artistic dreams and raise a family as a stay-at-home dad. Although the events and much of the scenery is inspired in part by Watterson's story, first as a young illustrator and later as a popular cartoonist who refused to compromise, Gavin writes:

The comic is basically the story of my life, except I'm a stay-at-home-dad to two dogs. My ex-boss even asked me if I wanted to return to my old job.

My original dream was to become a successful newspaper comic strip artist and create the next Calvin and Hobbes. That job almost doesn't exist anymore as newspapers continue to disappear and the comics section gets smaller and smaller, often getting squeezed out of newspapers entirely. I spent years sending submissions to syndicates in my early 20s and still have the rejection letters somewhere. I eventually realised it was a fool's dream (also, my work was nowhere near good enough) and decided webcomics was the place to be. It's mouth-watering to imagine what Watterson could achieve with webcomics, given the infinite possibilities of the online medium.

See also Robert Krulwich's remarkable commencement speech at Berkeley about horizontal loyalty and refusing to wait, which seems to dovetail well here.

Alyssa Rosenberg writes about Watterson's speech and Gavin's accompanying cartoon's implications for feminism, especially arguments over balancing life and work:

"A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children," Watterson noted," is considered not to be living up to his potential." I'm sure that choice of pronouns is deliberate. ... [The cartoon] is a powerful alternate vision of what it might look like to have it all.

The rules of Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoonsMar 27 2012

Speaking of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, animator Chuck Jones and his team were said to follow these simple rules when creating the cartoons:

1. The Road Runner cannot harm the Coyote except by going "meep, meep."

2. No outside force can harm the Coyote -- only his own ineptitude or the failure of Acme products. Trains and trucks were the exception from time to time.

3. The Coyote could stop anytime -- if he were not a fanatic.

4. No dialogue ever, except "meep, meep" and yowling in pain.

5. The Road Runner must stay on the road -- for no other reason than that he's a roadrunner.

6. All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters -- the southwest American desert.

7. All tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the Acme Corporation.

8. Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote's greatest enemy.

9. The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.

10. The audience's sympathy must remain with the Coyote.

11. The Coyote is not allowed to catch or eat the Road Runner.

The rules are made only slightly less interesting by their fiction; according to Wikipedia, long-time Jones collaborator Michael Maltese said he'd never heard of the rules.

The 50 greatest cartoonsMar 27 2012

A book written by Jerry Beck in 1994 called The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals does indeed contain a list of the 50 greatest cartoons as chosen by industry professionals. The list is filthy with Warner Bros cartoons, particularly by the recently aforementioned Chuck Jones (four of the top five are by Jones). I don't know how many are available on YouTube, but I tracked down a couple to show my 4-year-old son, Ollie: Duck Amuck and Rabbit of Seville.

By the time we were finished with Rabbit of Seville, Ollie had literally peed his pants from laughing so hard. I think I'm gonna get the Looney Tunes collection on Blu-ray so we can watch more but I'm a bit afraid of what the hijinks of Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner might do to my boy's pants.

King of the swingersAug 12 2010

Leonard writes from Hong Kong:

I enjoyed the youtube you have up on kottke w the depression-era dancing.

I thought you may like this link, it's my favorite rendition of "St. James Infirmary Blues," sung by Cab Calloway in a Betty Boop cartoon (Betty is Snow White):

Cheers,
Len

PS:

Fleischer's Snow White was animated by ONE person, produced by a Jewish animation studio, in the Depression, featuring images of gambling and alcohol, starring a jazz singer. Take that, Walt.

PPS:

Cab Calloway as the ghost of a walrus in another Betty Boop cartoon.


Calloway's most famous cartoon appearance is probably as the voice of King Louie in Disney's The Jungle Book (1969).
This just isn't true. King Louie is Louie Prima. I knew this.

The Wikipedia entry for "St James Infirmary Blues" is pretty amazing:

"St. James Infirmary Blues" is based on an 18th century traditional English folk song called "The Unfortunate Rake" (also known as "The Unfortunate Lad" or "The Young Man Cut Down in His Prime"). There are numerous versions of the song throughout the English-speaking world. It also evolved into other American standards such as "The Streets of Laredo". "The Unfortunate Rake" is about a sailor who uses his money on prostitutes, and then dies of a venereal disease. Different versions of the song expand on this theme, variations typically feature a narrator telling the story of a youth "cut down in his prime" (occasionally her prime) as a result of some morally questionable actions. For example, when the song moved to America, gambling and alcohol became common causes of the youth's death.

The title is derived from St. James Hospital in London, a religious foundation for the treatment of leprosy. It was closed in 1532 when Henry VIII acquired the land to build St. James Palace.

The song was first collected in England in its version as "The Unfortunate Rake" by Henry Hammond by a Mr. William Cutis at Lyme Regis, Dorset in March 1906.

Part of the song's versatility/ambiguity is that its content can also swing depending on the gender of the singer and the "baby" cut down in his/her prime.

Notable performers of this song include Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Kermit Ruffins, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, King Oliver, Artie Shaw, Big Mama Thornton, Jack Teagarden, Billie Holiday, Cassandra Wilson, Bobby Hackett, Stan Kenton, Lou Rawls, The Limeliters, Bobby Bland, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Doc Watson, "Spider" John Koerner, Janis Joplin, The Doors, The Animals, and more recently The White Stripes, the Triffids, the Stray Cats, the Tarbox Ramblers, Isobel Campbell, The Devil Makes Three and Mark Lanegan, and Tom Jones with Jools Holland. Jazz guitarists Marc Ribot and Ivan "Boogaloo Joe" Jones have recorded instrumental versions.

Road runner rulesSep 08 2008

The simple but strict rules for Road Runner cartoons.

1. Road Runner cannot harm the Coyote except by going "beep, beep".
2. No outside force can harm the Coyote -- only his own ineptitude or the failure of Acme products.
3. The Coyote could stop anytime -- IF he was not a fanatic. (Repeat: "A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim." -- George Santayana).
4. No dialogue ever, except "beep, beep".
5. Road Runner must stay on the road -- for no other reason than that he's a roadrunner.
6. All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters -- the southwest American desert.
7. All tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the Acme Corporation.
8. Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote's greatest enemy.
9. The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.
10. The audience's sympathy must remain with the Coyote.

Charles Miller argues that John Hodgman's PC character in the Mac vs. PC commercials is like Wile E. Coyote...likable but inept. (via df)

Cartoon girls I wanna nailFeb 07 2008

A list of Cartoon Girls I Wanna Nail. And it's on Geocities, no less...I had no idea that was still around and operational. Maybe this is the only page left, the end result of Yahoo's $3.6 billion investment.

Update: The site above is currently down. Fun fact: I first linked to this almost 9 years ago. (thx, everyone)

Update: Geocities is gone but Reocities archived the Cartoon Girls I Wanna Nail page. Our shared cultural heritage is safe.

Recent Chris Ware talkFeb 21 2007

A friend of mine who works at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln emailed to let me know that they've posted both audio and video of a talk that Chris Ware gave at the school last week. If you're short on time, the real meat of the video starts around 18:30 when Ware starts a slideshow that delves into his process. In addition to his series of Thanksgiving-themed New Yorker covers from last year, he also talks about some of his other work, including Rusty Brown and the strip he did for the NY Times Magazine.

How the newspaper gets made: 1. The WashingtonJan 16 2007

How the newspaper gets made: 1. The Washington Post runs an article on Dec 24, 2006 about how the New Yorker picks its cartoons, which article mentions in passing that several of the magazine's cartoonists gather weekly at a Manhattan restaurant. 2. Three weeks go by. 3. The NY Times publishes a piece profiling said weekly gathering of the cartoonists at the Manhattan restaurant.

Futurama tidbit: "Groening's series Futurama is back,Oct 11 2006

Futurama tidbit: "Groening's series Futurama is back, thanks to strong DVD sales. Four Futurama DVD movies are scheduled for release and they will be chopped into episodes for broadcast on Comedy Central in 2008."

Videos of Itchy and Scratchy cartoons fromMay 31 2006

Videos of Itchy and Scratchy cartoons from the Simpsons. Get 'em before Fox's lawyers see them.

Update: If you'd like to automatically grab all the videos, here's a curl command that'll do it. (thx, matt)

Keyword Cartoons chronicles the adventures of GGirl,May 01 2006

Keyword Cartoons chronicles the adventures of GGirl, a character whose daily activities correspond with high-paying keywords on Google AdSense, like laser hair removal and asbestos cancer.

Interview with Matt Groening about -- whatApr 26 2006

Interview with Matt Groening about -- what else? -- The Simpsons, Futurama, and even a little Life in Hell.

ABC (owned by Disney) traded former MondayFeb 10 2006

ABC (owned by Disney) traded former Monday Night Football announcer Al Michaels to NBC for, in part, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a cartoon character created by Walt Disney in 1927, pre-Mickey.

In-progress ideas for New Yorker cartoons. "OrDec 23 2005

In-progress ideas for New Yorker cartoons. "Or some other recent culture reference. Or something involving wine, or Europe."

Here's the formula for a New YorkerSep 29 2005

Here's the formula for a New Yorker cartoon: take a person/entity from Column A, and have them interact with a person/entity from Column B in a location from Column C. Voila, comedy jackpot!

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